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Growing Pains: I Live ... where?

Elizabeth Kukla

Elizabeth Kukla

Over the last year, I have come to the terrifying, exciting, daunting, happy, sad, and altogether bittersweet realization that I no longer live in New Orleans.

I began to feel it when I returned to town over Christmas break. My friends were scattered everywhere, my old routine was nonexistent aside from from my running group, and, even more terrifying, I was playing tourist.

After spending another month in my wonderful city during May, I had a great talk with my cousin, Meredith, en route back to school for summer classes. She relocated to Atlanta after Ray Nagin was reelected mayor. We shared with each other our feelings about the time in our lives when each of us realized, wow, this is real, I don’t live in New Orleans anymore. We both cried for an evening when we came to this conclusion; she in 2006 in a corporate apartment in mid-town, Atlanta; me this past spring in an un-air-conditioned dorm room in Charlottesville, Virginia.

People see me -- Meredith, too -- and say they just don’t understand how or why we are so connected to New Orleans, why it’s such a huge part of us. Some have said they don’t feel any connection, or none like ours, to their native cities or towns. Others wish they felt the way we do about their hometowns.

Honestly, 99 percent of me feels for them, because they are missing an amazing, spiritual connection; 1 percent of me secretly envies them.

New Orleans is like that old spark: You dated; it was amazing. But you know there are lovers out there with so much more to offer you, so much “better” for you. New Orleans, though, she’s that old spark, and you just can’t kick the habit.

It’s too comfortable, too good in the moment. When you're in it, you can’t see any of the flaws, or you ignore them. Then you leave. You drive on roads that are being repaved, even when they don't have potholes; you call city hall and talk with someone who is pleasant, helpful, and efficient; you don't wake up to news of four murders the preceding night, often committed by kids; and yet, you cry alone in your dorm room when you realize that you no longer live with your lover of a city.

On a walk in January with my friend Nik, after begrudgingly getting coffee at Starbucks (the local coffee shop was closed and I ordered tea, so it doesn’t count, right?), he brought up New Orleans.

“You’re going to move back after school?” he asked. “It just seems like you are really attached to it.”

Damn. What am I going to do?

I had been dutifully avoiding confronting this issue. New Orleans is my old flame. It’s so good when you’re there; you don’t want to kick the habit. But then I’m at school. I realize that, studying engineering at UVA, my flashiest job offers and the career trail I want to blaze down will not likely bring me back to my old flame as a full time-resident. Realistically, if I want to burn it up at some amazing opportunity, I won’t be a resident of New Orleans for a long time.

I’ve cried about this, too. And this is why that little piece of me envies them. Others can pick up and leave their hometowns in pursuit of opportunities without much of a second thought; for a New Orleanian, that is a near impossible feat.

So I find myself at a crossroads, which many a New Orleanian before me has confronted. Do I blaze the career trail I so want and have worked for? Even if it means leaving my first love?

Truthfully, I’m leaning toward the career trail and amazing opportunities afforded me elsewhere, and I still have two years before I really have to pick a direction at this crossroads. Either way, I’ll keep an apartment with that former flame and come visit her for all the festivals.

Which is every weekend, right?

Native New Orleanian Elizabeth Kukla is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She writes about being a NOLA girl from afar in “Growing Pains,” a weekly column at NolaVie.