i've thought a lot about what i was going to write to you. tried to think of a way not to repeat all the things i've said to you over the years. i suppose you don't mind if i say the same things over and over, as long as it is with love that i say them?
the thing is, i think i was destined to fall for you before birth even. my father joined the airforce when he was a young man. he was stationed in coastal mississippi. biloxi i think, the details get hazy since this was many decades before i was even considered let alone conceived. he fell for you first, traveling the short miles into your french quarter, listening to the jazz greats at preservation hall. drinking on bourbon street with his buddies. when my parents got married they honeymooned with you, eating at the court of two sisters. i remember the stories since before i have memories of my own. my mother was only 20 then, my father 28. it would be eleven years before i was born.
for some reason my father decided that mississippi would be a good place to raise children, perhaps even before he met my mother. i was born just outside another huge city, washington DC. soon we moved to indianapolis where my sister was born, still my father ached for the south. i think perhaps, as i have aged and gotten to know the sadness that comes from being apart from you, he ached for you. when i was four we moved to vicksburg, mississippi. i've often said the only good thing about growing up there is that i was only 3 hours away from you.
i can't remember the first time we met. i suppose i was so young that it was before memories really stick with a person. all of my greatest childhood memories happened within your watchful eye. though i never got to be with you except in short visits, i considered myself to be a "local" because if i had a choice at twelve years old on where i could live i would've been there with you in the blink of an eye. birthdays, aniversaries, long weekends, holidays, my family always spent them with you. my 13th birthday wandering around the french market with my two best friends, they had never been to visit you before. my wedding night, i could have spent it nowhere else, it would not have been right. for the man i was marrying knew he was always going to be 2nd to you. i've often said if i could feel for a person even half as much as i feel for you then i'd know what forever tastes like. perhaps it tastes like chicory coffee and the spicy gumbo that burns my tongue so sweetly.
when i was ten or eleven i saw all the punk kids on the streets, i didn't realize they were homeless. i thought they were so cool and i wanted to grow up to be just like them. when i was a teenager i didn't fit in the small town where i was living. sort of punk, sort of goth, queer, i felt alone except for when i could sink into the familiarity and comfort of your embrace. it's still the only place that i haven't felt out of place, the only place that has truly felt like "home". it was one place where people didn't stare at me. i longed to run away, to burrow into your secret places and forget that there was a world outside. i always expected when i turned eighteen i would move and finally we would be together. life has other plans. 7 years later and i am still longing for you.
i find that there is a bond that is instanteous with others who love you as i do. one christmas night with my sister's college chum, bridget and we were lost in your streets. we drank in a tiny joint with a bartender who looked just like bette paige. though i had just met her we were instant friends, joined by our mutual admiration for you, our desire to be with you. i speak with people who have never met you and i'm shocked, i wonder how they can live? i talk about you so much people who don't know me well think that i am a native of New Orleans. i read books just because they are set there, just to feel close to you again. i ache for you.
i spent days glued to the television, internet, cell phone dialing over and over and over; hearing that message "due to hurricane katrina your call cannot be completed..." finding who had gotten out and where they had went, learning they were ok. watching the local news, reading journals of those who had decided to stay. i watched because everyone that was there was as dear to me as my own family. i watched because even though i knew you'd survive i wanted to make sure i saw it with my own eyes. people at work came up, asked how i was doing, asked how you were. i tried to be strong. i wanted to run to you, cry and apologize for moving hundreds of miles away when really i should've been there. i should've been with you. i should've been with my brothers and sisters evacuating, or huddled in the superdome.
i never doubted that you would survive, but i feared the worst. now i pray that you'll heal quickly, that your children will rebuild, that we will not look and see what the huricane did to you but see only those familiar places that have comforted us for all our lives.
wait for me. i'm coming. one day we'll be together, until then know that you're always with me, inside me. no one could ever take your place. i close my eyes and i'm there, on the sidewalk. i feel the air against my skin humid and heavy; take the scents into my nostrils - the stench, the sweet cloying odors swirling together making me feel sick one second and hungry the next; the girls calling to their friends, the boys calling to the girls. the hum of canal, the roar of the quarter, the music coming from every corner, the cars honking, that is your own kind of jazz isn't it? i'm there, drinking a cup of coffee motionless, watching the crowd merge and part around the square, in my heart i'm home.