September 19, 2005
You ask why I don't live here -- Honey, how come you don't move?
It's been a hard couple of months.
I found out with two days notice when my mom's surgery was scheduled, and flew down the day before it. I spent a week there, which turned out to not be enough time to spend with her, so I kept my return flight, caught a bit of a break in Brooklyn, and flew back down for another week. The first week was sheer hell. Ever hear of ICU psychosis? In short, it sucks. Some patients who become psychotic in the ICU do you the favor of thinking that aliens are visiting, or other completly nutty things. My mom's psychosis was in the form of pure unrestrained id, combined with delusions about how the nurses were doing things like pouring buckets of ice on her.
While my mom was in the hospital, covered in hideous bruises, seeping fluids from various wounds, and experiencing delirium, I was moving all her personal belongings from her tiny, cramped, weird, pre-fab house in the trailer park outside of Gonzales to the new apartment that she found out about the day after the surgery was scheduled. Let me repeat that. THE DAY AFTER THE SURGERY WAS SCHEDULED. This is low-/fixed-incomed housing, and she'd been on the list for two years, and it's the sort of thing you don't just say "please wait" to. So she had to be moved, surgery be damned. I moved everything I could handle, and some men from her church moved everything big, and then I moved everything left after they moved the furniture. I didn't sleep a lot that week. I drank a lot of bourbon; I drank a lot of coffee; I ate a lot of boudin from the gas station. I came home with indigestion.
The second week in Gonzales was amazing. My mom came home from the hospital a completely different person emotionally than I have ever known. She was sweet and open and available and curious about me, and able to listen when she asked questions, and it was wonderful. It was also, easily, one of the most emotionally intense experiences of my entire lifetime, and I'm simply not over it. I'm really not sure I've even begun digging into everything it meant to me. I was pretty much blown away. We talked about things we've never been able to talk about before; she asked about things she's never even formulated the questions for before now. It was fucking amazing. In between all that, of course, I was nursing her. That was, well, also intense. I'll spare you the details, but I'll remind you that my mom had a colostomy.
The intervening weeks have not all been kind to me. I've been having headaches that come with an extra helping of neurological deficits -- numbness and tingling and sometimes pain all down the left side of my body. I've been off-balance occasionally, just a bit wobbly, and I haven't been able to run for weeks. I've had to withdraw from the 2005 NYC marathon, to my great dismay. Tomorrow morning I'm having an MRI to try to find out what's causing the headaches. Could just be some exacerbation of the migraines I've had for years; could be something freaky that I have been trying not to think too hard about. As I put it to a friend the other day: no matter what's causing the problem, the fact remains that I am having Stupid Bullshit Neurological Symptoms.
The last straw emotionally was the hurricane. New Orleans was never my stomping grounds, but it was a touchstone, a place I took road trips to in college, a place that was important to me. Here's the metareason I am demolished emotionally, though: The running narrative of my life has been my relationship to my Louisiana nativity. When I left Louisiana to go to Yale, I visited just a handful of times over the next ten years. I've already been back more times than that in the two years since my father died. I've undergone a sea change in my thoughts about being from south Louisiana. It's stopped being something I merely tolerate and try to distance from my self-definition, and started being something I embrace and yearn to understand about myself. Last month I stood in my mother's doorway and watched a thunderstorm, and thought on how we just don't have that sort of rain up here in Brooklyn. After the storm I was driving around, and the sun was setting in 360 degrees, the sky full of different shades of clouds and the horizon clipped only by the black silhouettes of swamp trees, oaks and pines and cypress. It was beautiful, and I could finally see that it was beautiful, in a way I never could when I was younger. Now things in south Louisiana are fucked up, and will always be different, there will always be "before Katrina" and "after Katrina," and I don't want them to be. I want a chance to get to know the south I didn't get to know before. I don't want to know a new south, a new New Orleans. I'm pissed, and I'm sad, and I'm bereft.
But I'm also fooling myself, you know? Without a hurricane, New Orleans 2005 still wouldn't be New Orleans 1990; and without cancer, my mom wouldn't be the mom I didn't get when I was a teenager and I wanted and needed her more. You take what you can get. The future starts now.