Thursday, July 7, 2011

As Long As I'm Here

As I prepare to take my first epic bike ride of this trip, to really get deep into the neighborhood and explore things on two wheels, the sky opens up and unleashes a torrential tropical rainstorm—the kind that appears as though there isn’t any space at all between the drops, just great continuous bucketfuls of water that seem like they’ll come down forever. Thunder booms that make you cringe in reflex even though you’re somewhat safely indoors, lightning bolts that look close enought to take out the tree in your yard. When these storms roll in, other things tend to go haywire as well, even moreso than usual, which is a lot around here-- even on a normal day.

The cell phones cut in and out of service and it’s virtually impossible to have a conversation, even via text. The radio, with which I live parked permanently on WWOZ (“The best radio station in the world”—and it is) cuts in and out and sometimes you hear nothing but static for long minutes. When it cuts back on, it’s Tom Waits or something equally dreamy and haunting—the DJ’s tend to play along with the weather, both lyrically and emotionally. Right now it’s a folk band singing live: “This was your life/ cry if you want to/ its over, it’s tragic but this was your life/ these were your dreams/ but then you failed to receive anything you believed in/ living in sin and you just couldn’t win. . .” How’s that for a stormy day?

And now, in this fucking rain, the cromagnon caretaker (as opposed to the curmudgeon landlord) is outside on my balcony watering the plants. The internet cuts in and out making it impossible to get any work done, the neighbors have their weiner dog nervously pacing the porch, the mailman just stopped off clearly confused (drunk?) as to whether he’s already been here today or not, and sometimes, I have a hard time understanding this place.

My other neighbors, who were altogether wecoming over the weekend, have taken a turn for the insular. My friends who had welcomed me to stop by anytime into cities away from New Orleans are getting on with their own lives.  Friends in this city are on a road trip. For the moment, for the coming days and maybe weeks and months, utterly and truly all by myself.

I slide onto my damp bike seat in the middle of the afternoon, after the rains have finally stopped, and the roads are like a terrerium floor. The vapor comes up and envelops you like a package of warm mist. My mooshy tires bounce along the potholed streets of the Marigny, and every place I stop for air is closed. It becomes clear to me I’m living in a ghost town this summer—anyone who has the wherewithal to leave here in July and August has done just that, and its only those of us without a clue still making circles around the melting streets.

Stopping off for a drink before I completely disintegrate, hot tears start cutting down my stupidly powdered cheeks. I feel foolish and try serriptitiously to wipe them away before they drop into my wine glass, but the couple next to me has caught wind and are staring. Finishing my drink, I get back on my bike, and ride the almost vacant streets back on “home.”

All my life, I’ve been connected. To family, to an amazing circle of friends-- without whom I’d certainly not be standing vertical day after day. And I’ve always had myself a relationship with a man—sometimes overlapping. As I take the sweltering ride back to my temporary home, I switch off my cell phone and later, inside, my computer. I’m tired. The heat, the anxiety, the roaches, the unfamiliarity, the exhaustion of overthinking, the fighting with the technology and the urge to stay, I don’t know, tethered, has got the better of me. I give in. For today, maybe for longer than today, I’m not connected.

I just read an article about a fiction writer who became a poet because she went to enroll in her fiction class and it was full. So she said to herself, “As long as I’m here. . .” She’s now the first poet laureate of St. Paul.

When I came to New Orleans, I thought everything would fall into place nicely. I thought that love and laughter and happiness would come easy as the wind. That hasn’t happened. But as long as I’m here, I guess I’ll learn to connect to myself.

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