I am nostalgic for the first days of our return, when brokenness and devastation had a certain charm. Charm is not the right word, of course, but at that time--in early October--life here was, well, awe-some. The scenery made our hearts swell, and the tears then were less for the pain that comes with the uncertainty of an unstable future and more for the horror of the short then-past.
What has changed? Why is it that the eagerness with which we met each other, everyone--friends-now-comrades, now fellow survivors, people who you recognized from somewhere, somewhere--an old bartender (even one who poured you weak drinks), the neighbor who you never spoke to, the weird effeminate dude who used to force himself (you thought) to leer at you even though you were sure he liked men, an acquaintance of an acquaintance who surprised you from behind a mask on Halloween--everyone back then with the joyful reunions. We talked to anyone! We talked and talked and talked and listened, too, and all of it--our being here--felt sparkling and miraculous and like: Lucky, lucky US! Because many of us WERE lucky. Really lucky.
But now we are all getting tired, so that even wedding-planning feels burdensome. I find myself pretending that I don't see so-and-so when I am in the coffee shop. While I wait in line, I examine the headlines in the paper. (And those I wish to avoid, too.) But she, too, must be pretending not to see me. She, too, is tired.
On the Nola.com forums, out-of towners show up to tell us to quit pitying ourselves, to pick our pathetic selves up by the bootstraps, to stop asking for, expecting, wanting help already because they are sick, sick, sick of our whining. I start vitriolic rants urged on by my rage. But then I stop writing because I, too, am tired. Because I, too, am sick, sick, sick of us. Of this.
Yesterday I ran into my former boss from Tulane. He, like me, loves New Orleans, a fact that came up in our conversation as if it were an unfortunate illness we're both stricken with--one we'd like to get over, thank you, (sigh). T.R. was drinking a smoothie and the child's seat of his cart was filled with bottles of Odwalla Super-Food. I had coconut milk and curry paste in mine. Our little purchased comforts.
We greeted each other and remarked on our being at the only grocery now open within miles of our house. It's the Sav-A-Center on Franklin, by the lake. When I go there on my way home from work, I have to wait in line behind droves of contractors buying hot lunches from the line. I try not to look at anyone.
T.R. asks me politely if I still have my job (New Orleans is a terrible place to be a teacher, these days.) I tell him yes and thank God and tell him the truth: that I love it, that it keeps me together. I tell him that my future at UNO, for now, looks good, in spite of the doomsday prophecies and the emails that announce delay after delay in the FEMA trailer move-ins and numbers like "15 million dollar deficit" that arrive in my inbox, impossible to understand. I think I say Thank God a second time.
I ask about his teaching at Tulane--about the situation Uptown. He says he has made 12 out-of-town offers to post-docs to teach composition (evidently Tulane only hires instructors with terminal degrees, post-K,) but that no one had bitten. "I can't pay them enough to afford the rent," he says. I nod and we talk about the f-ing rents in this city--the f-ing, f-ing, f-ing way this city is slipping away from us like the rents--spiraling out of our control (as if we ever had any control.)
"I can't imagine anyone would want to move here," I tell T.R., and we smile, sadly at each other. T.R. says he thinks that things will probably get worse in 2007, but that then things will start to get better, if we can only hang on.
We talk about needing vacations. We talk about wanting a break. He tells me if he can just get a little away-time he can make it, but that honestly it's wearing him out.
We wish each other well.
As I leave the parking lot I consider stopping at the Subway that just opened--which is announced in puffy cursive on a fluorescent pink posterboard. I decide to wait and make a sandwich. I need a new car, I remind myself. I pass a sign that reads, "Not an Exit" next to a makeshift-camp for contractors that lies on the east side of the parking lot. The men from the line sit in camping chairs and eat their take-away. One of them nods at me.
On the way home I get aggravated by shit that used to bug me: potholes and aggressive drivers in their behemoth SUVs. I curse the workers at the corner of Franklin and Robert E. Lee. They are just now putting up a traffic light, when we are just fine with the stops signs, thank you. I curse a van full of Baptists in town to gut a few homes. An old man in a slow truck pulls out in front of me at South Miro and I step on the breaks, which stop me just in time in spite of Simon's truck's tin-can-iness and his balding tires. The man gives me an apologetic wave, but I am in no f-ing mood. At home I put my purse cross-ways over my shoulder. I look out the rearview mirror and both of the side ones. I gather my things and rush inside, inside, where there's my Simon and my cats and worrisome windows with no bars.