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  • I just moved away from New Orleans. Last month marked the first Midsummer Mardi Gras that I've missed and the first hurricane that I didn't have to worry about. It's a strange set of feelings made stranger by the fact I can't really discuss them with anyone. No one gets what this means.

    I try to avoid mentioning firsts like these to people here in San Francisco because I might come off as forlorn, which would just depress them, but even if not, the word "hurricane" ultimately leads to a barrage of questions about Katrina, and that just depresses me. It's not a conversation anyone ends up enjoying, so I just avoid the topic.

    Meanwhile, if I mention, even hint to any of my friends back in New Orleans that I miss the city, it's even worse. At best I get hit with well-meaning jabs like "Guess SF isn't that great, huh?", or "We knew you'd be back." Ha ha, fun's fun, whatever, I can take a few jokes. However, the weird thing is that, at times, I get hit with open hostility. "Maybe you should have appreciated what you had." "I thought this city was intolerable to you" (for the record I have no idea where that one even came from). At one point I used the first person plural in reference to New Orleanians, and someone actually took issue with that. "You left, who's 'we?'"

    At some point, without realizing it, I crossed a line. The day before I started my drive out to San Francisco I was a local, someone who helped fight off Katrina. I was someone who came back, someone who rebuilt. Someone who knew what it means to miss New Orleans, someone who knew what it meant to sacrifice his own emotional and physical wellbeing to make sure the city that care forgot was not forgotten. But when I headed west and let Lake Pontchartrain fade in my rearview, my status changed. I became an outsider, a nonbeliever, and next time I'm in the city, I'm sure I'll just be another tourist who isn't getting into his cab fast enough. It meant a lot to me to be a local in New Orleans, and it's hard to realize that either (a) the mark of that status isn't as indelible as I thought it was, (b) my friends are assholes, or (c) both.

    The whole thing reminds me of how I felt after Katrina. At the time I wasn't worried about the city, because I knew it would come back, and I wasn't worried about me, because I figured I had the right combination of stubborn and clever to make my life there work. But dealing with the barrage of doubtful questions from all quarters; from my parents (who don't live in the city), from my friends in other states, from the media, really weighed on me. I wanted to be a New Orleanian with all my heart, and I was sure that I was one, but it seemed that wasn't a good enough explanation for anyone else. "Why would you go back there?" "Isn't that whole place under water?" "Hope you've got a gun." I had to rely on my own faith in myself and in New Orleans to keep my course steady and true leading all the way back to what was, at the time, basically a war zone (I'm not exaggerating by the way, we literally had armed National Guard patrols driving around the city in Humvees).

    Sometimes I used to joke that no matter how hard you loved New Orleans, it didn't always love you back, but I never realized I wasn't joking. And the really funny thing, the part that lends this situation the ironic elegance of a Russian novel, is that moving away ended up being the biggest test of my New Orleans faith. Away from the city, and apparently without any allies, all I have to connect me to the city is the fact that I know I was there, I know it will always feel like home, and I know I will always be back. Holding onto that belief out here by myself won't be easy, but nothing in New Orleans ever really was. You have to want that city and just hope it wants you back.

    So from here out, this is my attitude: "Fuck you, I'm a local."
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