August 31, 2005
My first girlfriend was a Louisiana girl, a Cajun. We would rendezvous in New Orleans. This was way back in high school and in order to make the long drive from Texas and justify my absence I would always have to tell a bucket of lies. I liked the journey though and would always go with the windows rolled down and lots of tapes in the truck. Her family hated me. My family had no idea. We both knew the relationship was doomed which of course made the whole thing almost impossibly bittersweet in the way teenage romances often are.
That was all a long time ago and most of the details are soft and faded like polaroid left in the sun, but something she said to me way back then always stuck in my head. It was a hot and humid August night and the air was full of crickets and frogs. We were on Magazine Street sitting on the stoop of a friends house and I was talking nonsense as usual. I was going on about the city being below sea level and the pumps that kept the city dry and the Army Corps of Engineers. I had read in a book that the Mississippi in it's natural state moves like snake sliding across wet grass but that the engineers had straightened it all out which made the river keep rising. At some point I noticed she wasn't listening and was staring into the middle distance. "What's wrong?" I asked. And then she began crying. "This whole damn city is an illusion," she said softly. "It's like Jerico or Tyre or Babylon, one day all of it, and I mean all of it, will all be gone." She talked like that, the way real Cajuns do. In the years since I've only been back to the city a handful of times, and we lost touch years ago, but when looking up at the hulls of boats passing by from the bottom of a Mississippi levee her words always came back to me... and now of course it's all come true.