This afternoon, I was scrolling aimlessly through the “Google cards” presented to me by my phone. Time to home: 31 minutes (4 minutes longer than normal). Weather: Columbus 14 degrees. ‘Furious 7’ Soundtrack Launches with 7 Singles. Parking location: <0.1 mi. Mardi Gras is over.
Mardi Gras is over. And then I thought of you, because I always thought of New Orleans as our city, yours and mine.
It was three years ago last month when we walked into the lobby of Le Pavilion. I cannot remember now why we decided to go there. I think it was the idea that neither one of us really knew the city; I’d been in the area shortly after the storm, as part of One Lap of America, and you’d just driven through during one of your many trips across the country. I think I was looking for a place that wasn’t thick with the ghosts of your past, which you kept deliberately dark as the view into deep water but which periodically permitted some sort of nightmarish creature to surface unexpectedly: Oh yeah. I lived there. I danced there. I know him — we slept together once. I took Ecstasy there and I don’t know what happened after that. I forgot to tell you. I forgot to mention it. I didn’t think you would care.
And so the ground was eaten away from under my feet until everything we did was preceded by a questionnaire, a book of potential concerns written line by line in the blood of previous wounds. I learned early on that you could lie by omission as easily as I could lie with open eyes, so I did my own research, too. The map of America was rotten, riddled with stories ecstatic and tortuous and humiliating. There were so few safe places on which to land, places where I wouldn’t be unknowingly participating in a community-theater revue of your fabulous life, booking a four-star hotel for a night where you’d once met a wealthy, vaguely famous man for a week in the penthouse, dining under the shadow of the condo someone had offered to buy for you, cautiously handing a fifty-dollar tip to the same captain your companion from a decade ago had carelessly plied with wads of hundreds.
New Orleans was safe. We both agreed. You wanted to go for Mardi Gras, because all your life you’d followed the party. I wanted to go before Mardi Gras, because I despised crowds. As was always the case, I won the argument.
I planned the trip with military precision and I frog-marched you through a meticulously pre-researched itinerary of first-rate music and cultural experiences. At each place, you asked to stay a bit longer and I insisted we move on. I evaluated guitars for sale at all the proper stores and discussed the use of the ninth chord in blues with a fellow who sat on a vintage GA-5 amplifier outside The Spotted Cat. I lectured you on everything and you coped by drinking.
On the second, or maybe the third, night you lost your temper when you saw a woman’s face appear briefly on the screen of my phone. I’d sent the call to voicemail but it was too late. You tried to run into an alley but your heel broke and you came to a confused halt. I carried you all the way back to the hotel, through a gauntlet of dark faces trying to whisper suggestions of availability for drugs or something worse. The next day, and the day after, we fought first with anger, then with resignation. By the time we got back on the plane we’d stopped speaking.
Some time after that, at the suggestion of a few friends and my own father, we started watching Treme. We flew through the seasons we could buy and anticipated the last one with considerable anguish because those hours in front of the television represented the only times we could speak to each other without rancor or repudiation. After a long day of silently hating the other person in the house, it was nice to sit down and be surprised: “Snug Harbor! We went there!” we’d both chime at once, and it placed two moments, that of the New Orleans past and our Ohio present, under the aegis of temporary, companionable, silence.
Then when the series ended, we planned to go again. To see everything we’d seen on the series, to immerse ourselves in that mutually acceptable world. It was funny. Our only good moments in our final year or so were spent in front of the television, watching New Orleans. It started to feel like a home away from home. Like if we could get there, we’d be okay, that we’d be on solid ground again, as if the worm-eaten territory beneath us could turn solid and reliable and safe once more.
You wanted to go during the Jazz Festival, because all your life you’d followed the party. I wanted to go another time, because all my life I’ve been trying to be alone and failing at it. This time, I decided to be the one who yielded, and I said you could choose: Mardi Gras or JazzFest. I started looking at the flights, but we’d waited too long to get booked for 2014.
This would have been the year, then. Our year of Mardi Gras, one delirious drunken day among scenes that were familiar to us, seen through an LCD screen, darkly. You’d have worn the beads and favored the young guys with a glimpse of your stellar figure and I’d have sulked but maybe not too long, and we’d have let the things that needed to be let go, go. Then at midnight they’d have swept us off the streets back up the Quarter to our hotel and we’d have slept through the next day, like untroubled children, asleep in the only place that belonged to both of us, knowing that it only worked as long as we pretended not to see that this, like the rest of the experiences that bound us, really meant nothing.