As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
Gifts are everwhere when our heart calls for them. We just need to have the courage to see them when they come. Thank you, Tara, for giving us permission to receive them. yrs. Laura
Gros Bon Ange, by Tara C. Trapani
I remember the man in gold—the large figure almost bursting with a flamboyant abundance of lamé. He was a constant in all the times I’d been there–like the river; the quiet garden behind the Cathedral; the ancient bar on the corner, pregnant with ghostly conspiratorial whispers that had been there practically since the beginning of time. Like all of these, he remained my personal fixture in the unchangeable landscape of the city as I knew it—as I wanted it to be.
I was young, or it feels that way now—at the time the weight of the world made me feel old as the river itself. I had come to the city once again with the man for whom I deeply cared. We had been “together” in some strange, unconventional way for several years and had traveled here to New Orleans multiple times. He loved the food, the 4 a.m. revelry, the festivity. I was overwhelmingly drawn to the heady blend of an all-too-present past and the infusion of spirit that flowed through all—the haunting echo of African tribal traditions blended with old world grace, new world spirit, and a sheer veil of social and racial tension. This potent mix gave the city an energy I could not resist.
But this particular time, neither of us had any desire to be there. He had just weeks before experienced the anguishing death of his brother (“suicide by cop,” the papers called it), and his grief permeated every breath, every cell. It defined him now. I offered what support and comfort I could, but in the end, that kind of grief is a labyrinth we each must navigate and emerge from alone—or not (I was to come to understand this with terrible clarity several years later). But his family insisted, pushed hard, convinced him that we must still make the journey. Plans had been made, tickets paid for. So we headed off on the vacation that felt like the last long mile.
A drinker by nature, his grief had catapulted this tendency to new heights of self-medicated inebriation. It soothed him in the airport, on the flight down, and upon arrival he made a beeline for the corner store, leaving me standing in front of the hotel, mouth open, bags in hand. By the time I emerged from the bathroom refreshed, the bottle of no-name vodka lay empty on the nightstand. We headed out to see our beloved city—three steps out the door, he was face down on the pavement.
The trip progressed pretty much along these lines—he drank to anesthetize himself; I drank to deal with his drinking. He migrated from bar to bar, telling any stranger who would listen the story of how his baby brother was gunned down by the LAPD in the early morning hours of Martin Luther King Jr. day, with his family looking on. I was disgusted—I thought it shameful, using this tragedy like some sort of cheap party trick, designed to attract attention (I’ve since realized that as an extremely social creature, perhaps this was his own way of processing the grief, in a manner that my inexperienced, introverted self just couldn’t fathom. I’m so sorry now for my lack of understanding).
By the third evening everything between us had eroded like loose soil along the riverbank–irretrievably lost in the murky water. He screamed at me through a drunken haze, hurling insults and cosmic ire that I was too fragile back then to weather. My marriage to my very best friend had dissolved in part because of my feelings of profound connection to the intoxicated man before me (and in part because we were too ridiculously young to survive the tides that life would send our way). If this was now over as well, then it had all been for nothing—then I had nothing left.
Fractured, I staggered out into the night alone, wandering the streets, but no measure of pavement pounding could erase the pain. I headed for the waterfront—undoubtedly dangerous, both at that point in history and at that time of day, somewhere after midnight and before the return of the sun. I didn’t care. My stupid, young self actually hoped that something bad would happen—some physical harm that might distract me from the unbearable emotional hurt. Or perhaps I might just become one with the river and let myself be carried away by the current (the pollution would probably kill me if nothing else did the trick). I had such romantic, Russian-esque notions of life and death back then. I thought about my little girl at home, three years old at the time. She’d be better off. She had my mother, her father. She loved them more, anyway; she’d never wanted me. I was an unnecessary third wheel in any gathering.
I stumbled along Jackson Square, devoid of hope, trying hard to catch my breath and still the sobs, rubbing the mascara from my wet, red and blue eyes. From the heavy air came a voice—I turned to my right to see the mystical man in gold I had watched from afar so many times as he told fortunes along the cobbled paths surrounding the green. “Are you alright?” he reached out his hand. I stared back, dumbfounded—I’d honestly forgotten the rest of the world existed. “Would you like a reading…free of charge?” His expression pleaded with me to sit and stay. The depth of compassion in his large eyes took me by surprise—such genuine concern for some silly girl he’d never even met. I could find no voice. I may have attempted to whisper my apologetic refusal, or I might have just wordlessly waved away the offer as graciously as I could muster. Either way I continued my lemming-like journey toward the massive Mississippi.
But something had shifted—a silent crack in the stone. I couldn’t wipe his face from my memory, his kind eyes. He had—with just those few words—brought me back to the land of the living. Whether I wanted to or not, I noticed the people all around me once again—a twenty-something couple hand in hand, laughing lightheartedly; brightly plumed young women draped across wrought iron chairs, dusted with soft white sugar; the familiar old man on the corner, bent and twisted, tufts of white hair stark against the folds of his deep brown skin, humming contentedly for himself alone.
I stopped just before the water, picked up a pay phone (my only option in those innocently primitive, pre-cellular days), reached out to the one person I knew would always be there on the other end, and asked for help. In that moment I chose—I chose messy, difficult, complicated, unromantic, beautiful life.
It’s fourteen years later, now, and I’ve returned to the city with my daughter, almost grown. She’s asked to come here so many times. I’ve resisted, until now. I’m happily married. It’s been a long, hard road to get here, and I embrace the cliché like a badge of courage.
I was never able to help my troubled lover. I tried so hard for so long—too long. He passed away several years ago, alone. I choose to remember the joyful moments and hold him close in my heart. I think he knows.
Every day we are here, I eagerly look for my long-ago savior. We wander by the square each morning, midday, and again by night. I really wanted him to be there; I needed him to be there, somehow–a selfish need. He never materialized, and still I wonder about him. Did he set aside the Tarot, the palm, and his polished crystal ball to pursue some other pastime? A realtor? An electrician? A writer, perhaps? After years in the heart of the Quarter, he must have had an abundance of stories to share. Did Katrina carry him off to some other, unlikely town? It’s hard to imagine him anywhere but there by the square—such an intimate, integral part of the city he was to me—a limb, an organ, to remove it seems an aberration. Has he crossed over? I wonder about this one a lot. So many who have meant so much to me are gone now. Has he joined my friends and lovers on the other side? If so, I hope they were waiting there to joyfully welcome him. What has become of the man in gold? I don’t imagine I’ll ever know.
As I sit here alone on the balcony I can see clearly down St. Ann Street to the spot where he sat that night—every night that I ever saw him. The flicker of fortune tellers’ votives dot the dark, but none of them are his. So I light the lemon yellow candle bought around the corner, and will waves of gratitude to the man in gold, wherever he may be.