Two weeks ago, I returned to New Orleans for a whirlwind weekend of running and parades and naps by the bayou and reconnecting with friends. On the last day, I returned to the Bayou and found several new letters and an empty notebook (!). Here is the letter I left in the notebook:
As the story goes, something like six months ago, I nailed a metal envelope into a tree, got a tattoo, and thought for sure either the NOPD or my mom would come after me.
Neither happened, so moving off to Chicago happened.
And I thought it/I’d be fine.
The truth is, I’ve spent six months trying to convince myself that Chicago would become New Orleans.
I thought I could run away from it all by submersing myself in a fancy university and surround myself with books and force myself to forget about the possibility of beautiful sunshine bayou days in February and glitter streaming down from tree branches and people so kind you can’t help but laugh-cry.
Turns out, the gilded halls of The Academy call such feelings “avoidance” and “emotional suppression.”
Big words for:
Duh, it’s ok to miss New Orleans like crazy.
Duh, it’s also ok to shake your fist like crazy at the idiosyncrasies of New Orleans.
And so, after miles and miles, months and months, here we are.
I fly back to Chicago in a few hours, already mentally pulling on my layers and mental toughness and cold smiles that you learn to use in a place that sits below -10 degrees F on the reg.
Most of the time, I try to convince myself that I’m “fine” with this weather, “fine” with this breakneck pace, “fine” with this cultural mindset that you have to suck it up and just deal. But every once in a while, when I have too much time to sit and stare out windows or run for too long along the lake or stare for too long at academic articles, I find my mind wondering:
What would happen if– suddenly– I just flew back to NOLA?
I found a letter today, left in the envelope I nailed to the tree, from a person named L, who, like me, once found or still finds themselves pulled between one place and another:
“(There used to be) a voice in my head (that) screamed that I had to choose between New Orleans and France.
I now know where that voice came from: the messages of forced choice, ‘you can’t have it all,’ and lifelong sentiments from others of abandonment, desertion, and trying to force choices that lead to feelings of guilt…
I now see how to to take pieces of both places I love to mix and mélange a kind of magic that makes me see and recognize and honor all the places in my life…
I don’t have to choose.
I am not abandoning anyone anywhere.
I love them both.”
It was just the kind of reminder I needed– New Orleans pulls you in by the shoulders and blesses you with smouldering summer humidity and fiery dust from Zapps Voodoo chips and faint scents of jasmine and with a resounding burst of, “WHO DAT!” you can’t ever truly leave. Not really.
So as Mardi Gras approaches and there is no end to Chicago Winter in sight and my brain is steeped in five million different kinds of structural theory, I remind myself of what New Orleans has taught me:
Glitter exists everywhere. You just have to find it.
So as they say, “À bientôt.”
See ya soon.