Another long goodbye
My friend called me today -- she was crying, having just left her office here for the last time. In a few days, she'll be headed north for good. "I'm really, really sad," she said, and she sounded like my 6-year-old niece, it was so sweet and uncomplicated. "I'm just so, so sad."
Goodbyes are always hard, of course, but it's hard to explain the mix of emotions that comes with saying goodbye to someone with whom you've shared the past few years in New Orleans. There's the straightforward sadness, of course, and also hopefulness and relief for the person who's moving on, but also a little jealousy that they're on the other side of having made the difficult decision to leave -- a decision which strikes me as forever unmade if you're still here, as though staying weren't actually a valid option but just prolonged procrastination. I hate that I think that way sometimes. I know plenty of people who, thank god, righteously refuse to. Those people may even resent my thinking it out loud. But there it is.
It was almost two years ago exactly that this friend and I stood in a converted church in St. Martinville hugging each other in tears at the precise moment when we both realized what the storm was going to mean for us personally: an endless series of long goodbyes. That was just a couple of days after the storm, before we were able to make sense of anything, and before we'd gotten around to worrying about the Rubik's cube that had been made of our material lives.
Remember the Rubik's cube? I've thought about it a lot over these past two years, because that's what this whole city feels like to me sometimes, like a scramble of different colors trying to find their way back to the right side of things. Getting to where you're going often requires getting lost in the meantime, maybe spending some time on the wrong side of things with people who aren't quite the same color they used to be. You used to park here? Well, now there are new neighbors with trucks there, and a ginormous trash pile over there, so now, you have to park over here. You work there? Well, now that office has moved over here, so now you have to work somewhere you're not used to. And your friends? All the red and green ones? They're all over the place. Some of them you are unlikely to see on this side of town again.
I used to get so impatient with the Rubik's Cube when I was little. I'd think I had the whole thing together, would check three sides, four sides, good good, I think I got it this time... then Bam, there's one single yellow square left on the otherwise red side. Shit. I'd get so tired of undoing my work that I'll admit -- and I can't possibly be the only one who cheated this way, can I be? -- I used to peel the stickers off and replace them to make it all work. And my sister would say, Oh my god, how did you do that? And I'd shrug with the dissatisfaction of having fooled only her.
The trouble was, the game was over once you did that, because somehow you screwed up the internal logic of the thing and made it so it would never really work again. So although you had yourself a perfect Rubik's Cube, you knew it wasn't perfect, really.
But maybe I was missing the point -- maybe perfection was not supposed to be the goal...you know, it's the journey, blah blah blah. Looking back on it now, I think I should have embraced that single yellow square.
All I know is that when this friend is gone, a really important sticker is going to be missing from my cube.
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Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
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