I love New Orleans. The REAL New Orleans. The New Orleans that you don’t see on Girls Gone Wild Mardi Gras or any snapshot taking by a bunch of sorority girls on Spring Break hitting up Bourbon. I love the New Orleans that represents strength, pride, tradition. I like the New Orleans that fosters creativity, that holds the Audubon Park and Zoo, that makes up City Park. I love the shotgun houses, the slave shakes, and the fact that on Fat Tuesday, every single business is closed. I love the New Orleans that represents good people, hard working people, people who love and live.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t see much of that New Orleans right now. This is probably my own fault, still adjusting to life in the Big Easy, life away from my small pond in small Wisconsin where I was a rather big fish. It is really different. Very different. And, unfortunately, I haven’t fully allowed my roots to plant deeply in the ground, wander too far away from my home Uptown. And I allow myself to read nola.com – the comments, the stories, the articles – and it makes me very, very afraid. This isn’t to say New Orleans is a bad place to live. Again, I love New Orleans – it just scares the hell out of me.
Maybe it is because I haven’t allowed myself much time to really get to know New Orleans outside of my comfort zone, to meet people, to make friends, to get involved. Maybe it is becaus I don’t know how I get involved or where to even start. I would love to be able to feel comfortable going out for the night with my husband, hanging out at Carrollton Station or Maple Leaf Bar or adventuring out to some other part of town and taking in a play or seeing an art exhibit. What stops me from doing this? Well, I can count on my hand the number of people I know in this city,not related to my occupation, and I couldn’t ask any of these people to please watch my daughter for the night. It is a cycle for me, you see, and one that I find plenty of excuses to keep running in circles.
Maybe it has to do with being mugged at 4:00 in the afternoon, walking my daughter home from school on Carrollton Avenue. Or maybe it has to do with going to bed, looking out the window, and seeing someone on my porch, attempting to still my plastic lawn chairs that I bought for $4 each at Dollar General. Or maybe it is the comments made to me when I pick my daughter up from her publis school. Or maybe I am just not cut out to live in the city, any city. I have developed the coping skills for living in a city, especially this city. But I love this city. I really do.
Do you see the battle that is constantly raging inside of me?
No, let’s not.
Yes, I need to get out of here.
No, you don’t – this place is your home, remember how you felt driving into the city with your possessions packed in your car, excited?
But that was before the crime.
Crime is everywhere.
But not like this!
In some places it is worse, you don’t know what you are getting into.
Someone was murdered near my home.
Her son did it.
You can’t count on the police.
Avoid situations where you need the police.
People die in the jails here! People are beaten!
I can’t argue with that. That is very true.
It is like having two people inside my body- one going to the right, the other to the left – ripping me entirely in half. In some ways, it feels like being locked away in a prison, almost afraid to leave your home, no matter at what time of day.
Am I being over-dramatic?
That is entirely possible. It really is. I am from an unincorporated town in Wisconsin. I milked cows, fed chickens, and took care of rabbits growing up. We left our doors unlocked. We rode our bikes after dark. Our neighbors knew one another, looked out for one another, and cared when things happened.
So, New Orleans, how do I embrace you – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and fully bloom where I am planted, without the whispers in my ear of Hammond or Robert or Baton Rouge? How do I walk outside, not afraid, and explore?
Probably one step at a time. Courtwatchers. Maybe a book club. Perhaps starting a writing club. Something. Anything.
New Orleans, I so want to call you home, but at what cost?
My piece-of-mind? My daughter’s education?
I really don’t know the answer, but feel much better saying it out loud than keeping it buried inside.
My heart is in this city, but it is held prisoner by the thug mentality. In that respect, the fear of my safety and that of my child, they win.
They fucking win.