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Growing pains: New Orleans, I hate you

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“So you’re moving back to New Orleans after graduation, right?”

It’s a question I field on a weekly basis. It’s a question I dread.

I grew up in New Orleans, then left New Orleans for college, intending to keep spreading my wings indefinitely after.

Yet I’ve wasted hours upon hours of my time looking at lists of things to do in New Orleans, lists of things only natives will understand, lists of places to eat, lists of places not to eat.

Like a running circuit, article after article, I read about how time and time again people come to NOLA. They come to her to be coddled; they come to her to have fun; they come to her because they’re lost, or sad, or confused. And every single time she welcomes them and wraps them in her relentless, hot, humid summer’s embrace. And they are safe; they are accepted. Time and time again, people tell me they had “the best time of their life” while visiting my enchanted home. Time and time again, I hear people who credit her with “becoming a man,” “becoming an adult,” finding themselves.

She is genuine, and that is what the people who pass through her loving arms need. She has no makeup, no glittery gown, no designer handbag or shoes. She is terrifically ordinary in many respects. Stuck in the past, while simultaneously  bounding into the future, attracting swarms of intelligent young professionals. She is an enigma, and I hate her.

When people ask me that question, the question, I answer "no."

I don’t like to lie, yet as I answer this question, I get an ominous feeling that my beloved New Orleans is going to make a liar out of me. Many of my friends see college “up north” as a detour on their way back home, and that’s fine. I, however, have a pretty grand plan to execute. I want to live somewhere interesting; be a yuppie for a few years; travel the world; habitually leave my comfort zone and experience new things, places, and people; start my own business; maybe even fall in love with some sucker along the way.

But New Orleans makes this grand plan difficult. She makes it too easy and too tempting to throw in the towel, flex my local network for a job, and move home after graduation.

She is too comfortable, too accepting, and too honest a place. I love her for her decadence, her pizzazz, her music, and her people. I love her for her more-than-400 festivals each year. I love her for her hot weather that slows time. I love her for her unique traditions.

I hate her because I love her, and every time I answer “no” to the question, I have this nagging feeling that if I don’t put 120 percent of my effort into spreading my wings and living somewhere new after graduation, she will make a liar out of me.

She will make a liar out of me, and years from now, I will die there in NOLA, with a disgustingly happy smile on my face, without ever having seen what the rest of the world has to offer.

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.