June 18, 2012
Photo credit Flickr user infrogmation
I am finally reading my friend Rachel’s blog. She has written it since I’ve known her, but until now I’d never read it. Although Rachel substituted initials for names, when she was first blogging people she wrote about regularly recognized themselves, and a few friendships frayed amid accusations of privacy transgressions. As she’s always acknowledged, Rachel is an open book.
But it wasn’t being identifiable to others that worried me; it was something deeper that kept me from reading.
I met Rachel on Mardi Gras day 2006, six months to the day after the levees broke. I had arranged to meet my friend Les at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop; he told me he would be with an old friend who had moved back to New Orleans just before the storm and was now living in our neighborhood.
Les was a close but separate friend of both Rachel’s and mine, and he had provided each of us with the other’s back-story. The day we met, Rachel knew I had just left a difficult years-long relationship and wanted also to leave my 20-year law career, hoping to reinvent myself on the blank slate that was post-Katrina New Orleans but terrified I’d waited too long. I knew Rachel was newly single as well, but times three–separated from her husband and mourning a long affair that had ended painfully and publicly, costing her the godson she’d loved as her own. And I knew she was completing renovations–by herself since the split–to the house on Bayou St. John that she and her husband had designed together. Like many New Orleanians who had not suffered property damage from the flood, we were nonetheless rebuilding.
Mardi Gras 2006 felt like a miracle, because the rest of the country assumed it wouldn’t happen. As it was, it was vastly smaller than normal, but full of small mercies as throngs of the displaced streaming into town–dressed irreverently as moldy refrigerators and blue-tarped roofs–stumbled joyously upon lost friends. Rachel and Les and I spent the day in similar fashion, embracing, one after the other, old friends or even mere acquaintances we ran across as we traversed the French Quarter and Marigny neighborhoods with no agenda but to seize some joy.
That day began a fast friendship as Rachel and I plunged into the city’s recovery and our own, locking into an intense routine of parties, music, and reopening celebrations of local businesses from grocery stores to ice cream parlors, fueled by alcohol, men—the ratio of men to women the first year post-storm was staggering–and the impatient, conflicting longing for both stability and change. We were the same age—46—but were acting a decade and a half younger, as if we’d discovered each other on a mutual do-over.
But like all bright flames, the intensity of our relationship eventually burned out, as diverging life imperatives pushed us apart. I wanted to keep the party going, afraid of what I’d face once it stopped; Rachel, having finished building the house on the Bayou, wanted a home. Our times together grew less frequent, and soon Rachel was in a relationship, then adopting a baby.
When I began to think about starting my own blog I finally decided to read Rachel’s–partly for inspiration, but also to see what I’d missed
Looking back, I realized I hadn’t read Rachel’s blog during our time together because I was afraid to. Living in New Orleans then was so hard, and there was such sadness, that the only way to bear it was to immerse in the frantic thrust toward recovery, and for that I needed the unit—the force—that was Rachel and Graham. I relied on the image of our friendship as much as the friendship itself, and I needed it to be exactly as I conceived it; if I read the blog I might find something that would betray my conception. Maybe I’d think Rachel wasn’t a good writer, which was how she defined herself–the persona she brought to the relationship. Worse, maybe I’d discover we weren’t the soul mates I thought we were, which was how I defined our relationship and my new life in New Orleans.
Now, I read Rachel’s blog every day–I begin with the morning’s rss feed, then slip into the archives, losing myself in her early posts—long, multi-paragraph descriptions of her struggle to know herself at just the time I was getting to know her, both of us returning refugees trying to reclaim our stunned lives and broken city.
I know now that Rachel is an amazing writer, that she can express a sweeping range of emotions in a single sentence. This is one of my favorites, describing how she felt at the end of the affair that laid bare her betrayal of people she’d loved:
“[Someone told me] Eskimos have 200 words for snow why don’t we have 200 words for love–I wish I had 200 words for sorry right now.”
I also know now that as powerful as I thought my image of Rachel’s and my friendship was, the real friendship, the one that survives to this day, is stronger.