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A bittersweet goodbye to New Orleans

abandoned house

As part of NolaVie's new Yeah you write! campaign, we are inviting readers to submit New Orleans-related content for a chance to have their work featured on our site. Whether it's a personal essay about moving from New Orleans, a photo of French Quarter Fest, or a video of a second line, we want to know: what's your New Orleans story?

Today's featured submission comes from Nola transplant Margaret Abrams about leaving New Orleans once it has become home. 

“Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.”

― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

I’ve lived in New Orleans for six years, and I’m not ready to leave -- but I am. It’s the type of painful break-up in which both parties drag their feet, searching for a way, the right way, to say goodbye. This isn’t a city you can quickly forget, rip off the breakup band-aid in a five-minute shouting match. It’s an epic exchange, a leisurely stroll along the Mississippi, an exhausting conversation that leaves you in need of a big, icy Ramos Gin Fizz.

The relationship is more than Hurricanes and Hand Grenades. It’s late nights at the Dungeon, with metal blaring while you hide in a cage until street sweepers come through, letting you know that’s it’s long past time to go home. It’s nights at F&M’s when you steal some poor preppy’s cheese fries and dance on the pool table until the sun comes up. It’s a different festival every weekend -- for a score of mythical vegetables and holidays. It’s about Styrofoam bowls of red beans and rice and the sunshine and sno-balls you wash them down with. It’s friendly Mardi Gras strangers. It’s afternoons at the Fly -- a an empty field adorned with crawfish shells, empty drive-thru daiquiri cups, beach towels and frisbees.

New Orleans is everything your mother warned you about. It’s decadent, destructive, and dangerous. There are potholes big enough to swallow you whole, and crime reports that make you clutch your pearls for days. You can still see Katrina in the abandoned houses and overgrown fields, and you can still hear her every time a New Orleanian remembers where they were when the levees broke. New Orleans is well into recovery, but Katrina will never vanish, never entirely. Katrina is the ex-girlfriend from hell that no one deserves, still texting, no matter how many times you delete her number.

I love you, New Orleans, and I’m not ready to leave. I know it’s time, but that doesn’t mean I’m mature enough not to put up a fight. I predict tears, consolation shots, and half-hearted promises to visit regularly and “keep in touch,” like every painfully cliché young adult break-up. After six years here, I’m convinced that glitter and champagne run through my veins, and New Orleans put them there. It changed my DNA. It made me who I am, for better or worse. It’s more my hometown than anywhere before; it’s the hometown I chose. Suddenly, my old haunts feel haunted -- leeching with memories I’m scared to leave behind, eventually forget.

I fear I’m utterly unfit for life anywhere else. I’m too accustomed to the convenience of go-cups, dirty dive bars that stay open until sunrise, and the regularity of walking into Rouses and seeing familiar faces. I’m too in love with the quirky Easter egg-hued shotguns that line the sunken sidewalks. I can’t re-enter suburbia, somewhere with cul-de-sacs and subdivisions molded in cookie cutter construction. I’d rather be back on St. Charles, waiting for a streetcar that might never come.

I dread returning to New Orleans, home, as a tourist -- an interloper, spilling onto the streets of the French Quarter, sticky with sweat and sugar from mixed drinks that missed my mouth. I don’t want this to turn into occasional clandestine meetings -- stopping in for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras, forgetting that the French Quarter is not the entirety of the city’s pulse.

New Orleans is under my skin; it's the city that helped me grow up. While I might not be a native, I’m still a local. Without it, I would be someone else entirely.