Ten years ago, after the collective trauma of a marriage falling apart with love slipping through my heart like barbed wire, loss of child (read: too many to count), not to mention loss of place after a return to the home that haunts me only to watch it sink under a toxic stew, and then a slow progression into madness,
I picked myself up.
Even though I had built my marriage over much compromise, love, joy, and years, I turned and dove in to the house construction of the remodel designed by my then architect-husband and the nightly house terrors to make the LaLa a home on the bayou — my sweet dream finally seeing the dawn.
Eight years of white knuckling and kit glove maintenance on a structure that had way too much emotional and spiritual baggage, I sold it. It no longer served me. Yet, I had built that too.
I worked for nearly 18 years until my dream job sucked, and bosses sucked, and I sucked, and I felt the same warmth that comes over a person when they have to pee so bad and they’ve been holding that pee for so long in a jostling car (cruising down a New Orleans potholed street) and then you finally pee and there is this pain and warmth and release much the same as when I was finally let go from the suck ass job where they suck and I sucked and it had sucked the life out of me and I had been sucking on its teat for way too long because I couldn’t walk away since I had built that too.
I built myself up.
I met my son who I waited half a century, a whole lifetime, to meet, to be his mom and guess what? On Tin’s entrance into 1st grade this year, six years later and also the 10th anniversary of the 2005 Federal Flood, his teacher asked me to describe my son, and here’s what I said:
Tin is creative, independent, energetic with incredible spatial and musical talent. He is stubborn and perceptive. He is able to grasp large concepts such as spirituality, relationships, society, and the duality of human nature. He is willful and loving.
Her response? “Yes, I can tell he is a deep thinker.”
I have found mothering at 50 to be sort of like a spoonful of sugar and then vinegar, you are gagging sometimes and other times spitting and hacking or backwashing then smacking your lips with the sweetness oozing all over. The honest truth is I never say I wish I hadn’t of … . I’m raising a Black son in New Orleans where Black boys are churned under a chronic mix at an alarming rate and yet, I do not know where else to raise Tin but in this Chocolate City, where I have met some of the most beautiful souls.
Every day I keep my heart open.
I lost my hair, what had defined my beauty because I had so damn much hair and it was thick and long and gorgeous and I had started coloring it red in my thirties and it suited me and it was a flame that announced the type of woman you were dealing with right off the bat. It all fell out. From top to bottom, I became hairless overnight (albeit it did take weeks to completely shed). Then I learned it would never grow back. Never. Ever. No hair = no woman, I imagined. I was different without hair. I would walk by the mirror and look at my reflection at first with anger then with hatred then with utter disgust until slowly, so painfully slow it seemed, though it was only actually six months, I came to see me again.
I got over it.
On this day, 10 years after the day the federal government failed us all, I have a hard time reading about August 29, 2005. Everyone is talking about the city – how is SHE doing?
I’m sorry, but I’m gonna spend this moment on self reflection. How am I doing? I am not sure if I love New Orleans as much as I did on August 30 or September 4 or October 10, 2005 or in 2006, 2007 and possibly 2010 at our five year celebration on the bayou, when we were living, as my friend said, “in the most interesting place in the world.” When my friend Dina was living right there beside me.
People here are dying from cancer, from guns, from despair.
I’ve lost so many who tied me to this place, my mother, my grandmother, my first love, my friend Dina, and more friends and also dogs. I’m not trying to figure out how New Orleans is doing right now ten years later. New Orleans near and far is haunted by the remains of my ancestors who were on the move for centuries and now my mother’s and my father’s bones are buried under this waterlogged ground. My grandmother and grandfather are buried near here. My friends are buried here. My dogs’ ashes are scattered in this land. My past mistakes and miracles are buried under the layers, how could I walk away with no ashes, no urns, no gold medal of having survived to carry away with me to some land unknown, some place not steeped in my own history?
In one decade, I have spun round and round the spiral of life, revisiting the familiar and the absolutely astonishing, encountering best and worst case scenarios – yet, I have kept my heart open – at times prying it with archaic tools, or lighting a fire deep inside of it, and sometimes just bathing my heart in a wash of warm tears. I tell myself “I love you, Rachel” often, especially when I haven’t heard someone tell it to me out loud.
In the depth of Winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer. ~ Camus
So no, I’m not thinking about New Orleans, the city, on this decade milestone anniversary, I’m thinking about Rachel and I’m commemorating thriving, not just surviving. Each time the whirly gig of the spiral goes into a full tilt boogie, I take a beat and a breath. I have now come to rely on all of my senses to guide me – have I been here before? We enter hurricane season each year on June 1st and not until October do we stop clenching our teeth. The truth is that I have looked at hurricanes from both sides now, from near and far, having experienced them most of my life, from Betsy to Gustav, and the anticipation of the as yet unannounced one.
The 2005 Federal Flood brought a serious question to the minds of every person who had to leave this city – where will we live? Every time I come around the spiral, I have less layers to peel back to find my center of joy. The spiral continues to bring questions, most of these questions are the same but are met under the guise of something new. Have I met this person before? Will this pain change who I am? Does it matter?
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
The question of the day at this juncture is not where to live, who to love, how to be but Where might I contribute the most of who I am to the most of who we are?
I have more questions than I had a decade ago, but I am no longer afraid of the answers.
More will be revealed