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Life as a Remainder
OK, I admit it.
I sleep with a 10-year-old boy every night. Or at least I have up until now.
That is not the reason my partner may well be leaving.
Or maybe it is.
The last few weeks she has talked increasingly about the options for where she is moving. Where, not if. It is only a matter of time before she finds something she can do, even something other than her successful practice of a law based on Napoleonic Code, somewhere, anywhere, other than New Orleans.
Even before Katrina, she always said the only reason she stayed here was my refusal to even discuss living anywhere else. And so, for 24 years this industrious Midwestern Girl has put up with a raucous Deep South Boy & his Deep South City. Over that time she has learned how to deal with my antics, but she has never really made her peace with New Orleans. In spite of her love of its food and music and deep, heartwarming culture.
During her childhood years she and her parents and five sisters were nomadic wanderers of the American Great Plains, Army folks moving frequently through a progression of faceless, flat towns and military installations in Nebraska and Missouri. She could never quite fathom my consummate need to nest, especially here. Still, there was an entirely new setting for life every few years, and the changing environments set a pattern of life that would follow her into adulthood. She likes to move about.
Besides, she would say, what perverse motivation could you possibly have for dropping permanent roots at the swamp-gagged mouth of the Mississippi, amidst the humidity, snakes and impolite drag queens?
Even when I showed her the pictures of my parents on their French Quarter honeymoon night in 1947, toasting each other at the Old Absinthe Bar on Bourbon Street, smiling wryly before bedding down at the luxurious Monteleone Hotel around the corner, she still would ask the question.
I tell her the other end of the honeymoon story, that they leave New Orleans, go to the casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, lose all their money, and end up spending the rest of their honeymoon on lumpy single cots back in the City at the Lee Circle Y, a postwar youth hostel.
And this is romantic?
How even when they get their dream, a tiny chain of weekly newspapers in Central Louisiana, they always load up the kids for a week every summer and come back downriver to the Crescent City. To get their creative energy back.
I tell her of college weekends in burlesque houses, of three-piece bump & grind jazz bands sprayed with soap suds by the swirling buttocks of Linda "The Champagne Girl" Brigette in a six-foot champagne glass, of the many mistakes of Mardi Gras, of the survival of Hurricane Audrey in 1955 and especially Hurricane Betsy in 1965, during my first week away from home at university. A dorm room with three feet of water and a like number of cases of beer. I tell her all those things. The roots are here, I tell her. They run too deep. I can't leave.
I don't get it.
But she lets me slide and stays. This is a good person. A very good person, with a great heart and a seemingly infinite capacity to forgive.
Twenty-three years of a relationship pass.
Comes The Storm.
Another year passes, and finally, unequivocally, the price of living in this City has become too high for her. It seems that every single person who returned to stay these last 12 months has been chronically dogged by constant depression and lingering physical maladies, sometimes the pain rising to life-threatening levels. She has been no exception, but has bravely forged on. Until now.
Now, I fear -- no, I know -- that after two decades of forbearance, I alone am no longer reason enough for her continuing to live here.
I do not blame her.
No matter what people say of the impossibility of my emigration, or even their own – "I would never leave. I and the place where I live are one and the same creature." -- the fact is that the thought of moving elsewhere never leaves my mind these days.
I feel this is a constant with each and every person who remains.
And yet we do remain.
But now, just yesterday morning, my big grey tabby starts limping and acting funny. Not in pain, but dazed and dizzy. I pick him up to find that he has a lump on his right shoulder that wasn't there two days ago. I think maybe he has dislocated his shoulder in one of his house-defense fights. I take him to the vet. No dislocation, they say. Rather, a rapidly expanding sarcoma. Biopsy immediately, they say. Incurable cancer likely.
Ten-year-old Koko has spent every night of his life on my bed, guarding me while I sleep, every night since I first found the tiny four-week-old grey ball of fur at the animal shelter sitting in a bowl of cat chow, guarding it. Last year, he went along with my decision and evacuated with me -- a horrible 17-hour nightmare in a tiny VW -- and never lost the faith for seven weeks as a refugee, until I could bring him back to the City.
New Orleans in general, and everything inside the old cast-iron fence at 725 rue Marigny in specific, belongs to him, and he to it.
He returned in October 2005. It is now September 2006.
An early morning phone call today predicts Koko to be dead within eight weeks.
He is the second of our three cats to be diagnosed with a malignant cancer in just the last three months. Neither was ever sick pre-K. I do not think about this.
Like I try not to think about the future. It is not here yet.
I look at my parents' picture.
At least until Happy Hour, eh?
And, after all these years, all this joy and horror, Happy Hour is still celebrated every afternoon in New Orleans. Especially at The Old Absinthe House Bar.
© Jim Gabour
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