Thursday, March 21, 2013

Flashbacks From A Southern Withdrawal

Alessandra’s mother drove me to the Village so I could hunt down the nearest coffee shop in Houston. A lawyer for several decades and still practicing, there is no lack of confidence or contrition behind her voice. “So, you’ve lived in Minneapolis all your life?” she asks during the drive. “No, I was born in New Orleans, and moved to Minneapolis when I was 4, when my parents split.” I responded.

I found no hesitation in me to tell her my parents were divorced, as she had introduced herself as a lawyer that deals with divorce cases. I don’t know why, it just seemed natural to describe my venture to Minneapolis over such a reason.

Trees tangle the air over the street. The drive began to remind me of New Orleans. There’s a certain aesthetic to plants in the south, the way they grow could be deemed an eery beauty or just the simple state of something never having to regenerate leaves from a harsh winter. The sidewalks bubble and crack from roots growing beneath them where Alessandra’s mother drops me off. It’s 9:30am and the weather is already hotter here than Minneapolis in June.

After finding a coffeeshop, I continued to walk past it into the residential area. There’s been little down time apart from crowds and the internet. The tour leading up to now has accumulated over 24 hours of driving, 4 days of late nights at South By Southwest, and a mountain of dirty laundry. Walking, for now, is a short escape before I hit the laptop and visit the world outside of real-time (gmail). Pacing toward Rice University, I turned a corner where the walkway cut off. Across the street, the walkway opened up to a giant park. A swingset or jungle gym lied in the distance, but most of it remained brown and green grass. The simplicity to it, the absence of any “Land For Lease” signs, the nature of it brought me back to Audobon Park, a green giant square mile of grass, pond and wildlife right outside of Tulane University in New Orleans.

I never really came to understand Audobon Park until I made a return to it when I was 19. On a trek to Mardi Gras with a few high school friends, I understood how my parents could fall in love with such a city.
Before I could turn my back on the park and make way to the coffeeshop I’d so casually passed by, I noticed something moving in the distance. It was a bench or something, I couldn’t make it out. Painted red and yellow, moving like a pre-programmed machine, it couldn’t have been a car or park vehicle… it was a small train. The memory surfaced like an old friend; me riding some kind of street car or small kiddie train in some park in some part of New Orleans with my father or mother. The memories are blurry from back then, but they’re visible enough for me to revisit them. The few I can recall lined up along with the street car memory, another flashback of a daycare worker lifting me to a window. Out of the window was fireworks bursting in a night sky… it was the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans… I was 2.

Later on, I can remember walking in on my babysitter and her boyfriend, an interracial couple which seemed perfectly damn normal to me, but not so much to the rest of Louisiana… I was 3.

And then a memory of an argument between my mother and father. I was buckled down to a kids chair in the passenger seat of my father’s Jeep while he revved the engine. My mother, outside the car, was saying something to him. They responded harshly to each other until- VROOOM. My father drove away with me in the Jeep while my mother was in mid-sentence…

That was the first time I had ever experienced a human being end a discussion without bidding a proper adieu or goodbye. My father spoke nothing of it for the rest of the trip… seemed perfectly damn normal to me then… I was 4.

Amazing what a small train running through a park in Houston can trigger.

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