Saturday, February 26, 2011

The City That Care (Didn't) Forget

So, I should be studying for this massive test I have Monday. Ugh. I have been, truthfully, and I won’t dull you with the details of school. But it should be said that most of my thoughts bubbles under the surface until a big bout of procrastination forces me to find something else to focus on – like cleaning my kitchen. Or writing blogs. :)


Mardi Gras is rapidly approaching. Technically, it’s been Mardi Gras since Epiphany – January 6th. But the crest, the climax, of the season is next weekend. The parades began last weekend, and there are quite a number this weekend, though I’m sitting them out for now to focus on school and work. Next weekend is the big weekend – from Thursday night through Tuesday evening, the city will be a mad mess of drinking in the streets, beads, and thousands of locals and tourists indulging in their every desire before Lent. I’ve seen it as a child, as a college student, as a rider on a float (in north Louisiana, anyway), and now, as an adult. It’s much more than simply drunk college students who try to flash for beads, but if you haven’t been here, then I’ll suffice to say you won’t understand without experiencing it.


Mardi Gras last year was pretty fucking miserable for me.

I’m just going to put that out there.

The parades were fun, yes. I had a great time at Muses and the handful of others that I attended. Actually, the best part of the weekend for me was the walk to and from my house, crossing St. Charles, seeing families and groups of friends, children running in circles, fences draped with beads.

Last year, at this time, my life felt like a crash course. I was working two jobs, and I had no money to show for it, because I was paying for my girlfriend’s share of utilities and rent and groceries. I would lie awake at night, trying to figure out how to stop my money from flying out of my hands before I could make it. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, all the time. I was working one job at a restaurant, and though my bosses and the restaurant itself were really cool, I felt like I was going into a coma for hours just to make it through the day. Mardi Gras weekend I worked every day, eight to ten hours a day, in a state of constant chaos – hundreds of people, two hour waits, drunks, kids, stumbling over other staff members. It was great money, but the whole weekend was an exhausting blur. My other job I enjoyed, but the board member who controlled my employment was constantly trying to get me to do immoral and ridiculously stupid things, like lying on grants. I felt like I was constantly fighting him at that job, and it was wearing thin what little sanity I had left.

I was in school that semester three nights a week, which meant my days lasted eleven to twelve hours – wake up at 9am, go to work, go to school, pick up my girlfriend from work downtown, get home by 11pm or midnight, sleep, rinse, repeat. My classes weren’t going very well. I felt like the program wasn’t anywhere as high as my expectations, and I felt cheated because the reality wasn’t what I had been told.  

But really, I could have handled all of that. I can survive being broke and the stress of school, and Lord knows I’ve worked some jobs that made me want to pull my hair out. The tipping point was my girlfriend. Three and a half years in, and it was really, ridiculously clear that things were unraveling. We weren’t getting along, and I was feeling really trapped. I loved her, I cared about her. I honestly thought (at that point) things could work, or I was just too scared to admit to myself that I knew better. I’m not sure. But everything cracked to hell at Mardi Gras. We went to Muses and had a great time – it’s my favorite parade. Afterward, I agreed to go to a party at her coworker’s house, where we both proceeded to get trashed, well beyond my comfort zone, and in front of all her friends and coworkers, she flirted the whole night with the girl she was cheating on me with. Maybe ‘cheating’ is the wrong word, but it’s the best I’ve got right now. Fucking with my knowledge but without my consent or approval. 
Hm. That’s about right.

I couldn’t handle it. I left, got in my car when I was well beyond the capacity to drive (thankfully, I hit nothing), went home, and passed out on the couch. She fucked the girl, came home the next morning, and told me. And then asked me to pay her rent the next week. I remember so clearly, driving my car as we left Zotz, when she told me she didn’t have the money for rent. I wanted more than anything to drive my car through a wall, but I wasn’t stupid enough to wreck my car and put myself in an even shittier place.

I ran into the girl she was sleeping with at least once a week back then, and I vacillated from wanting to tell her off to just feeling really sorry for her. It was obvious she cared, obvious she was getting invested. She was young and sweet and naïve, and I wanted to warn her that she was going to get hurt. She would be collateral damage. But I wanted no responsibility for that, so I kept my distance. I told my girlfriend to think through this, to realize what she was doing. But as it became increasingly clear over the next few months, either she didn’t realize or didn’t care, and everything and anything became collateral damage.

Most of that weekend is a blur. I remember driving on Claiborne, stuck in traffic, and we were both crying. I wanted to be around her – I wanted the person I used to know, not the one that was there – and yet I wished she would just disappear. I hid at home or ran from the house, depending on the moment. I cried three, four, five times a day, at the drop of a pin. I had so much pent up sexual tension (on top of the stress), that I was a fucking emotional wreck. If I wasn’t crying, I was pissy and annoying.

I’d only been living in NOLA for a few months, and I knew almost no one. The few people I knew well were in the same boat as me – so busy they didn’t see the light of day often. It was isolating and miserable, and I felt extremely lonely. I realize now, looking back, that I had so much anxiety and sadness and anger at the time that I didn’t want to be around anyone. Social situations were overwhelming. Most everyone I had met knew me as a part of a couple, and they adored my girlfriend – she was charming and sweet and funny, she’s easy to love the first time you meet her. I shy away from many of the people who met me during those months. It wasn’t me. I was ashamed of how miserable I was, ashamed that I didn’t know how to tell my girlfriend “no” as much as I wanted to when she asked for money. I was ashamed that many of my friends felt like I had a great relationship, when they simply didn’t know the truth. I didn’t want my friends to hate her, to “take sides.” I didn’t know how to tell people how fucking bad things had gotten – especially when I couldn’t even admit it to myself yet. I didn’t want to be a burden.


A year later, looking back, it’s like I stepped out of a haze.

I feel like I have put so much of this behind me, and it’s an amazing feeling to have some distance. So much has changed, and all of it has been for the better. I can’t even fathom it.

I have a job I love. Adore. I mean, like anyone, I have days where I’m frustrated, where I make mistakes, where I feel incompetent or unheard. But the truth is, I’m doing something that plays to my strengths, my interests. My boss is fantastic. I count him as a friend as much as a coworker, and I respect him immensely.

I’m making money doing something I love. Fuck. That blows my mind. I know that might not happen again for the rest of my life, so I’m definitely enjoying it while I can.

I have an awesome roommate. No, she can’t change the toilet paper roll, and she’s not big on taking out the trash. But we have so much fun hanging out that I don’t really care. We get along great. She contributes for her share, and I never have to worry she’ll be unreliable or late on rent. Even when we’re stressed, we don’t take it out on each other. My house feels like a home, a place I can be comfortable, again. It’s the best roommate relationship I’ve possibly ever had.

I have a woman in my life whose company I genuinely enjoy, who doesn’t expect anything I can’t or won’t give, and who is incredibly fun to experiment with sexually. I don’t feel like I have much to give after four years in a relationship. I’m gunshy and anxious at times, and I’m grateful to walk instead of jumping into something I can’t handle.

I love this city. Adore it. There’s so much here that I can’t do it all, can’t see it all. I’m finding friends again – old and new –who I enjoy spending time with. I can laugh again, and it’s honest and raw. It feels good.

I’m healthy. I’m financially stable. I don’t stay up at night anymore freaking out about money, wake up crying. My anxiety has dropped dramatically. I actually look forward to meeting new people. I don’t run the other way at the thought of new social situations. I’m learning to talk about things again when I have a problem, instead of internalizing everything. 

It’s really... good.


I’ve spoken to so many of my friends from high school and college in the last year, and I’ve often heard the same story. They’re not happy. They hate their job, or they’re in a dead-end relationship, or they’re struggling with school. They hate that they’re still living at home. They’re broke or in debt or overwhelmed by stress. I began saying – believing – that many of us were idealizing what our lives should be, harping on the one or two things that we didn’t have instead of the many things we do have.

It comes down to this: the majority of the people I know have one of these: a great job, a city they love, great friends/family who live close by, or great partner. To have two is awesome. To have three or four – a fucking miracle.

In some ways, I rationalized that I was doing ok because I had a city I wanted to live in. I had at least one job I sort of liked, even if it was stressful and frustrating. And the rest – well, I was doing ok.

Looking back, I wasn’t ok. It's true I can't all go through life focusing on all the things I don't have -- there will always be more things I want than things I have. But I do think it is ok to say "no." It's ok to ask for more. It's ok to want more, to strive for more, to demand more. You'll never get what you didn't ask for. It's about striking a balance between desire and acceptance. 

Now – I’m a lot more than ok. I’m ridiculously blessed. I can’t really believe this is my life. I have more than I know what to do with. I can't believe that there's really nothing major I would change in my life right now. I mean, I could always use better health insurance, a better paying job, more time in the week. But that's all pretty minor considering how much is going right. :)

I’m so very much looking forward to this Mardi Gras – getting dressed up, hosting a house full of people, celebrating my roommate’s birthday, taking some time off work and school, possibly getting laid.  Parades and beads and beer and friends. Fuck yes. 

Laissez le bon temps roulez. 

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