Spring time in New Orleans. Fresh strawberries and that Strawberry Abita beer I love so much. Flowers and shrubs blooming everywhere. Those nasty stinging caterpillars dropping out of nowhere to leave you with a souvenir of their passing which will last for days. This time of year is the same time six years ago when I made my way out of exile in Memphis, TN. back home after the failure of the federal levees.
There is a section of "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran which sums up my leaving of Memphis well.
"Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands."
On the 26th of March, I packed my worldly goods into a U-Haul and drove back home. I was coming home to much welcome, but also to much work.
I remember getting out of the car once we had arrived at my new temporary home. The city still had that smell. It's an undefinable smell, mixed of equal parts decay, death, and desolation. And the mold... we must not forget the mold.
That night, friends had come to help us move our things. After unloading the truck, we trooped over to Franky and Johnny's for some soul food.
Those first few weeks were a blur. I saw clients every day with stories of being pulled from rooftops, watching their children die, and floating on kitchen appliances in filthy waters. I listened. I helped where I could.
Things started getting quieter and quieter in my world. I couldn't hear the phone. I couldn't hear my clients or coworkers. In six weeks my hearing was gone, and I didn't know what I would do. I was in a city with very limited medical services. The wait to see an audiologist is long. He is so shocked by the sudden loss, and he fears I may have some obscure form of inner ear cancer.
I wait some more, finally get an MRI, and wait some more only to find out that I do not have obscure and deadly ear tumors. But I'm still deaf, and navigating a city full of crime and debris which would easily fall into the category of biohazardous totally deaf and almost totally blind. I was more alone and afraid than I can ever remember being.
The doctors tell me that it's the mold in the city which has caused my inner ear disease to flair up and take my hearing. It's like a bad country-western song. "Katrina done took my house and my hearing and my city." The only thing missing is a part about trains and betrayed love.
People ask me if I regret coming back. If I knew what would happen to me, would I have gone back? And my answer will always be hell yes! Because I would rather be deaf in New Orleans than hearing and live anywhere else.
The New Orleans native and author Poppy Z. Brite once said:
"If you belong somewhere, if a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don't desert it because it can kill you."
I have known from the very moment I first arrived here. On that gray and rainy day nine years ago. I knew that this is where I wanted to live for the rest of my life. I want to work here, and be in love here, and train dogs here. When I am old, I want to sit on my porch here, and drink whisky in my lemonade on muggy July afternoons. And I want to die here, and I want this place to be better for me having been a part of it. I am certainly better for it being a part of me.
This whole time, when I struggled every day for simple communication, I took strength from my clients. They would tell me how I gave them hope for the future. But what they would never know is that really, it was the other way around.
And so it's spring again-- a time which makes me think about great love, and great inspiration. It makes me think of renewal and redemption and hope.
And I pass one more season under a sky of vibrant blue, sitting on my porch drinking Strawberry Abita beer and knowing that I am truly blessed.