On Saturday, I filled my car to the brim with as many of my worldly possessions as possible and left Louisiana for Texas, where I’ll spend the next three to four years as a student of law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. But I didn’t go directly to Dallas.
I stopped first in Houston, a place that will always be special to me, and I reconnected with about two dozen of my best friends from Rice. We were all there to celebrate; my friends Andy and Danielle were tying the knot. A part of me will always be in Houston. The years I spent there were some of the happiest and most fulfilling in my life.
I don’t have any tattoos. But if I ever decided to get ink, I know, without a doubt, what I would want. I’d get an owl. It may sound cheesy, I realize. When I was a kid– about eight years old– my grandparents commissioned a mural for their house: It was of their grandchildren. There were about seven or eight of us at the time (now there are thirteen), and each of us was whimsically depicted as a cartoon animal. My cousin Paul was a frog, sitting atop a lilly, wearing his then-favorite t-shirt. My brother Mark was a squirrel, playing a saxophone. And in the middle of the mural, there was a giant tree, where I was perched, as an enormous (beautiful) owl, reading from a book of fairy tales. A decade later, I matriculated into Rice, and one day shortly thereafter, when I was back in their home in Alexandria, I realized how prescient the mural actually was, at least for me personally. A decade later, I was a Rice Owl, majoring in English.
Again, the years I spent at Rice were amazing, formative, and life-altering. Last weekend, I was reminded of how fortunate I was.
It was also somewhat bizarre, because here I was, in Houston, my car packed with all of my things, ready to move back to Texas and go back to college. And it just so happened that it was also the very first day of Rice’s freshmen orientation week. (By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how cool it was to see my friend Zack Kopplin that day on the Rice campus. Zack’s already made Louisiana proud, and I have no doubt he will be a force for good at Rice as well). It was a little disorienting, to be sure, because I can still see myself as the kid finally moving away for college for the first time (even if it was actually the second time I’ve moved away).
I stayed up the entire night in Houston reminiscing with old friends, and the next morning, I barreled down I-45 to Dallas. When the Dallas skyline came into view, it hit me, finally: I was leaving Louisiana.
Louis Armstrong famously sang “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”. It’s not just New Orleans, of course; the song is bigger than the political boundaries of a municipality. The song is about the spirit, the culture, and the resilience of the greatest and most complicated state in the entire country. Over the course of the last six years, I’ve grown to deeply love my home state– not just because it’s home, but because it’s the best.
I’ve traveled all over the world, and I’ve fallen in love with many places– Australia, South America, Europe, the South Pacific, Africa, the Caribbean. But nothing, nowhere beats Louisiana. The last night I was in New Orleans, I sat with a few friends on the balcony of the Blue Nile. Music was blaring inside the bar. Hipster kids were everywhere. Honestly, it was a little annoying. But directly across the street, as we sat outside, a brass band spontaneously began playing, and it was magnetic. And for a brief moment, it was magical. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, but it happens in New Orleans; it happens in Louisiana.
Do you know what it means? Because I do.
I also know this: I’m leaving my heart in Louisiana. Louisiana owns me.
In Louisiana, we don’t pardon anyone’s French, so let me just tell it like it is: Over the last few years, as I worked to serve my community in a public service job, I dealt with a ton of bullshit. Piles and piles of it. No, it has nothing to do with the people I worked for or worked with; the bullshit inevitably comes from the ignorant interlopers; no matter where you are, there will always be a group of people who are embittered, hateful, and lonely.
I will always be grateful and appreciative of the good men and women who serve my hometown. My former boss, Mayor Jacques Roy, is the most brilliant human being I have ever met. (I’m not on his payroll anymore, by the way). I can only hope and pray that a person of his caliber will be the future of Louisiana. And he’s surrounded himself with great people: Daniel Smith, my best friend who is leaving for Princeton and Georgetown; Bill Hess, a man who always treated me with unbelievable kindness and who has single-handedly developed the film industry in Central Louisiana; Kay Michiels, an extraordinary woman with an extraordinary passion for Alexandria; T.W. Thompson, an exemplary public servant who lives and breathes Louisiana. And there are others: Chuck Johnson, Mike Marcotte, James Branch, Mike Wilkinson, Ann Lowrey, Darrell Bradley. Then the folks who have since moved on: Ken Juneau, Susan Patton, Melinda Anderson. The last five years of my life have been enriched invaluably by all of these people, and they continue to enrich Alexandria.
I will continue to contribute to the Louisiana blogosphere. No one is shutting me up. I know I’ll be busy with school, and I know I’ll no longer be afforded the proximity necessary for real insight. But, but, but: It is my honest and sincere hope that other people in the Gret Stet will step up, speak out, and reclaim Louisiana from the ignorant interlopers– whether they are entrenched politicos who treat my home state as nothing more than a stepping stone or bigoted bullies who traffic in racism and divisiveness.
I’ve been back in Texas for only a few days, and I am very happy to be able to pursue a degree in the law. Yes, I could have attended LSU or Tulane, but my family moved to Dallas. So here I am, with my family… and that is important. Period.
Still, guess what?
I’ll be back. I can’t survive without my heart.