Twenty days ago, I lost a friend. Someone who'd been my friend for years, 15-17, we can't remember, wait, past tense, couldn't remember. He loved New Orleans. He loved books. He loved learning. He loved life. Oh yeah, he loved red wine, and good rum and had a serious jones for boiled crawfish and softshell crab--fried. He loved dark beers, the darker the better. He had better tits than I did, if he pushed them together with his coy look. He loved my idiosyncracies even when he was exasperated by them. He loved his partner, even when he was exasperated by him. He loved his family and more importantly, his "chosen" family even when he was exasperated by them. And ya know, they were all there when he left this earth, just as he wanted.
He believed he'd been a madam here, and of course, those of us who loved him were his whores back then. Makes sense to me, we probably were. He loved history, and big ships with sails or aircraft carriers with big airplanes, which mattered not to him: He preferred to float, not fly.
I haven't cried yet.
He asked that I be there before he left, not after, so there I was, but I had to leave him while he still suffered on this plane. Not to get all metaphysical on y'all, but that mattered to me. I told him as I left that I'd meet him at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shoppe, so this weekend I finally did that. I smeared rum on the bricks on the far side of the fireplace, a spot in which we kept warm when he visited once, visiting me when we lived in a place that had no heat other than space heaters which didn't do much in the middle of February. It was the warmest place we could find. So there we sat, talking and warming and drinking for hours til we had to go back home to the cold.
I went to Pirate's Alley Cafe, which we called "visiting Belize in the U.S." and smeared some rum and coke on the chair he sat in the last time he was here in April/May of this year, convincing me that although he looked bad and was losing weight all the time, that he was just FINE. I knew it was a lie, but I let him lie. We'd lied to each other many times in the past, always knew when we were doing it, it was part of our contract: "You lie to me and I won't call you on it and I'll lie to you and you won't call me on it, unless of course, it's REALLY important." To us, death was just the natural order of things, not necessarily REALLY important, even though we were so not suicidal---anything but. We just accepted that things happened, people were born, people died, that was the way it was determined by whatever had caused, created, or manipulated reality on this planet.
And I still haven't cried.
In front of me is a bar of lavendar soap he bought for me at Vive la France, his favorite store in the Quarter, on Royal Street. He, over the years, bought me the various sized tumblers with the Fleur de Lis on them, knowing that we both had a penchant for it. This last time he bought me the carafe, telling me as he gave it to me that he wanted to make sure "the set was completed." I will never use that soap, which will no doubt piss him off, but I smell it every day. The carafe? Oh yeah, I'll use that. I'll mix up some Sailor Jerry's and coke, just for him and leave a glass on the table til it evaporates or turns to mold. Then I'll wash out the glass, make life clean again, and know that the glass can always be refilled: Never with the same substance, but another, just as valid, just as sweet, just as generous.
For Christmas last year, I was told to go to the Bag Lady Shop on Decatur. (He could be both extremely generous and extremely cheap, depending on the day!) I went down there, it was a hard time financially for us. I had written a post about supporting local businesses, and he found her through that post and called her and bought me a present. I finally got down there, days after I should have, she said, "Oh YOU are her! This is for you." At that she hands me a black cashmere coat, down to my ankles, the warmest thing I'd ever seen. I had expected a scarf or a wallet. I sank to my knees and sobbed in full view of the tourists on Decatur who were perusing her shop. I called him speechless and sobbing. He said, very simply, "Baby, I couldn't let you be cold."
The toads are crying tonight. I'd written him a poem, three weeks before he passed, about the toads, their mating, their progeny. I read it to him before he left us. He said through his morphine haze, "It's good." He was one of a few who knew my pen name. He liked it. I did well on that, and the toads are still crying and I'll read it at the Gold Mine next Thursday.
But I haven't cried yet.
His name was Wes Vincent. He was remarkable and I'll miss him more than words can ever express.
But he'd be pissed. Like atomic blast super pissed (which he was very good at being) if I gave up now.
I've been reading Josh Clark's book about his experience during Katrina (a serious MUST read.) It is so reminiscent of my husband's and my experience, although we did leave for about five days. While Josh was standing looking at the stars on this side of the wondrous Mississippi, my husband and I were drinking warm rum and coke, sweating in the same clothes we'd worn for a week, on the other side of the river, the Westbank, which is actually kinda more South. We were struck by the eerieness of seeing NO skyline, no nothing on the other side of the river. Like a great black void our city stood, not sending out a message, not telling us how many had died and under what circumstances, not telling us that two years later we'd still be missing friends, and housing, and schools and oh yeah, a Mayor and a DA. As we stood there, bodies were still washing out to the Gulf or being ravaged by hungry dogs and rats, but there we stood, feeling that we were at least, doing something to help.
We stopped in Johnny White's this weekend. We had been bringing ice over for them and milk for one of the regular denizens (only because the Nazis in Gretna were allowing people into the Walgreens there, with M16's on their laps). Johnny White's was sticky, and scary, and filthy and the de facto supply depot for the Quarter. Last Saturday night it was clean and we were the only ones in there. Wow. The bar wasn't scary to touch, in fact the bar had a smooth sheen to it. We had a couple drinks, then went for dinner. Tourists were cavorting on Bourbon, it was lovely to see them. We still live in the only place on earth where it's okay to run amuck now and then. That's a blessing.
Intermittently since the storm I've cried for no reason, here and there and not with any kind of closure. I hear about a killing in Iberville and it breaks my heart. I hear of three families living in the Lower 9 on one block, ONLY three, and it breaks my heart. I see the businesses toughing it out, and it breaks my heart. I look, two years later, at the four boxes of photos and ephemera that I saved from our storage unit on Tulane that sat under 10 feet of water for weeks, even though my home was spared, and it breaks my heart. I still can't just get rid of them. It would be like getting rid of my entire history.
I get involved in activism on whatever level I can because I must, I can't let this city die from neglect and corruption and greed. I walk the sidewalks knowing of the luminaries that walked them before me, and feel a need to honor their courage, tenacity and contribution. I look at the slate roofs that named my blog, such as it is, and marvel at their fortitude and their beauty in a soft summer rain. I watch as my husband scrapes the dog hair off the air conditioner filters and remember the heat of September 2005, when no matter what we couldn't get cool.
It's always just kinda back there, ain't it?
So, for Wes Vincent, and all the others named or un-named who are gone now:
I'M NOT GONE. WE ARE STILL NOT FUCKING OKAY. HEAR THAT AMERICA????? AND GUESS WHAT, I'M NOT LEAVING. YOU ARE STUCK WITH ME, THE LUNATIC WHO BELIEVES THAT LIFE IS WORTH LIVING AND RUNNING AMUCK IS WHAT WE'RE HERE FOR SOMETIMES. AND DON'T LET THESE GREED HEADS KILL THE DREAM, THE DREAM OF NEW ORLEANS AS IT WAS DREAMT BY IBERVILLE AND BIENVILLE---WE CAN LIVE ON THIS GROUND.
Okay, enough hystrionics.
Maybe tomorrow I'll cry.