Twelve short weeks ago, I took my two sons – one two years old, one just born – and moved 1,500 miles away from New Orleans. I left behind my parents, extended family, my best friends in the world, our church, my job, and everything familiar to follow a job opportunity for my husband across the country in a state I had never visited. Moving is trauma. What got me through the tearful goodbyes, the only way I could step onto the plane with my boys, was the knowledge that I could always return. “Just a plane ride away!” I cheerfully quipped to my loved ones. “You can come back whenever you want,” they agreed, “New Orleans will always be here!” And it was, so we did. We turned right back around for Mardi Gras and the parts of my heart that were freshly broken felt healed the moment my feet touched hallowed ground. We left again, with “see you soon!” instead of “goodbye” and with promises and plane tickets for Jazz Fest.
I heard the grumblings like everybody else.
It all felt so removed from our day to day that it was easy to sweep under the rug, even as the unease I felt grew. We’re Jazz Festers, so skipping out wasn’t an option and I looked forward to bringing my little one out to the Fair Grounds for his first mango freeze. Our best friends booked their tickets here for Mother’s Day, an annual tradition since our sons were born. I was already looking past those visits into June to come home and enjoy those lazy, hazy summer days. And then, all of a sudden, things changed.
Jazz Fest has been canceled for the first time in history. Orleans Parish’s death rate is (at the time this article is being written) the highest in the country. My world, which had seemed so large and filled with possibility just a few days prior, has now shrunk down to the size of our strange new house in a strange new state, looking through our windows at people we don’t know who call themselves our neighbors. How is this possible?
What do you mean I can’t go home?
Immediately, my instincts were to get back. Our new preschool was canceled anyway – so why stay? Even if we’re social distancing, isn’t it better to be socially distant at home where we have an established network? But my parents are in their 60s, and my father is immunocompromised which puts him in one of the top risk categories for COVID-19. Flying with two little ones and then descending upon their home would have put all of us at risk, even before the travel restrictions. So here I am, constantly refreshing my phone for updates from home as they get progressively scarier, miles away from my family (both given and chosen), frustrated, confused, and at a total loss.
New Orleans, I miss you.
I miss your crooked sidewalks that necessitated an off-road double stroller and made me curse just a few weeks ago trying to navigate. I wish I was walking them now, six feet away from our friends as we explored our Broadmoor neighborhood. I miss your green trees and the pollen that made me sound like I had a clothespin clipped onto my nose. I wish I was taking my children on a car ride down St. Charles to look at them and smell the sweet olive and count columns on houses. I miss your restaurants that left us more than satisfied, left us satiated in a blissful stupor. I wish I was Clorox wiping down to-go containers from our favorites now. I miss the true community of New Orleans that refuses to bow down to tragedy, but rises as one to become more resilient together, each crisis we overcome stitched into the shared fabric that is the life of a New Orleanian. Typing this, I feel the tears coming. My chest is tightening. Why can’t I be waving at friendly faces through shotgun windows? Why can’t I be there for New Orleans the way New Orleans has always been there for me?
When texts and phone calls from friends come in from friends around the country asking me amidst this chaos, “Aren’t you glad you left?” I’m not sure what to tell them. They mean well, they mean to be comforting. But you know who doesn’t ask that? Anyone from New Orleans. Because they already know the answer:
The only thing worse than being in New Orleans right now, is not being there.