I stop the car at the edge of a small town. From the corner, I can hear the trumpet blare, the owner taking deliberately slow breaths to elongate the sound, speaking mournfully. The saxophone accompanies it, lifting its spirits up with a lighthearted joy. I nod my head, bouncing along to the sultry rhythm sweeping across the dusty street.
I get out, smelling the warm air and wrapping my arms around it. They poke their head out, leaning their arm against the roof of Darth Vader, and wonder what I am looking at. ” I am looking at nothing, and yet everything,” I say wistfully.
Sweetness tickles the air As the songs whisper And mourn a past Shout and celebrate A future Of hopes and dreams Hanging on by a thread Sweetness tickles the air As the trumpets blare And drums beat Well into an endless night Listening to the voices Often smothered and drowned While screaming for A future.
I crawled into New Orleans for the second time not thinking about anything else but who I was there to see. Darkness hid from sight the beautiful magnolias sticking out from the park, and the magnificent and highly stylized French Quarters, whose history was as rich as its various change in architecture, although dampened by sore memories stemming from the nearby plantations. In fact, I can’t help but wonder at how often we listen to their music, bobbing our heads along with smiles plastered to our cheeks, and not consider their words or their meaning, the voices and melody telling a story of their own. For New Orleans is also rich with stories, a vast array filled with a heart broken and beaten yet stead fast and resilient and brimming with joy.
“Perhaps I am reading too much into it. My thoughts tend to run wild, confused as a lost and scared pony, searching to find the right road and make its way back. Still, often times I think about how much we seek out entertainment without fully understanding or appreciating.”
They kick at the dirt scratching the black top surface, absorbing each word even though their eyes wander elsewhere. Their hand digs inside a pocket and pulls out a pen. They spin it once, twice, fiddling with it to let the energy flow, before letting the ink spill out and form a pattern.
The night was considerably cooler, although the day would be sweating hot, with flies buzzing around burning and perspiring skin. I reached the rental house late, Wanderlust and General Mayhem out dining with the Other Wanderlust, and was fumbling with the code when they returned, a touch of alcohol on their breathe. They let me in and gave me a tour, the design truly original and unique.
“I cannot tell you the order of events because they get scrambled from here; lost in a flurry of and frenzied jubilation, I try to absorb each day at a time, following the birthday celebrations in our own parade which did include a bit of cultural observation, although perhaps it was stereotypical of us. New Orleans waves stories of mystical voodoo and vampirism to the point it is sold as an attraction. And like anyone else, we garbled it up like vultures, although General Mayhem was reluctant to participate.”
“Why was that?” they ask curiously.
“Let me tell you about the power of alcohol combined with symptoms of ADD. Because its like a child at a circus- forever wandering from one exciting display to the next, never stopping because of all the amazing distractions. And at night, New Orleans was full of amazing distractions that lasted until dawn.”
Perhaps we should have stayed inside and continued watching Rupaul’s drag race- it should also be noted drag brunch, especially in New Orleans, are a wondrous sight to behold, not only for the beauty but for the skill and passion radiating through people living there full happiness- but instead we took a tour, as tourist do, succumbing to our privilege to explore a rich culture so frivolously. I wish I could say my brain latched on the numerous facts about vampires and supernatural and gruesome murders, but it did not, although fragments remained, a story of a man who tortured for blood or something along those lines.
Somewhere along the way General Mayhem left the tour, too bored and too excited by the parade that past through nearly every night during that week of March. Was it left over enthusiasm from Mardi Gras? Yes and no. New Orleans liked to celebrate, using trumpets and trombones, deep honeyed voices, to scream and shout their stories of a world we could smile and cheer along, but never truly understand.
The late night was spent either wandering to the nearest strip club, which was a strong no from me, or finding a table to share beignets. The powder encased my lips, and my stomach hungered for more. I sat in a group, afraid their backs would cut me off and I would be alone in a bubble no one visited, a lone tiger wandering an empty cage, once more.
“You see, something happened that increased my fear of people. I do not understand their rules, so I prefer to leave them and roam unaffected. Some might say it was a bad experience, and those who say that generally don’t understand because they never had one, let alone a series of ones, which transformed into something more scarring,” I tread carefully with my words, inching ever so close to a truth that has been haunting me for years and in which it won’t fade away because I will not forget. If I forget, how will I ever learn? They do not look at me, preferring to watch the golden light paint its glow over the roof of the bar where the music continues to pour. The melody sends a chill up their spine and they are caught as a beetle is caught in a spider’s web.
I went on that trip because I was finally living as I should have been before I was taken away. My confidence, already small, was fractured, the pieces fallen yet the foundation still there, like a game of jenga. It was flimsy and weak, and each push threatened to topple it, but I clung to it tightly, needed only a shred in which I could one day rebuild. Here I was, sitting with friends and waiting for the voice to tell me to go away, that I am worthless to them. It doesn’t come, not until lunchtime the next day at least. The bar was down to earth, simple, with the windows and balconies opened to the outside world. There was laughter and smiles, and encouraging bathroom signs depicting unicorns and centaurs, saying they didn’t care who you were as long as you washed your bloody hands. A welcoming place, really, except I was reminded of how deep the drinking culture was. Not a dry bottle could be spotted; everything was filled with gin and vodka, rum and tequila. Of course I should have expected New Orleans was the party city and I was not big into parties.
“The thing about travel is being able to see. See the buildings, see the art, see the stories stamped across different styles of architecture, different settings where the sun sets at a new angle where the lights pop and explode in ways you aren’t accustomed to. How can you see when your eyes are blurry? Sure, partying offers a unique opportunity to do the same thing in a different setting, meet different people in a different setting, but eventually it is no more unique than sitting in your local pub watching sports and sharing the same old stories. And that can be cool and all- surprisingly one of my favorite nights was sitting outside at a tiki bar enjoying seven hours of rugby- but if that is all you do over and over again, it begins to get stale and your eyes begin to cake over with a film which prevents you from seeing.”
“How much did you get to see?” they ask
“Not nearly enough and more than I thought,” I say. We walk closer towards the down, abandoning Darth Vader for the moment to absorb the wandering stories traveling as we were-vagabonds tied to no end. They carry the postcard and pen, trying to keep up with every word, but some words get lost behind the magic of sight and sound. Behind every bar, every shop and restaurant, every shoe and shirt, there is a story waiting to be heard, to be listened to, a child eager to share. Sometimes it is necessary to drop the pen and paper and listen.
I listened to Wanderlust as she asked me to take a drink even though I adamantly refuse to drink on most occasion. The woman had forgotten my order and to make amends I was given a free drink. I listened I I went and got it, my knowledge of alcohol so poor I went with the classic lines ” Surprise me” and “What do you recommend” as well as adding the casual ” Oh you know, I’m feeling something cool and refreshing. Let’s go with that.” The more I pretended to fit in, the less of myself I was. I cringe as I take that sip, that peer pressure, knowing full well I was sacrificing in order to please, too afraid that if i didn’t comply then Wanderlust would not want to be my friend. After wandering alone for so long, I wanted to have friends, never realizing it was probably more important to be friends with yourself since it is with yourself you have to live with for the rest of your life.
Besides a little hiccup which inadvertently blew a jenga piece off the top of my tower, I was able to keep myself on top of the world, especially when it came to taking my first ever airboat ride through the swamplands. General Mayhem and the Other Wanderlust opted out because they are so accustomed to taking them all the time in Florida, and yet I could not imagine ever being satisfied. I was flying across the water, across the gators, cackling like a devil, the adrenaline bouncing around in my blood. The noise was a hinderance, but the safeguard of headphones bypassed the discomfort. We watched our tour guide, and energetic man with a rich knowledge of the routes and waterways, feed an egg to the gators, their tails whipping back and forth playfully. Or aggressively. The man was tempting fate to give him a gruesome end, but his confidence and bravado was something to be desired. He grew up in the swamps, and we were essentially in his backyard, the cypress trees and murky water his swing set.
“Like I said, behind a pair of shoes, or in this case a pair of boots, is a story. And the story isn’t always so grandiose, just simple enough for you to learn from it and add it to your storage of perspectives. I swear, every place you go- and you don’t have to be an adreneline junkie- you should do something new, whether its exploring the streets or taking an airboat ride in the middle of nowhere, because then you will have a new story to take home.”
The floor cracks Once, twice The wood not very pliant As his cumbersome feet Slide Once, twice In a ballroom glittering From the moonlight Striking All the way through Crystallized glass And he takes her hand Pulling her towards His cumbersome feet Once, twice Until she finally relents Smiling While faces puckered and tight Powdered blue and pink Unnatural in the glow of Moonlight Watch them glide Once, twice Around and around In a room growing Smaller and smaller Their world only big Enough For two The floor is quiet And the jealous whispers Fade Her eyes locks on his Delight Her hand twist on his Soft young hair Bouncy and smelling of Salt The sea A faraway place she Wants to be And she lays her head Against his chest Listening for the love that Beats Once, twice Three times over While his warm skin Tickles her and she Smiles Once, twice Three times more As the moonlight strikes Through crystallized glass Bathing them in white The music drifts Through an open door And she closes her eyes Lacing her fingers One by one Through his While listening for the Love That beats Once, twice And stops A soft wind rippling Through broken windows A chill spreading across Stale air She opens her eyes And he is gone Her radiant dress Tattered And her flawless hands Withered with age And she stands in an empty Ballroom Listening for the love Which has long since gone Beating Once, twice Three times more Beneath the moonlight on a Floor Watching two birds waltz as One In a memory long since Faded To all but Her.
The last day was bittersweet, which was a sign that it was too good to ever want it to end. If at some point I ever take a trip and I want it to be over, then something has gone wrong. For like the last piece of jenga hanging on by a thread there should be a sliver, a sliver of steel that can be used to either rebuild or remind that there was something good. We sat on a boat cruising down the river, the heat beating on our backs, lost in reflections and hangovers. It has been a long time since I have been on a river boat, and it was nice to stir the memory, remembering why I enjoyed boats in the first place. It’s funny how traveling can bring back the things lost and forgotten to age and adulthood, the burden of responsibilities which some of us have the privilege to neglect. But the stories of others should serve as a tether not to stray too far, and that where there is privilege there is pain and suffering.
“Way to end that on a down note,” they say to me derisively.
I laugh. ” Was that both a pun and sarcasm?”
“Maybe.” They shove me in the shoulder and I nearly tumble over. “Watch it, you don’t want to break an old person’s bones, do you? Its so tough for us to recover and you don’t want to be responsible now, do you?”
It was a jest, but I forgot how deep guilt burned inside me, the flames always tall and consuming. I tap them on the back and pull them towards the music. “Come on, let us go dance. I promise you will like it one day.”