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Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

[Hi. I'm Sarah. I don't blog as much as I should anymore, but I wrote this this morning and thought I'd share. It's as good an intro to who I am as any, I suppose.]

Maybe you do, I don’t know.

I do.

It means that every time you hear it mentioned you miss something different—a sight, a smell, a sound—like beads dangling from trees as far uptown as Loyola, that special lower Decatur street aroma of beer, sweat, vomit, Irish coffee and the Mississippi, the far-off sounds of a brass band letting you know that a parade or a second line or just a marching band for the hell of it is heading your way.

But those are the cliches.

To miss it now is to look for people you know in every New Orleans story you read or hear, and to still wonder what happened to your neighbor whose name you could never tell—was it Ron or Rob or Rod? His accent too thick but his smile always real for you as he made his way over on his one leg and crutch to ask how you are. It’s sometimes to forget to look for people and then trip over a name of someone you knew.

Yesterday I was reading a book called Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, full of first-person stories of The Storm and What Came After, on the subway in Brooklyn a million miles from New Orleans in some ways and so similar it stings a bit in its pleasure in others. And I flipped to a new story and a name jumped out at me, a professor who taught me to call myself a feminist and drank Harp with us in Ireland and wrote my recommendations for grad school five years after I’d graduated.

Of course I’d spoken to her since Katrina—grad school applications were in 2007, so I knew a bit about her evacuation story and where her family and her Perfect Grandchild were. She knew I did my master’s in journalism in Philly and was still afraid to see New Orleans again.

But reading her story in her husband’s words felt like a ghost—felt like those days after The Storm when I was sitting in front of the television in my parents’ house in South Carolina, waiting to see faces I knew crying at the convention center or the Superdome or walking through Kenner to escape.

I never did.

Instead those faces pop up in my mind when I read stories of the storm, and I still read them all the time.

I haven’t been back, it’s true. I’ve said so many times that it’s like seeing an ex-love after years and some horrible trauma—what’s that person going to be like now? Should you just remember them the way they were?

But if you love them, really love them after all those years and all that’s happened to them, you should go. You smile bravely at the scars and tell them they’re beautiful still and drink a toast.

I just bought plane tickets to London but I’m not using up all my vacation time on that trip.

I think I’ll go to New Orleans this year for Halloween. I need to see old friends and dance in the streets, take cliche pictures of beads in trees along parade routes and remember that smell on Lower Decatur.

The last time I was planning a Halloween trip to New Orleans was 2005. Then Katrina hit.

I need to go back.

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