But there was also loneliness, and a lot of it--at least for me. As someone who had no family in New Orleans, other than my husband and daughter, I oftentimes felt jealous of the huge connection that all of the locals here had with their families. They all had dinner together every Friday night, it was nothing to drop your newborn off at your mama's house for the weekend (sooo jealous) so that you could go out with your friends and have fun, etc. Through the pre-Katrina years, I made a lot of friends here--friends who I now call family. But after Katrina, they all moved away.
So I kind of drifted around aimlessly for about a year after moving back post-K, not really knowing what to do with myself. And as usual, Kenny was always at work, and I had an infant. So I wrote on this blog a lot, and I watched a lot of television and read a lot of books. But I really needed a friend--just one--that I could hang out with occasionally and just have fun with.
And it took awhile, but I eventually found one--we met, on all places, through Craig's List. As I said, I was desperate for friends, and making friends as an adult has never come easily to me because: a) I'm an introvert; and b) I'm a geek. So there I was, hopelessly cruising the Craig's List ads and meetup.com, desperately looking for something--anything--to get me away from my house for one night a month. A book club. A dinner group. I was considering learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons and/or learning Portuguese. And then I found a listing for a "girls' night out" group and forced myself to sign up for it. Its intention was to find a group of women who had recently moved to New Orleans and were looking for people to hang out with, so what did I have to lose?
The night of the get-together, my shy, introverted self was so nervous that I almost didn't go. My husband pretty much had to shove me out the door. (Have I mentioned that my idea of hell is making small talk?) So I went, and I was scared to death, and it was pretty awkward for the first hour or so, as the six or so women other than myself who had showed up made small talk at a bar and tried to get to know each other. But after a few drinks, I started to feel better, as I always do after a few drinks, and I struck up a conversation with one of the women. Eventually, the conversation came around to children, and I told her that I had a 17-month-old daughter (that was back when we measured in months--Emmeline is now 96 months old, if anyone is counting).She smiled and her face lit up a little, as she said she had a 17-month-old son. It turned out that our kids were four days apart in age, which seemed like a huge coincidence at the time. And I liked her, and we ended up staying at the bar with one other woman after the others went home and talking for a couple of hours.
We met as a "girls' night out group" one more time, where it became painfully obvious that most of us had absolutely nothing in common, other than being lonely. But Kara, the one I'd hit it off with the previous time was there again, and we hit it off again. We exchanged emails, started talking that way, and eventually decided that we should get together with our respective significant others and make a night of it. We also discovered that we're both Cancers and that we both have the tendency to constantly apologize and worry that we might have somehow inadvertently upset the other one with something we said or didn't say. This soon became the joke, I think, that solidified our friendship.
It will sound dramatic, but Kara was an absolute godsend in those times. I'd finally met someone in New Orleans, again, who liked me for me and didn't think I was weird, or too introverted, or too whatever. She and her partner, Trey, brought out the best in me, and we quickly bonded, as did Emmeline and their son, Beau. I can't tell you how many nights we spent in their courtyard, talking and laughing, while Emmeline and Beau played inside (and oftentimes stood at the window and bellowed for us to let them out--they were in a contained space--it was okay).
So for the past almost seven years (has it really been that long?), Kara has been one of the best friends I've ever had, and I'm so happy to have her in my life. She has laughed with me about ridiculous things, shared my black and inappropriate sense of humor at times, and let me vent during the times that things have not been so great with Kenny and, most importantly, has done so with patience and without judgement. We've talked about the Mayan calendar, sex both good and bad, the weird hollow on the inside top of my mouth, and our kids. We've watched our kids grow up together and experience at least 15-20 Mardi Gras parades together every single year. I like to think that I've done the same for her in being there when she needed a friend, like the afternoon we sat on the porch in the rain for about five hours and just talked after she'd gotten back from watching her dad die.
Kara and her other friends and family members have opened up a part of New Orleans to me that I knew existed but had never really experienced, like St. Joseph's night and neighborhood second-lines and straying from the parade route on Mardi Gras day to take in all of the other life that's going on just a short walk away. In other words, they've shown me a lot of the parts of New Orleans that are now a huge part of my life. Parts that I absolutely adore.
And now, Kara has Stage IV melanoma, and I'm trying very hard not to be scared. We've known something was wrong for a few months, as she had a mass in her abdomen. And the doctors did a CT scan and discovered she also had a mass in her left lung, so I went to the hospital with her while they did a lung biopsy, and we spent a good deal of that time making smart ass comments and pretending everything was going to be fine.
And then on Muses night, she got the results of the lung biopsy and we all found out that it was metastatic melanoma. And of course, we were on the St. Charles neutral ground, drinking beer at the time. And we hugged and all pretended not to be worried and then set it aside for that night and the next 10 or so nights so we could enjoy Mardi Gras, because we all absolutely adore it.
We all freaked out at first, because if you google "metastatic melanoma," the stats aren't pretty. And Kara warned of us this and told us all to google "melanoma survivors" instead. And that has helped immensely, as it's surprising how many people have beaten the disease and are still okay. And most of them are young and healthy like Kara.
And for the most part, I am convinced that Kara will beat this and be one of the few that not only survive this disease but kick its ass. If anyone is set up to do it, she is, as she's one of the most positive, earnest, and giving people that I've ever met. Even when she's bitching about something, she does it with a light heart. But every once in awhile, like for the past couple of nights, I get scared. Really scared. Like when she tells me that her doctor at M.D. Anderson gave her good news because he told her that 25-30% of his patients are still alive two to three years later. And then the seriousness of what she's going through hits me, and I am bereft and so afraid to imagine my life in New Orleans without her. To imagine Trey's life, and Beau's life, and Joey's life, and Beverly's life, and Krissie's life, without her.
And tonight, she's on the way back to Houston to have a biopsy of her abdominal mass, and I try to fill myself with hope instead of fear and to say as many prayers/send out as many good thoughts as I possibly can. Because I can't imagine life without her.
I won't share this with her, because I think she'd just be embarrassed if I did. But I needed to get that out there and say how much I love my friend. As Kara told everyone, please say a prayer, send out good thoughts, or do an interpretive dance--whichever one feels right for you.