Monday, September 10, 2012


There has to be something still
At the center of the swirl—
Ask any hurricane—
An everlasting, an all-powerful,
A Let’s grow old together and die
In each other’s arms—
Or the one left back dies soon of grief everlasting,
A no-matter-what.

-James Galvin, from "Dying into What I've Done," X

The first time I fell in love, at 18, I felt sure it would last forever: a joy to light the dingy, daily corners of life. So many forevers later, I am still looking for that, rightly or wrongly.

...I recently experienced my first-ever hurricane in the form of Isaac, the storm that tediously spun over Southern Louisiana for days, dumping wind-lashed rains, cutting power, strewing debris, straining people’s patience and attempts at cheer. I’d just left a 4-month relationship with a man who was super-smart, creative, kind, ambitious, a good lover. He was willing to introduce me to his parents and spend weekend nights with Sara and I, making her laugh by saying we were going to turn into giant raspberries, or that he liked spiders in his ice cream. And yet I wasn’t happy; remained in some way apart and alone. So after months spinning in my own mental turmoil, I ended it, a week before the storm.

By Saturday, I was starting to feel better and even a little empowered. I spent the night with 2 women friends—dining on avocado slices with olive oil and blue cheese, the three of us watching Eat, Pray, Love for the umpteenth time. Like Liz Gilbert, I had felt irrationally unfulfilled in circumstances that would make other women swoon. Yet in initiating the breakup, I’d listened to my feelings and instincts, though they struck me as crazy—as they really have my whole life. The decision, though difficult and painful, felt right and was starting to make me reframe my similar-feeling split with C., my ex-husband. Then, too, I listened to my gut and left the security and camaraderie he offered, in search of something Else, some further, deeper aliveness. I regretted and essentially whipped myself over that choice for years. Maybe, I began to glimpse, all the self-punishment was not cool? And then a hurricane—what I’d been dreading for the 3 years I’ve lived here—hit, and the thoughts I had wrenched toward the positive turned dark. You thought you could stand alone? Take this.

As Isaac neared, I holed up with a friend and his wife, having sent Sara to her dad’s on the Northshore. She and her two stepsiblings had their picture snapped against the ominous grey waves of Lake Pontchartrain, a day before landfall, with the Facebook caption: “Our first hurricane as a family!” Despite going through a couple bottles of wine the first night, my friends and I weren’t feeling festive. We passed that Wednesday—Hurricane Katrina’s 7-year anniversary— sitting dejectedly in their dim living room, framed by heavy drapes over long windows, with one of their dogs, old and sick, panting in the unaccustomed, stale heat. I’d woken at 3 AM to find the power newly out, and thrashing trees outside the guestroom windows about to become projectiles, it seemed, with each roaring gust. 

A surprising thing brought me comfort then: a cologne sample torn from a magazine. In a fit of New Agey activity, I’d glued it into a journal along with words and images that moved me, that I somehow wanted in my life—the phrase “Give Wildly” and pictures of a whole cooked chicken in a wreath of herbs, and of a well-stocked pantry replete with sardines, molasses, Worcestershire, and apricot halves; and this shred of scent, Polo Blue. I don’t even know any man who wears this. But my first love wore the Polo that came in an identical square glass bottle, green instead of blue, featuring a tiny gold man on horseback. As we were leaving Colgate’s campus at the end of our freshman year, he dabbed some on the sleeves and collar of a flannel shirt, which he gave me so I would have part of him: the part he would not (presumably) be giving to his hometown girlfriend. I clung to his smell on the shirt for months, and that scent-fingerprint brought tears, comfort, a hit of beauty beyond any words I would have to describe it.

The week of the hurricane, I had $70 in my bank account. My daughter wasn’t with me; I’d tearfully hugged her goodbye at her dad’s workplace, feeling that she’d be safer with him and his fiancĂ©, who’s been through all this before, than with broke, hysterical me. I had to ask a couple different friends to take me in—fearing the unknown, and not wanting to be stuck by myself—and each of them said that they would have me, but either my child or cat would pose problems. I felt like a problem. And luckily I was received, plus cat, minus one supportive boyfriend whose presence, during that time, I sharply missed. I had nothing, in a sense: no job, funds, partner, nearby family. But I had the whiff of Polo Blue... and it made me feel, absurdly, as if there was someone with me. Into that dark, eerie room, it brought rich sense-memories of the past and intimations of a future yet to materialize except as molecules, released from a paper strip, that registered on me physically, bypassing my anxious mind. 

Over that week, intending to maybe write, I produced a few bleak fragments:
I don’t have money, but I’m sexy

Sept. 1: I heard a truck on my street and felt a surge of hope—Entergy?[New Orleans' energy co.] When I looked out the window it was a Miller Lite truck.

The second observation encapsulates what it’s like to live in New Orleans, where partying trumps efficiency: something I’m strangely proud to have learned more about, the way so many others have over the years—by being sweaty. And bored. And not knowing what will happen next.

August 31: Sara and I at Rock 'N Bowl Mid-City Lanes, escaping the crushing heat of my apartment