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How to say goodbye to New Orleans

As part of NolaVie’s new Yeah you write! campaign, we are inviting readers to submit New Orleans-related content for a chance to have their work featured on our site. Whether it’s a personal essay about moving from New Orleans, a photo of French Quarter Fest, or a video of a second line, we want to know: what’s your New Orleans story? Today’s featured submission comes from a New Orleanian on the eve of their departure from this city. 


nola skyline

This isn’t the first time I’ve posed for pictures, thrown a goodbye party, and packed my crappy Honda to leave the city. In fact, it’s closer to my third. Like a balloon on a string, New Orleans has a way of pulling me back. Every time I think I’m ready to leave, I realize somewhere along I-10 that I’m not and quickly come scuttling back into New Orleans’ warm arms. New Orleans waits for me like an unappreciated lover. It takes me back every time — let’s me cuddle safely back beside it, curling up next to it in bed and begging to be forgiven for my mistake.

This week marks my last departure. This time, there is no turning back. Life demands that I move on and life is not going to give me any opportunities to change my mind.

Saying goodbye to New Orleans seems nearly impossible. The lingering finality of it has me filled with hopeless dread. I don’t want to leave New Orleans. How will I start calling po’boys “hoagies” or “subs” or whatever dreadful thing they call them elsewhere? How will I follow speed limits without the very real fear that my entire car will be swallowed by a pothole if I go too fast? How will I avoid winter weight because I’m still carrying around that extra ten pounds from last crawfish season?

New Orleans is that unique lover that you can never forget. The eccentric one that brings the lingering smell of good times and vomit in its wake. The one that doesn’t judge you even when you sleep perched on a street corner with a handle of rum because — Hey! –that’s just what you do at Mardi Gras. New Orleans is the one that can’t be replaced, can’t be forgotten. New Orleans is the one that got away.

There’s a unique sort of spirit here. I grew up in the suburbs of Florida, a place so devoid of culture that they think a Chili’s is a hotbed of excitement for a Friday night. I moved here at 18 to attend Tulane, just three short years after Katrina. There were still people living in tents under the interstate then. I immediately knew we were a good match. I was a strange kid. For me, life was not a beach. Life was a colorful city. I wanted to drown myself in the insufferable humidity of City Park in July. I wanted to eat pralines for breakfast. I wanted to wear tutus to a bar or a suit to walk down the street just because I could.

“Why would you move to New Orleans?” my boss had said back in Florida. “New Orleans is dead.”

Eighteen and lost, New Orleans took me in without hesitation. Maybe we were both suffering a bit then. Fighting our way through tough times, we could help each other recover rather than slip into the pit everyone expected us to fall into. Maybe we met at just the right time in our lives. New Orleans and I came together immediately. We stuck. I became obsessed. Six years later… I’m still obsessed.

We all know how New Orleans got under my skin, the things I loved. It’s no secret that New Orleans brands itself on you — for me, literally. (I got a crawfish tattoo on my foot to commemorate our parting.) You can leave New Orleans, but New Orleans doesn’t leave you.

You’ll always follow Muriel’s on Facebook and dream about getting a drink on its balcony just one more time. You’ll always beg someone to send you a king cake and let, in that moment of insanity, your imagination believe you can afford those flights back for Mardi Gras. Your ears will always perk up at its name and you’ll always be able to point out which scenes in a movie were shot here. You will always pronounce street names however you damn-well please and balk at any drink less delicious (and more expensive) than a blueberry mojito from St. Joes. They will never be anything other than streetcars.

I started out Uptown, but scattered pieces of myself throughout the city. A best friend in the Lower Garden, a great night in the Marigny that I hope to never forget, stumbling  through the Quarter, a place on Magazine that is still the strangest I’ve ever been. I’ve been in Mid-City for the past two years … a neighborhood community of wonderful people that’s the often unseen beating heart of the city.

I don’t know how to say goodbye. I choke on the words every time I try. Goodbye Marvin at Camellia Grill, may we fist-bump again some day. Goodbye to the Theo’s on Canal that saved my life on more than one drunken night at Finn McCools. Goodbye to that scary little island where I hide unseen in City Park. There’s too much here to love; there’s too much here to miss. Visiting all of my favorite restaurants one last time would take another year.

There is nothing to do but close my eyes and say farewell as I walk away from the best relationship of my young life. It has always been hard to leave, but goodbye New Orleans. You’ve made me a better person. More open, interesting, adventurous. Without you, New Orleans, I wouldn’t be me.

Goodbye, New Orleans. May the fates bring us together again, but until then … I’ll know what it means to love you from afar.


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