“I suffer in my relationship until it’s absolute ash in my hands.”
“Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?”
Fiction. Based on a True Departure.
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
I miss New Orleans. I miss the oak trees framing a long, open, paved avenue. I miss the old mansions on Audubon and St. Charles; I miss running past the families screaming at each other from the sidewalk or from the car parked diagonally in the middle of the street. I miss the stranger who taught me how to fill my tires with air and then from whom I bought candy. I miss riding the streetcar, avoiding the downtown like the plague, and I miss the route I used to walk with you. I miss running in the park in the evening, so few street lamps that I can barely see my feet hitting the pavement. So many times I ran that circuit: once in a raincoat that was not mine, and once barefoot, I think. Once I ran from the security vehicle straight onto the golf course, where I flattened myself against the wet grass. And once I saw a UFO floating above the treetops in the distance. It was fleeting and soon forgotten but thereafter always imagined.
I miss the coffee shop. I miss going there with my best friend, playing chess, drinking vanilla lattes. I miss working and arguing with the owner and crying and running out into the street. I miss him telling me the same things over and over and rolling my eyes at him as if he were my father. I miss him calling me in the evening, telling me I should be walking with some beautiful man along the lakeshore.
I miss sitting on the bench with you and with others before you, talking, discussing, observing my turtle family. I miss my tree, and all the people with whom I sat in it. Sometimes it was just me. I even miss the very odd and annoying lamp that hung from it and heckled any passersby.
I miss the leaves that fell from the trees. There were so few of them. I miss my first love tracing my hand with a leaf in that beautiful tree, and I miss you sitting next to me outside of my first dorm building, showing me the veins of a single fallen leaf and telling me how beautiful it was. How beautiful life still was, even though someone had chosen to leave it behind. You were the beginning and the end of my time there.
I miss the music. I miss dressing up and going out and sitting in the front rows of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, first at the Mahalia Jackson, and later in the cramped and dusky corners of the Orpheum. How many concerts did I see there? How many with you? Not many. I miss the jazz; I miss, in the last days, going to the Sidebar to see you on the bass with the tap dancer on her platform. I miss playing the organ at St. John’s. I miss that morning when it was just me in the one hundred degree heat in the organ loft, looking out over the stained glass windows, filling the empty church with music. The organ was always so powerful. It could shake the pews at times.
I miss Mr. Max, driving to deliver the key to the church to me, and Mr. Phillip, ornery Mr. Phillip, ruining everything. I miss Carl and his endless rants against the Catholic church as the priest droned on below, oblivious. We never could hear what he was saying. Maybe if we had been able to, we would have felt more connected to what was going on. But as it was, I stumbled over the notes, and we sight-read our way through the hymns. Sometimes it was beautiful. Often, I felt that I was going to be berated after. “Play quieter, Jin.”
You never had to play quieter. But then again, you’re a man.
I was going to marry you in that church. Remember when I handed you that note? I said to you: don’t open it until you are very sad, you miss me very much, and you need to be reminded of me. In the end, I had to urge you to open it.
These are the thoughts of Jin on October… when was it? Perhaps October 8, 2018. I am going to marry you right here. A quick sketch of the aisle, a faint arrow pointing at its convergence. I really believed I would marry you there. Among the congregation that had become our own.
I miss the services during Lent. And when they ended, I could no longer hear you play the organ. They were candlelit, intimate. And we sang, we always sang. I miss you telling me how you loved my voice. Even though everyone before you had made fun of me for it.
You loved to listen to me sing, to play the piano, the organ, and maybe even to my awkward screeching attempts at the violin. You loved to read my writing. Did you love everything about me? Were there things you hated, even in the beginning? Things you didn’t have the nerve to say until it had all broken down?
I miss your mother and your stepfather. I even miss your sister, sometimes. The moment when I first met her, she was almost stumbling drunk, and she forced her face close to mine, examining me. I held my ground, and she patted me twice on the hip. It was demeaning, as if she had examined, approved, and now dismissed me, like some specimen. Her brother’s girlfriend: to be observed, analyzed, and henceforth ignored. She called me Jane, once. Was it any wonder I didn’t like her? Back then you apologized for it. You were on my side.
I miss when you would bring me lunch because I didn’t have time to pack it in the morning or had forgotten it. I miss making you dinner and surprising you with new parts of the house that I had rearranged or cleaned. You said it was exciting, once. That you never knew what to expect when you would arrive home. I’m sure that your house feels empty now.
Do you miss my little obsessions? First it was cleaning, and then it was food. And then it was running and improvising and piano and violin and organ and . . . the list goes on. It never stops, honestly. Do you miss that about me? Do you miss the dates we planned for each other?
The moment I will always remember is that last weekend when we went to the pool together. It was only one weekend before we broke up. We had taken our dog on a walk together in the heat, and then we drove to the pharmacy together to buy sunscreen. We bought aloe vera, too, just to be proactive, I remember saying. I tried to tease you and didn’t know if you had taken it well. And I bought you sunglasses. Do you remember that?
We went to the pool and my coworker was there with his kids and his wife. He motioned at you and mouthed words at me and gave me a thumbs up. I rubbed sunscreen on your pale back. I remember thinking it should have been erotic, but it wasn’t. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was self-conscious the whole time.
We entered the pool, and I pulled you around, and you, me, and we were laughing, enjoying our time together. We were acting like we were in love. And when we came out, you bought me an ice cream sandwich. We wanted to make it a routine, to go there every Sunday together. It was relaxing, enjoyable. You reading about Mahler, and me lazily filling out my crossword puzzles. How could it be that only a week later, it was over?
And in that week we went to the grocery store together. We hadn’t done that in so long. We bought as a treat that bottle of white wine, the bottle that you would then drink without me. We went out to dinner at that Mexican restaurant, sat at the same table we had sat at months before. I remember thinking we were taking steps in the right direction.
I always thought it was my fault, what happened. I had come home and was watching Swan Lake on our TV. You were working. I had tried to show you affection but you weren’t having it, and I felt hurt, over it, tired of trying. Later you came and leaned up against me on the couch, as if you were sorry. But in the morning I was still upset. And I wanted to communicate it to you. When I did, it all ended. It all came crashing down. I said the words . . . do you even want to try anymore? And you didn’t answer. That was when it ended. I had to play the mass at St John’s, and I went out to dinner with my best friend. When I came back, I had already decided that I wanted to keep trying, but you had chosen the opposite solution. There was no changing your mind then. And no drinking the fucking bottle of wine that we had bought together.
I’ve been told that sometimes when we’re afraid, we sabotage ourselves. We make the unthinkable happen instead of suffering with the uncertainty that it might happen. I think I did that. But I was also unwilling to admit defeat. You had already given up long ago, but I hadn’t. I just kept trying and trying to keep the flame alive. I fed the flames long after the chimney had become clogged with soot and soon the whole house would burn down. Remember that song I would sing to you at the beginning of our relationship? It came true. Those lyrics, so painful, they came true. The song was us.
I had put so much effort into our relationship. I wanted to keep trying. Because I loved you, yes, but because I thought that I would not survive without it. In a way, I was almost right. I almost died. I lived a half life for a long time. I was a shell of a human being without you, nearly reduced to dust. And I lived like I was choking on it. I fell apart and away from everything. I ran but could not outrun it all. I ran until I broke my ankles, and then I ran three thousand miles more, where I collapsed, sick and vomiting and thinking I would die. I wanted to die.
Things around me were dying; can you blame me? I wanted to follow the trajectory of my life. But when I got there, when I reached the bottom and I was faced with the choice, and you had abandoned me with a blanket phrase that I may never forgive you for, I realized there wasn’t a choice at all. I didn’t have a choice. I simply had to go on.
That’s what I’ve done. That’s what you knew I would do, as much as it pains me to admit it. Were you ever worried about me? I was. I still worry about myself.
I guess I could thank you for showing me my strength. But when I find myself, months later, thousands of miles away from you, so much time since I last saw or talked to you, and I still can’t forget . . . there’s something still raw here, still aching, and it makes me wonder if all this was necessary.
Someone please tell me why. I feel as if, if I could make sense of it, I might be able to move on.
But that’s the problem with the world. Nothing makes sense. What does make sense to us comes from us forcing order upon it. I suppose I must learn to step back, to leave it alone. To leave you, our memories, and your feelings be. And just keep going.