I went to sleep after CNN broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death and before Obama’s speech. I drifted off remembering the incredible relief I felt many years ago when a person who committed a great crime against me died, and I wished the same for the Sept 11th survivors and families.

The calendar said it was April Fool’s Day and yet, it wasn’t a joke. After two mildly unsuccessful haircuts I decided to try someone new. Heard good things about Kaitlyn so I decided to give her a try. Frustrating morning with work but I consoled myself with the fact that I’d have a snazzy new haircut to dazzle my partner with after work that evening.

I know the following facts about my paternal grandfather: 1) his name: Alphonse, 2) he fought in World War I, 3) he got the flu during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and never fully recovered, 4) he died when my father was two years-old, and 5) he was peculiar. Okay, that last one isn’t so much a fact as an opinion, but still, you get my point about the scant information.

Hurricane Katrina was still 24 hours from New Orleans but I was already bruised, bloodied, and exhausted to the point of nausea. My fiancé Mike and I were up until midnight the night before putting boards on all the windows in the house and bringing all the porch furniture and potted plants inside. I’d hardly slept, but I was up early to finish battening down the hatches and preparing to ride out the storm. We were glued to the weather report and trying to decide whether we were going to ride it out at home or head for higher ground Downtown. Evacuating wasn’t a consideration.

 

The boarded up house was dark, and the air was stagnant, so I went outside to clear my head. That’s when I saw Mr. Anthony getting in the car. “Oh shit!” I thought. I figured we’d have a few of us on the block: the family across the street, Mr. Anthony, and the two of us. Everyone else had already high-tailed it out of town. The family across the street said they didn’t have anyplace to go. Mr. Anthony had lived in his house since he came home from his service as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II. Though well into his eighties, it was easy to see the handsome soldier he once was. Tall, neatly dressed, and with a carefully slicked back full head of gray hair. Despite his cane he still exuded the confidence of a much younger man. Of course I knew he was elderly, but I never imagined that a hurricane would drive him any farther than his porch.

 

I was trembling as I walked over to him. He was carrying his cane in one hand and a tumbler of amber-colored liquid in the other. Stupidly, I asked if he was leaving. He said he’d never left for a storm but this time he thought it was best. His sons wouldn’t let him stay alone and he couldn’t ask them to risk their lives to stay with him. They had families to consider.

 

I started to cry. He told me not to worry. Good New Orleans Catholic that he is, he removed his rosary and Father Seelos medallion from his breast pocket. He said, “I know you’re Jewish, but Gawd don’t care bout dat.” He waved the medallion in a circle toward all the houses on our block and said, “Father Seelos, protect us.” “Now,” he said, “we got nothing to worry about.”

 

“You kids staying?” he asked. I told him we were. “Well then,” he said, “there’s something you’ve got to do. You put on your helmet, tighten that chin strap, and … Semper Fi.” With that, he stood up more erect that he likely had in 30 years, saluted me, gave me a kiss on the cheek, took and big swig from his tumbler, and slid into the passenger seat.

 

Once the car had turned onto Magazine Street and was out of sight, I walked in the house and told Mike that Mr. Anthony had just left. “Oh shit,” he said.

 

Within a half an hour we were packing the car to head Downtown.

 

Now I’m usually incredibly uncomfortable with anything military-related, but there were literally dozens of times in the following days, weeks, and months when all I could do was put one foot in front of the other and ruminate on that U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi. Always faithful.

 

When windows exploded in the building where we sheltered from the storm. Semper Fi.

 

Watching desperately poor people ransack grocery and convenience stores for food, water, and diapers. Semper Fi.

 

My mother sitting next to me in the passenger seat of my car with a gun in her lap as we drove out of town. Semper Fi.

 

Waiting in hours-long lines for gasoline. Semper Fi.

 

Sleeping in the car and enduring the brutal August heat. Semper Fi.

 

Screaming at Mike in frustration on the side of the road somewhere in Mississippi. Semper Fi.

 

Realizing that I was making a huge mistake marrying Mike and breaking our engagement. Semper Fi.

 

Going to the cemetery to see if the family tomb had been submerged in the floodwater. Semper Fi.

 

Cleaning rotting food and maggots from my refrigerator. Semper Fi.

 

Filling and hauling I don’t know how many contractor-sized bags of debris from my house and yard. Semper Fi.

 

Ripping out walls and floors by myself. Semper Fi.

 

Deciding to sell my house and move. Semper Fi.

 

Saying goodbye to my favorite restaurants and coffee shops, friends, and my home. Semper Fi.

 

Making a new life in a new place where I knew no one. Semper Fi.

 

Coming out. Semper Fi.

 

Sleepless nights when I first adopted my daughter. Semper Fi.

 

Feeling the loss five years later. Semper Fi.

 

It was a couple of weeks after the storm before I was able to speak with Mr. Anthony on the phone. He was chomping at the bit to get home. He asked me if it was bad. I tried not to break down. I told him I’d remembered to Semper Fi. “I knew you could do it,” he said. I told him I appreciated his confidence in me but that I wasn’t so sure. He said, “Now you know if I didn’t think you could handle whatever happened I’d have gone in that house and told Mike to get your butt out of there.” And I know that he would have.

 

So it’s five years later. I visited New Orleans recently, and Mr. Anthony was on his porch, right where I’d left him. The only thing that had changed was that he had grown a mustache. He’s Semper Fi-ing through the dwindling months of his long, brave life. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are Semper Fi-ing through the worst oil spill in history. And we’re all Semper Fi-ing through the anniversary.

 

RIP my former life

July 27, 1967- August 29, 2005

After sudden rainclouds and sudden rainstorms, all of which avoided me as I slept in my warm hotel room and landed squarely on Zara as she foolishly went out to experience and enjoy life, we drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. We noticed as we drove that we had stopped caring at all about any journey that was under, say, eight hours. If it took above eight hours, then, yes, we would admit, that was a long drive. Anything else was a hop, skip, or jump.

Not even a big one, at that.

Seven hours, fifty nine minutes?

Whatever, man.

I could do that standing on my head.

Many kids fantasize about their future adult lives. At some point in middle age, you’re just compelled to reflect and compare what you wanted or expected with what you created.

The image of Eve
Made me smile,
Gave me hope,
Let me dream of what would be.

Eve was one-dimensional,
An archetype,
A myth,
Had no face,
Existed only in my mind.

She was a shadow
In the space you would embody.

The first time I saw your face,
I knew you were not Eve.
The photo showed:
My daughter has a face,
A laugh,
A question.

I do not miss Eve.
She kept my mind occupied
While I waited
For you.

Thank you Eve.
Your job is done.
Now off to another waiting mother.
She needs your comfort
And excitement.
I belong
To Ella.

On the way home from my father’s funeral, I stopped to fill the gas tank and use the bathroom before getting on the road. The knob on the bathroom door was broken. Everything was filthy and stank to high heaven. Somehow, I managed to hover above the toilet perched on one high heel while the other foot held the door closed, all while holding my breath. When I was finished, I didn’t bother to force the door shut while I washed my hands. Just as I was making my way out to (blessed) fresh air, the door swung open. An old black man with a cane stood in front of me. Few times in my life have I seen a look of such utter terror.

He quickly diverted his eyes to the floor, scurried backwards, bowed in my direction and repeated, as if in prayer, “I’m sorry ma’am. Excuse me ma’am. Please forgive me ma’am.” I was startled but completely understood his mistake of opening the door with me still in there. I tried to explain that the doorknob was broken, but he just kept scurrying, bowing, and ma’am-ing me. I was dumbfounded. After all, he was probably older than my parents. He had a cane for god’s sake. I should have been referring to him as sir, not him to me as ma’am. And what the heck was all the bowing about?

My father and I hadn’t spoken for nine years when he died. I was hard-pressed to go to his hometown even when we were on speaking terms, so I certainly hadn’t been around those parts when we weren’t. The Civil Rights movement had made little progress there in the 1970’s of my childhood. And apparently the world had continued to move forward around it since then, rather like Jim Crow Brigadoon.

When I got back to the car, I told my mother what happened. She’d been gone from that place since she divorced my dad in the 70s, but even she knew the dynamic. She looked at me with both love and pity that the old man’s perspective on the situation had completely escaped me. She patiently explained that he was undoubtedly scared shitless that my husband or father was going to show up at his house that night and beat the hell out of him for walking in on me.

Nah, I thought. It’s nearly the twenty-first century. Could this place really still be so backward? I thought about going back into the store to explain to the man that I understood that it was an accident and that I had no husband or father. Even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t let them harm him for an honest mistake. And then the man walked out of the store. Our eyes met, and he scurried off as fast as his cane would allow.

It’s been twelve years since that experience, but it still haunts me. I always thought it was because I wondered what horrible experiences in that old man’s life left him so terrorized. That’s true, but there was something else, too. As a feminist and person doing my best to face my role in racial inequity, I don’t expect a man to commit any violent act or intimidation in my name. That said, sitting in that gas station parking lot, having just seen my father buried, was the first time that I had to admit that it was no longer in my power to refuse my father’s ridiculously antiquated and twisted version of chivalry. He would no longer offer it. He was gone.

I was seven months old when I attended my first Mardi Gras parade. It was cold by New Orleans standards, so I was bundled up like a teeny tiny Michelin Man. From what I can tell from the photos, I couldn’t bend my arms, much less catch beads. I’m sure my grandmother took care of that for me anyway.

Mardi Gras nuts run in my family. My grandfather and great grandfather both rode in multiple parades each year. My grandmother’s house was right on the parade route, and her porch was THE place to be. She’d cook tons of delicious food throughout the Carnival season. She dove for beads and dabloons like a woman half her age and kept an ice chest of cold beer at her side to trade for the most prized throws.

I definitely got the Mardi Gras genes. At the height of my participation in Mardi Gras, I was in four parades and made nine costumes, including one for the dog. I bought my house in 2001 partly because of its proximity to a particularly choice portion of the parade route. When I decided to leave New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I set the closing date for the sale of my house after Mardi Gras so I wouldn’t have to find another place to stay.

I’ve been a NOLA expat for nearly four years now, and I’ve only been back for Mardi Gras once, the first year. I met other expat friends down there, and we had a ball. I did all my usual things, but it was different.

Since then, I’ve had really good reasons not to go back. In 2008, I had just started a new job. Finances were tight as I was still paying for the adoption of my daughter who would be coming home later that year. I teared up a bit in my cube that day. Last year, I was a new mom and not ready to take on the Mardi Gras crowds with my baby. We went home for St. Patrick’s Day instead. As I boarded the plane to return to North Carolina, I swore that I would be back for Mardi Gras this year.

The economy has caused me to tighten my belt quite a bit, but in all honesty, I could have afforded to go home this year if I really wanted to be there. Fact is, it just didn’t seem that important. As the time grew near and I knew I wasn’t going to be there, I waited for the homesickness to rear its ugly head but all I felt was, meh…

Mardi Gras is a magical time, but it’s more magical when you live there. Waking up in your own bed, wading through the glitter and feathers covering your house to find your costume, and making your way past neighbors who are dressed as butterflies, giant crawfish, or demon George Bushes is what makes that magic. Once you’ve had that experience and you go back as a tourist, it just doesn’t measure up to the memories of having Mardi Gras happen in the middle of your regular life. 

I don’t feel sad that we aren’t down on Frenchman Street this afternoon. I grieve that my daughter will never know what it’s like to run into her teacher dressed as a cancan dancer in the French Quarter. And beyond Mardi Gras, she’ll never be playing in the back yard on a regular Saturday afternoon in the spring, hear a brass band leading a Second Line parade in the distance, and run through the house to the front door to join the folks dancing behind the musicians. She won’t go around the corner to a neighbor’s house to get a lucky bean or delicious Italian cookie from their food-covered St. Joseph’s Day altar. Even though those things are really wonderful, New Orleans lacks many of the other things our multiracial family needs. Despite all the magic of the City, I’m not willing risk my daughter’s future on a place as fragile as New Orleans.

So it’s two o’clock in the afternoon on Mardi Gras, and I’m in a coffee shop nowhere near New Orleans working and writing an essay. I’m okay with that.

In a certain Web 2.0 kind of way, I’ve checked out of mainstream media. I loathe the local radio stations where I live, and in an effort to save money, I’ve disconnected my cable TV.

As soon as we entered the aquarium, I heard a familiar yet unidentified sound. As we got closer, the little hairs on my forearms stood on end. I could see what it was before we crossed the threshold. An indoor waterfall. That’s really cool. It was aesthetically pleasing. Many people find the sound of water soothing.

So why was I beginning to quiver? Why was I sweating? Why did I feel compelled to run?

In order to keep my toddler from falling headlong into the exhibit, I approached the waterfall. For some reason, I looked up. The nanosecond I spied the juxtaposition of the waterfall and the timber ceiling, my knees buckled a little and the room began to spin.

I felt certain that I’d vomit if I did not get out of that room and away from the sound. I corralled the kiddo and, in a fake sing-song voice, calmly encouraged her into the next room. But the sound was reverberating in there, too. And the next one. Finally, I spotted the river otter exhibit ahead and bribed her along with the promise of furry cuteness.

It worked, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I tried to breathe. I took an overly generous dose of a homeopathic remedy I carry in my bag for the babe. I knew I was having a PTSD moment and I knew exactly why: Hurricane freakin’ Katrina.

I was supposed to be done with this. Katrina was four and half years ago. I was cured of my helicopter and breaking glass-related PTSD symptoms years ago by cranial sacral therapy. Fuck.

************
I rode out Hurricane Katrina in a turn-of-the-20th-century warehouse near downtown New Orleans with my then fiancé, my mother, my fiancé’s friend, two dogs, and four cats. It wasn’t just a random warehouse mind you. It had been renovated into an arts center in the 1980’s, and my fiancé worked there.

Since we were in an interior gallery space with no windows, the majority of my memories of the storm itself are aural rather than visual. That is except the waterfall, which is traumatically both.

I can’t say how long Katrina raged. It felt like days, weeks, months, but was likely only a few hours. During the full fury of the storm, the wind made a crazy whooping noise. It would start slow and relatively quiet. It sounded circular. The level and speed of the sound would eventually reach a crescendo that felt completely intolerable and then there would be a loud crash of windows shattering followed by a moment of eerie silence. Then it would start again, low and slow on its way to crazy loud and the inevitable crash.

At one point I realized that my joints ached from my clenching in panic. I harkened back to a friend’s story of her highly successful natural childbirth experience, where she relaxed more and more in direct opposition to the intensity of the pain.

I tried it, and it worked. I was impressed with my new-found ability to remain clam and self-soothe.

At one point, something above us exploded. I mean really exploded. The huge, century-old brick building shook as if made of paper. I wondered if anyone knew the identities of everyone sheltered in the building. They knew about my fiancé (he worked there), and they knew I was with him, but what about my mother? Would they have to identify her body through comparing her DNA to mine? What about my fiancé’s friend? The dogs and cats, would they be buried properly or scraped into a dumpster?

My relaxation techniques were much less effective after that.

Toward the end of the storm, we heard the craziest sound ever, like rushing water. We gingerly made our way to the door of the gallery where we sheltered and peeked out of our second floor perch into the four-floor foyer of the building and saw… a four-story indoor waterfall. It was one of the most extraordinary things I’d ever seen.

We wouldn’t find out until later that the water had come from the sprinkler system reservoir that was located on the roof, which had exploded during the storm, most likely from pressure or wind. But without this knowledge, we were pretty dumbfounded. It was so much damn water.

I have to admit, I didn’t think about the danger of the situation or the potential damage to the artwork. Instead, all I could think about was the shattered windows and water, water everywhere. They would never get this cleaned up and repaired in ten weeks.

Why was ten weeks so important, you ask? Well, we were supposed to get married in the exact spot where the thousands of gallons of water were landing and pooling.

Was this a bad omen? Why, yes. Yes, it was.

A couple of weeks later, while exiled in North Carolina, I would walk away from this relationship and into a future I could never have imagined.

************
Four and a half years later, I was in an aquarium on the North Carolina coast with my two-year-old daughter, and yet I wasn’t there. I was back in that warehouse with the four-story waterfall. The space-time continuum was disrupted.

Not for long, of course. The river otters calmed me. Plus, the mommy role trumps PTSD. I was back to doling out her snack, wiping her nose, and discussing fish poop in no time.

But the experience left me wondering, how many other ticking time bombs are out there? Will I one day freak out while sitting my rocking chair at the old-age home because I hear or see something that reminds me of Katrina? I guess I won’t know unless it happens. Until then I’ll just make snacks, wipe noses, and talk about poop. After all, how often do you encounter an indoor waterfall?

December 25 marks a milestone at The Nervous Breakdown: the fortieth day of the existence of TNB 3.0. If the revamped site were the Ark, the dove would fly back with an olive leaf in its mouth. Or a sample from the bag of Jessica Blau’s “lemons.” Or a beanie Zoë Brock found on the side of the road in Frisco. Or…but you get the idea.

I feel like this momentous occasion should be commemorated by something other than the exchange of presents and spiked eggnog. Perhaps Megan DiLullo can organize a podcast? Or, better yet, a photo montage of TNBers dressed like Bond girls? (An editorial suggestion for Megan and Erika: next time, get the girls to wear the bikinis).

It’s been a month in which our contributors have displayed feats of tremendous bravery: David Wills swam with sharks. Matt Baldwin hiked with bear. Simon Smithson jumped off a tall building. Ben Loory stole money from Demi Moore. Don Mitchell wore tighty-whities.

J.E. Fishman is serializing his novel, Cadaver Blues. Between Cadaver and Cactus City, there’s a lot of blues going on at TNB. I hope 2010 is a happier year for everyone.

Richard Cox wrote a cool piece about the hoopla surrounded the Tiger Woods imbroglio, which—because we are above it here on this blog—somehow descended into a debate about the literary merits of Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections, it appears, refers to what Woods did to his swing a few years back.

Our Fearless Leader returned from blog post exile, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, Welcome back, Brad Listi. His piece, “You Lost Me At Hello,” was treated like the release of Chinese Democracy—top of the charts, top of the comment numbers—the only difference being that Brad’s post is good.

Someone named Darian Arky started writing for us from his redoubt in Prague. According to his dossier, he works for the State Department. How naïve do you think we are, man? I’ve read enough James Ellroy books to know that if a dude claims to work for the State Department, he’s really out there gathering intelligence, handling sources, and slipping Cold Ethyl into the Chivas of enemies of the state. I’m not sure what Arky is up to—other than contributing great pieces and leaving lots of comments on everyone else’s—but I find it curious that as soon as he shows up, Justin Benton vanishes.

Whether or not Darian Arky is an actual person, Darian Arky is a cool name. That seems to be a criterion for letting new writers on the site. Check out these new peeps: Gwenda Bond, Doreen Orion, Nathaniel Missildine, and Jeffrey Pillow all join Autumn Kindelspire, Slade Ham, and Will Entrekin in the Cool Name Hall of Fame.

(Alison Aucoin is a cool name, too, except that I have no idea how to pronounce it. Oh-KWAN? OH-cun? Oh-CYOON? Alison, please enlighten us).

The forty days have included lots of great stuff—if I neglected to mention you specifically, it’s not because I don’t like you, but because my daughter is yelling at me from downstairs to give her gum, so my attentions are diverted—but I’ve especially enjoyed the content from LitPark and 3G1B and WordHustler, as well as the fact that my kids routinely appear on View From Your Phone.

My favorite piece of the first forty days, however—other than my own self-interview, of course—is the trilogy submitted by Gina Frangello about her father. A must-read, it says here.

Happy holidays, folks. May 2010 be the year in which all your dreams come true…and the year in which we drop the idiotic “two-thousand” business and start saying “twenty-ten.”

Like a grown-up version of musical chairs, speed dating was all the rage during the post-9/11 urge to merge. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center left some couples clinging to each other as if their very survival depended on it. Other relationships snapped under the pressure. Young singles who were previously perfectly happy on their own suddenly felt compelled to pair off.

As with everything in those frightening months, time was of the essence. Activities that separated the wheat from the chaff were in high demand. We wanted to spend quality time with our loved ones, write our wills, donate to patriotic causes, and contemplate the meaning of life. All of this while being slightly suspicious of everyone around us.

Speed dating was just what the doctor ordered: a single location for multiple, time-limited dates in one evening without the bother of having to offer or receive awkward rejections.

Several months after the traumatic break-up of my almost three-year relationship, my friend Karen asked me to accompany her to a speed dating event. While I knew that we were both feeling the urge to merge ourselves, I was stunned that she’d consider such a thing. Of course I told her no way, but she reminded me that I hadn’t had a single date since my break-up. I honestly don’t know what possessed me, but I agreed.

The plan was that we would meet in the restaurant’s bar where the event was being held. That way, we could walk into the special event room together. The bar was filled with couples holding hands while they waited for their tables. The tables were filled with couples who ate from each other’s plates and finished each other’s sentences. The acoustics created by the high ceiling in the cavernous space made for a carnival-like experience. I waited and waited. Finally, my phone rang. I started for the exit as soon as I saw Karen’s number on the caller ID. Of course she wasn’t coming. Stuck at work. Of course I wasn’t staying.

Then she reminded me that I had already paid for the event so I may as well attend. I should “be open to possibilities.” She wanted a full report later, and she offered that perhaps the evening would make a funny story one day.

Um, yeah right…

I walked through the dining room filled with happy couples toward the event room. Dead woman walking. Perhaps I should have paused for my last meal. The Pasta Bolognese smelled amazing.

For some reason, I feared I would be the lone geek in a room full of poised and accomplished young professionals. I envisioned well-dressed lawyers and doctors sipping sophisticated cocktails and partaking in witty conversations about their stock portfolios, foreign policy, or literature. With quivering knees, I entered the room to find men segregated on one side and women on the other. Good Lord, it was eighth grade with pink girlie drinks for the women and beer for the men!

The men were clumped into small groups pretending to be in deep conversation, while sneaking quick glances to size up each woman as she entered.

The women seemed oblivious to the men. They were all gathered around one woman at the bar who was rather loud and who sucked down drinks in single gulps. The woman was statuesque, a redhead, and the sister of a friend I’d dated briefly. She turned to welcome the newcomer into the tribe and immediately recognized me. She proceeded to introduce me as her brother’s ex-girlfriend, which was definitely not how I would have described myself. Looks of pity followed from the peanut gallery.

Hey, I went out with him for a few months in the course of a ten-year friendship. And we’re all single here. Why else would we put ourselves through this torture? Keep your pity to your damn selves! I thought.

The organizer, Patrick, was obviously a cheerleader back in high school. He rang an obnoxious bell and called everyone to the middle of the room. Women were in a semicircle to his right, and the men mirrored us on his left. A peppy spiel about being open to everyone, balanced with warnings about inappropriate behavior, ensued. He provided extensive directions about the proper way to fill out the scorecard. He didn’t actually call it a scorecard, but we all knew what it was.

There were several tables with numbers on them. Each woman was directed to pick one and have a seat. The men were told to approach a table one at a time for our seven minute “dates.” We were not allowed to talk before Patrick rang the begin-date bell nor were we allowed to speak after he rang the end-date bell. At the close of each date, the men were required to switch tables. They were not allowed to return to a table they’d already visited.

The first gent to approach me looked very much like Bill Gates. Not rich, just incredibly and stereotypically nerdy. Now New Orleans is not known for its beautiful people, but you generally think of people this geeky living near Silicon Valley, MIT, or Microsoft headquarters. I took a deep breath and prepared to be “open to possibilities.” He’d moved to, as he called it, The Big Easy (cringe) from the Midwest. I wasn’t surprised. I was being open. Nothing inherently evil about the Midwest. I have friends from the Midwest.

I asked him what his favorite things were about living in New Orleans. His answer: the food. Great, we had something in common. I could work with that for the next five minutes. I asked about his favorite restaurants. Chili’s and Applebee’s. Um, dude, you could have stayed in the cornfields and eaten at chain restaurants. Good grief.

Okay, next subject. I asked what he thought about Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and our general party culture. He proudly informed me that after living in New Orleans for five years, he thought that this year would be the one when he “would go to the Bourbon Street to see the Fat Tuesday.”

For the uninitiated, the syntax of this sentence was utterly bizarre. It’s akin to someone in New York going to “the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue to view the celebration associated with the annual advancement of the Gregorian calendar.”

Ding!

In retrospect, Bachelor Number Two turned out to be the most promising of the lot. He had lived in New York making a living as a writer but had returned to New Orleans to run the family plumbing business after his brother suddenly died.

I’m sorry, did you say plumbing? As in pipes and poop? Okay, I had a big ick reaction but rallied on. After all, this guy was creative and responsible. What were the odds? I was opening to the possibilities more by the moment. We talked about his writing, which was heavily influenced by Charles Bukowski. Uh oh.

Now, here I must digress. Many people have types. Some men like women with blond hair. Some women like men who are really tall. My type was incredibly specific. For years, I dated men who played chess, juggled, ran cross-country in high school, and yes, were Bukowski acolytes. What can I say? Apparently, I liked them smart, agile, and highly dysfunctional. It wasn’t like I looked for them. I attracted them. It was an odd gift.

I never found out whether the plumber fit my other unconscious criteria. Once Bukowski was out of the bag, I was done. After all, I was there to break patterns, not repeat them. I somewhat sadly said goodbye when the bell rang.

Ding!

Bachelor Number Three’s appearance immediately set me back in my chair. He was wearing false eyelashes. Seriously. Not, I have a dermatological condition and have lost my eyelashes so I wear these so I don’t look weird false eyelashes, but Mary Tyler Moore from the Dick Van Dyke Show false eyelashes. It was stunning.

Somehow, I got over my mute shock and started a conversation. As it turned out, we were both Jewish and originally from New Orleans. I knew we did not belong to the same congregation because I’d surely have remembered this guy and his lashes. I asked him if he was affiliated. Yes, he did belong to a congregation, but he wasn’t too crazy about it. I asked if he’d attended services there all his life, and he said no. Apparently, his parents paid for his membership. They’d belonged to a number of congregations over the years because his mother tended to fight with people. Uh, how many Jewish stereotypes can you fit into a seven-minute date?

Ding! Thank G-d.

Now, I feel really guilty about describing Bachelor Number Four. He was very nice and seemed like a heck of a lot of fun. But he was remarkably short, maybe five feet tall in shoes, and a rodeo clown. Yes, you read that right. A rodeo clown. I was born in New Orleans, and I had no idea that there was enough rodeo work in the area to make it a full-time job. And maybe I’m being snobby here, but it seemed to me the speed dating people used a mighty liberal definition of the term “professional.”

I tried to maintain a conversation, but my mind drifted to the image of the little fellow emerging from a tiny car with 20 of his friends. Or maybe only circus clowns do that. Anyway, I feared I was going to hell for thinking these thoughts, but the night was so surreal. I felt like I was dating on acid: distortions of space and size, warping time, ringing bells.

Ding!

When Bachelor Number Five approached my table, I exhaled. He appeared perfectly normal, handsome even. He was dressed neatly but informally. He did hold his head at an unusual angle, but I thought he was just being flirtatious. I had no idea what the next seven minutes held.

As soon as he sat down, we agreed that it seemed like we’d met before. We didn’t live in the same neighborhood or hang out in the same places. Was it work? I told him what I did. He told me that he had his own business related to the casino industry. Definitely not work.

Okay, was he Jewish? New Orleans has a small enough Jewish community that sometimes you just know people because you’re Jewish. He responded by asking me if I was Jewish, and I said yes. He said he was not, but that I’d have known that if I had looked in his wallet. No money. Dude, I’d just told you I was Jewish and your reply was an anti-Semitic comment?

By then, I was kind of checking out, so he filled in the conversation with talk of his work. Apparently, the name of his business, 1-ey*d Jack, had special meaning but not for the reason people assumed. He said that he’d had the recent experience of presenting his business card to a “n***** woman” who worked in a casino on the Mississippi Coast. After she saw the name of his business, she indicated that she knew why it was named 1-ey*d Jack—by pointing to his crotch. At this moment in the story, he gestured to his groin. Dear Lord, was this some sort of Neo-Nazi screw with the racially-sensitive Jewish feminist Candid Camera?

No, he was getting to his point. It seemed his business was actually named 1-ey*d Jack because, although his name was not Jack, he had only one eye. The other eye was glass. He tapped it with his fingernail to prove it. I nearly vomited on the table.

Ding!

Throughout these seven-minute increments of hell, my friend’s sister was having a jolly good time. She whooped it up with one and all. I kept thinking she was so much better than I was at embracing the moment and being open to possibilities. Yeah, she is generally a much more go-with-the-flow kind of person than I am, but there were also the cocktails. I wished I’d followed her lead on that.

After 1-ey*d Jack, I was done, so the final bachelor was a dream. He spent the entire seven minutes on his cell phone. Oh, he’d occasionally glance in my direction and nod, but other than that, nada. I didn’t even get his name. As I stared off into space, the rodeo clown winked at me from across the room.

Now, I have to admit, there were a few other fellows there who were decidedly less remarkable than those I’ve described. At the time, they seemed only slightly less wrong. Maybe, between the nerd, the plumber, the eyelashes, the clown, and the penis, I missed a gem. I guess I’ll never know.

But Karen was right. It did make a damn good story.

My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is obsessed with school buses. There’s a bus stop right on our corner that provides a full morning of excitement. More buses pass our house on their way to pick up “kids go big school.” We must cross paths with at least ten more on the way to daycare. Each time a bus passes out of view, my sweet baby demands, “More bus, Mama!” She thinks I control the world.

Of course, it’s developmentally appropriate for her to have this unshakable faith in me. I love her so much for her trust and optimism. But because I am so acutely aware that I do not control the world, it’s also occasionally painful.

My obsession with control started early. When I was five years old, my parents separated, and my mother and I moved away. I had been pretty happy in my small town Catholic school. I knew most of the kids before I started kindergarten, and my cousins were at the same school. My teacher was warm and friendly. My new school was a different story all together. I wasn’t used to city life where I didn’t already know everyone. It was mid-year, and all the kids had established friendships that didn’t include me. Then there was the teacher. Oh, the teacher.

I was familiar with nuns, but this one was different. Sr.Mary wore a down-to-the-floor black habit with the full head covering. Only her face showed. This type of habit was long out of fashion in the 1970’s, but she was a throw-back in more ways than one. I was scared to death of her. Her teaching style was far more authoritarian than I’d experienced previously, and I could tell that she really didn’t like me. When she broke the class into group activities, she’d take me and one other child aside.

I didn’t understand why we were singled out, but eventually it became clear, if not the reason, at least the purpose. At first, I was mere witness to the torture of my little companion. Sr. Mary had a full litany for poor Tasha. Her parents were divorced and, according to Sr. Mary, Tasha’s mother had abandoned the family. Somehow in this twisted old nun’s mind, Tasha’s parents’ divorce and the fact that they were African-American were irredeemable sins. The nun claimed all “negroes” go to hell when they die. The fact that Tasha wore braces on her “crippled” legs was punishment from god for both being African-American and having divorced parents. Tasha’s father was a member of the city’s professional football team. Each time he left town, which was a lot during football season, Sr. Mary would tell Tasha that her father wasn’t coming back just like her mother hadn’t. She was destined to become an orphan.

Eventually, Sr. Mary set upon me. She told me that, while I was at school, my mother and father would have a terrible fight, they would stab one another, and I would become an orphan. Just like with Tasha, this insane nun had figured out my greatest fears and then went about convincing me that they were a destiny over which I had absolutely no control.

Tasha and I never exchanged any words about our shared torture, just knowing glances when we were called aside. We shared a common shame. Each afternoon as the other children played with blocks or dolls while they waited for their parents to pick them up, Tasha and I sat paralyzed in fear, waiting to see if her father and my mother would arrive or if the day Sr. Mary predicted had finally come and we were orphans.

School became a nightmare. I had horrible dreams about blood, my parents’ death, being all alone, and Sr. Mary. Around the time that my parents decided to reconcile, my mother found out what the malevolent Sr. Mary had been doing and withdrew me from the school. But Sr. Mary had one last prediction. She said my parents wouldn’t stay together and that we would all go to hell. She was right about the first part.

I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief to be away from that psychotic, but I also felt guilty for leaving Tasha. Perhaps it was survivor’s guilt. In some way, I also felt isolated to be separated from Tasha. After all, we were both on the same road to orphan-dom.

The next school year was first grade, a full day of school with bus transportation. Each morning’s goodbye with my parents at the bus stop was like then end of a World War II epic film. I just knew that this would be the last time that I would see them alive and that when the bus dropped me off in the afternoon, they would be dead in a giant pool of intermingling blood. I would be an orphan.  

Sr. Mary was gone, but my paralyzing fear was not. I symbolically transferred it from her to the school bus. After all, the bus and the school where it delivered me were the only two places I was ever apart from both of my parents. Since my child brain was convinced that I could somehow keep my parents from killing each other, the school bus was taking me away and thus creating the opportunity for Sr. Mary’s prediction to be realized.

I screamed and sobbed at the bus stop. The bus driver offered to let me sit right next to her. My mother bribed and threatened to get me on that damn bus. Didn’t she understand that I was trying to save her life?

One of Sr. Mary’s forewarnings came true. My parents’ reconciliation didn’t last, and they divorced when I was seven. My mother and I moved to a neighborhood where I walked to school, and my school bus phobia subsided. But my white-knuckle grip on everything else I could conceive of controlling did not. I became hyper-vigilant about my surroundings and pathologically organized with my toys and books. As an adolescent, I developed an eating disorder. 

Adulthood and therapy smoothed out a lot of those rough edges, and I evolved into a run-of-the-mill control freak. Through my twenties and most of my thirties, I went about doing quirky things like alphabetizing my spice rack. I found that my obsession with control and order was also a great asset. After all, that was the aspect of my personality that made me good at my job.

Then I got a rude awakening. Four years ago, while living in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina blew my fantasy of control out of the water. Puns intended. I had moments of panic and despair and railed in anger at god. It was hard, but eventually I rallied on, feeling a bit free to relinquish my compulsion for control.

Parenthood mellowed me more. When waiting to adopt a child from Africa, you either go with the flow or go crazy. And parenting an infant who has been orphaned requires the patience and flexibility of the Buddha. I was feeling the groove, that is until the recent “economic downturn.”

It’s difficult to be a single parent and self-employed while facing economic uncertainty. I think I’m doing a good job of keeping my priorities straight and my fears at bay, but I have my moments. There aren’t a whole lot of nuns in full regalia roaming the streets, so my old symbol of panic—the school bus—sometimes flips the switch. You know, the bus I’m supposed to welcome. The one I’m supposed to materialize.

I didn’t realize that my daughter can see my face in the rearview mirror from her car seat behind me, but she can. One morning, as a bus turned a corner and rambled up a hill, she said, “More bus, Mama!” I gave my usual reply of, “Let’s look for more.” A moment later, she spied one and exclaimed, “Look, Mama, bus!” Then she sweetly added, “No more sad Mama.” 

And so it goes. It took me a while to see how the past connects to my present and how an everyday experience can have a hidden meaning waiting to be confronted. I am raising the child Sr. Mary predicted Tasha would become. My daughter relishes the sight of the very symbol of my worst childhood fear. Each day, I have the choice to fall back into old patterns of panic and control or release and relish my child’s bright-eyed enthusiasm. 

Let’s look for more!