by Michael Everest

It was because I wanted to know who I was, that I left. Without much thought or money I boarded the Greyhound, pressed myself into a seat said good-bye and was bound for New Orleans.

It took 3 days of the most uncomfortable, sleepless, lonesome travel I had ever done. Passing through Arizona, through the long stretch of Texas and its great landscapes of darkness and dust and not much else.

New Orleans was more than a breath of fresh air. It was like finding a hometown. As I walked down Canal Street I felt like a foreigner visiting an American city for the first time.

Taken with the commotion, the sounds of the streetcars moving through, the smell of river and sea waters; I took it all in leaving nothing out. The bums, the buildings, all the hotels, the mix of peoples, the beautiful Southern women coming or going to work.

I made my way down to the French Quarter and fell in love.

Walking down Bourbon, somewhat Buzzed by the blues music pouring out into the street and the strong punch I drank, I caught sight of her. Lovely, like a slow sensuous jazz tune, everything else fell away when I saw her. Time, sound, people, the ground I walked on. And just like that I was head over heels.

Her name was Catherine. She had come with her parents to New Orleans for the Jazz Fest from France. Coming from a family well off, she was well educated and spoke perfect English and Spanish and even some German.

We walked through the Quarter slowly, telling stories of our backgrounds, our dreams, desires, our little silences punctuated by the non stop music that rose out into the air and slowly serenaded the sun down into the brown waters of the Mississippi.

And when it was already late we said good-bye, I grabbing her by the small of the wrist kissed her lips almost as if I was whispering a prayer into the ear of an angel.

I watched her turn and pass through the doors of her hotel before I headed to the abandoned white Mansion of which I had to climb over fences to reach before I squirreled away into one of its many rooms to sleep and dream. And I dreamt of her.

The next day we saw each other again, we met each day of the week they were there, spending hours together, mornings, afternoons, nights, a couple times staying out long enough to see the first frail tints of light come up and through the heavy fogs that had come in under darkness and added to the city another veil of its fabled romanticism.

Riding the street cars from downtown to Garden District, walking under the canopy of trees, past beautiful large mansions gated by wrought iron or walking through Storyville past all the houses that once stood infamous with their goings-on behind closed doors and shades.

We talked as if speaking for the first time: cleanly, without thought, free, true, as one might speak to another knowing the moment brief, knowing true love is lived in moments that are nothing more than a flash of grace or slip of Time.

I kissed and held her perfect then. I was perfect then.

But time moves on eventually, catches up, and when she left, so did I. There was nothing in New Orleans for me anymore. Soon it would begin the long sweltering days of summer which were unbearable with humidity and heat and I needed to move on.

We sent words back and forth; the letters sent and received becoming occasional, until one day I received one from her mother letting me know she had died after being brutally raped and beaten. I sent no word back.

I walked then from Los Angeles to San Diego and into Mexico, slowly, broken, never saying anything to anyone that whole long way.

I merely looked out across the land, up at the skies, into the eyes and faces of people moving all through this great country under blue skies terrible with their withheld judgments and eternal patience. And I walked.

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