“So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away/
For the wild unknown country where I could not go.”–Bob Dylan
Waiting out the storm in a pizza joint without electricity, we’re surviving on wine and an acoustic guitar being passed around. New Orleans is equal parts welcoming and devastating–a tumultuous lover with outstretched arms threatening tears at mention of you leaving, shattering glasses on the floor. What New Orleans did you want to see? Bourbon Street is covered in blinking electric lights, empty promises, and vomit. The tourists show their tits because they can’t find freedom in their daily lives back home. NOLA says, “Come on in and make your mistakes and we won’t judge.” We all make mistakes. Isn’t that why we leave?
We travel to get away. Escape ourselves. Why does our daily skin feel so tight? It itches but doesn’t shed. Until we leave it behind. Shedding happens here. Of inhibitions. The past. There’s a haunting feeling down every street and inside every darkened house, ghosts as palpable as the mist that thickens the air like damp cotton. You can’t run and not expect the ghosts to come trailing after you–the statues of Jesus dotting the city cast shadows onto the churches more powerful than the statues themselves. Our past is heavier than our present, the darkness of the shadows fuller than our bodies.
Last night we strolled beside the hazy bayou like sleepwalkers. Creeping along as slow moving as the jasmine crawling up building facades. We’re adapting to this life–all calm before the storm, even during it. This is the NOLA I want to see, beyond the tourist attractions and plastic souvenir hurricane glasses–the witching hour, the dive bars, long conversations about our childhoods, our art, our fears as we walk aimlessly in strange neighborhoods. We won’t remember the street names but we’ll remember what it felt like to be strangers. We spent yesterday afternoon next to the Mississippi reading tarot. We did not go on a swamp tour.
The hours pass slower than the rainfall. Put enough women together with pain and voices and songs to sing and how else do you expect to wait out the storm? These are the moments we will remember, as crystallized as a Polaroid. When she sings she’s got a heart cracked open and it spills forth like water breaking through the levee. We put up too many levees back home. Home is a levee. Routine and day job and errands and bills. This is why we run to the unknown country. To unknow ourselves.
I want to crawl out of this skin and make new skin, stitched together out of magnolia petals and rain water. I want to break open this heart of mine and fill it with the storm. I want to be the storm and the aftermath, the destruction and the renewal. I want to go away to come back again, only not come back at all. All going. All rain water trickling down skin like a washing away.
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