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Down South, Days 5-10

Jackson Square and warm weather

With your cayenne lips still burning, you drive up the interstate. Family far behind, it’s easier to be at peace. Vacation becomes vacation, and New Orleans is a place to be at ease. The drive seemed longer when you were a kid, but it’s only three hours. You stop at the gas station your cousin insisted you go to, the one she goes to for fun. You kind of expect to make fun of it, but it really is quite the to-do. Employees get paid almost $20 an hour. No wonder it’s so clean. You wish every gas station in America was like this. The snack aisle is more fun than any memory of Disney you have.

Your car is full of snacks, your cooler full of shrimp, so you drive fast to the Airbnb near the French Quarter. The roads are shitty, and the neighborhood is rougher than anywhere you’ve been in a long time. You’ve tried hard to forget how dangerous places used to feel safe. You tell your partner not to drive like he’s from Boston because people down here have guns. He laughs like it’s a joke, but you didn’t mean it as one.

The house is a shotgun, and that’s cute enough for a few days. The décor is lime green and all over the place. The theme looks like whatever they could get from an antique store for cheap. The charm will wear off after working in a broken chair at a metal picnic table for three days in a row. You and your partner lay on the bed, exhausted from all that travel, but you can’t sleep because there are so many dogs barking, not to mention the sound of traffic right outside your front door. When did you get accustomed to silence? You judge yourself for the ivory tower you live in now; you judge yourself harder for missing it.

Before melancholy can take a bite out of you, you drive to your best friend’s mother’s house. It’s a new purchase, still under construction, but holds the same amount of personality that every house she’s ever owned has. Staring up at the twenty-foot-tall bookshelves already stuffed full, you decide maximalism is genetic. Your best friend’s mother is a consummate host, and soon your head is buzzing with booze, and your stomach is full of steak and fried chicken.

You remember the drive back to your apartment, but you don’t know how you managed a shower in that clawfoot tub. You fall asleep to the sounds of hounds warning of some danger you cannot see.

In the morning, you wake up earlier than is good for you and settle into a busy admissions season. It was a bad time to take a vacation. Part of you forgot that you have a “grown-up” job now and that you’re a special cog that keeps a master’s program running. When your life is scheduled in color-coded blocks, it’s easy to know what is happening moment to moment but hard to enjoy yourself.

Siblings in one lifetime or another.

Your best friend is very bad with time. When you were younger, you added fifteen minutes to her arrival time. Now that she’s married, you add thirty minutes. It drives you crazy. Out of spite, you started to arrive even later than that. You don’t think anyone notices, but it makes you feel a bit better. Spite is an ugly quality you haven’t quite grown out of.

After a day of making a company more money than you’ll ever see, you arrive late at your best friend’s mother’s house so the two of you can make it to a nail appointment. You walk through a “rough” neighborhood where everyone says hello from their porches as you pass. It’s easy to forget how to be friendly. It takes your nail tech two hours to do a simple gel manicure because she’s so busy telling you all about her life. The same thing would take forty-five minutes back home, and you’d get to wear your headphones. You’re not sure which one is better. When that’s all done, it’s dark, and your partner comes to pick you up because he’s kind and anxious. He drives you to a place where you can get a drive-through daiquiri. There is no alcohol-free option. Why would you want one in the Big Easy?

You hang out in the living room, passing on weed you don’t want to smoke because it makes you sick. You prefer to drink if you do anything at all. You wish life was this simple all the time. You want to buy a house in New Orleans. You remember that it will be gone in a few years. It’s a sad thought. Your head hurts with sadness and whiskey. You go to bed and cry into a pillow that isn’t yours. Not too hard, though; you don’t want to add to the water problem.

In the morning, you’re at work again and questioning your choices. According to everyone else, you’re successful and lucky. According to you, you’ve failed to be a writer.

Beautiful spaces for art of all things

By the afternoon, your body aches from awkward postures and the Amazon mattress. You meet up with your best friend and her husband so you can all go to the French Quarter. Things feel different here in the wintertime. There isn’t as much life, meaning there are a lot of Northerners. The only thing that’s the same is how sticky the air is. Wearing a mask means you don’t have to smell the city’s stink.

COVID is a mixed bag in New Orleans. Some people are serious, checking vaccine cards and telling you to cover your filthy mouth while you’re inside or get the fuck out. Someone refuses to let you into their apothecary because you are wearing a mask. She smirks as you tell her this. You tell her to have a nice day and leave. You talk about it for several blocks, bewildered. “Some people,” your best friend’s husband says and shrugs his shoulders.

You want to go back and beat the shit out of that woman, to tell her not to go to a hospital when she’s drowning in her own lungs. When you were younger, you might have started a fight or told her to go fuck herself. How hard is it to cover your mouth? With breath like that, she’d be doing everyone an even bigger favor. But you’re older now, peaceable. Spite is the thing you’re working on right now, not your temper.

Later that night, you’re in the living room again. You’re a little drunk and convinced that you can handle a puff or two of weed. You can’t and spend four hours dizzy. You focus on the painting on the wall, giggling when its occupants move. You want to go home, so you do.

In the morning, the car is packed, and the dog is distrustful of being in the backseat. Your partner drives for fourteen hours until you find a motel in Virginia that accepts pets. Snow is heavy on the ground, a reminder of which way you’re going. It’s too cold to be outside again. On the second day, you’re out of words and spend too much time playing old video games on your cell phone and not enough time engaging with your partner. You’re too tired to feel guilty.

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. Your bed is a miracle outshined only by your shower. You and your partner sleep for ten hours straight, foreheads pressed against one another for most of the night. He makes you coffee with beans ground in your kitchen in the morning. It tastes divine. Booting up your computer for work, you sit up tall in your chair, sip from your cup, and wrap yourself up in your blanket. The room is thick with the incense you bought down south. The house is still clean, a gift from a past-version from you. It’s quiet. You wonder what you did to get so lucky.


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