My beloved Nola,
So … I bet you’re wondering why we’re here. Please, umm, sit down. Would you like something to eat? Another glass or six of wine? My kitchen is pretty bare, but I think I have some stale king cake in the cupboard.
I don’t quite know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it. I’m leaving you.
Please. It’s not you — it’s me. Have you seen that Seinfeld episode? Never mind, doesn’t matter. Before you say anything, let me explain myself. You didn’t do anything wrong — in fact, you did more for me than you could ever know.
When we met five years ago, I knew you only as this wild partier; this booze-drinking, 3 a.m.-dancing, bead-tossing, chest-baring, hot freaking mess. I knew you mostly from what I saw on TV and in the movies. I also heard about your baggage, of course. I knew Katrina wailed on you pretty badly, and I knew you were a little different because of it. But my knowledge was, admittedly, superficial and limited.
Speaking of baggage, when I first met you, I was a little messed up, too. I had just left this ugly situation after my freshman year of college and you were my rebound. I was fragile and needed some tender loving care. But let me tell you: this relationship turned into something far more than just a rebound.
God, doesn’t five years ago seem like an eternity now? It feels like another lifetime when I moved into my Phelps House dorm room at Tulane. I was really just a kid back then. Remember my patchy facial hair? Yeah, me neither.
To be honest, it took me a little while to figure you out — you know, what I liked about you and what I didn’t. I get real PTSD when I think about our early days grinding at The Boot (and by grinding I mean standing three feet behind you and pretending to look for my friends in the overwhelmingly sweaty crowd).
But you really pulled me in when I learned about your ancestors. As a young boy in Boston, I toured Plymouth Plantation and walked the Freedom Trail. I was lectured about the Boston Tea Party and read accounts of the Boston Massacre. The British formed New England and New England formed me. I had precious little knowledge of any other culture.
So I came down here and you took me through your heritage: a bit of Spanish, a dash of French and an amalgamation of white, black and brown that all coalesced — congealed, perhaps? — into something this country had never seen before: you.
You never ceased to amaze me, I’ll tell you that much. I came to expect that sometimes — honestly, most of the time — you wouldn’t make any goddamn sense. And that’s why I fell in love with you. An example? Ok, let’s say drive-thru daiquiri shops. When I suggested some of the dangers that might be associated with serving liquor to someone behind the wheel, you told me not to sweat it. “We put tape on the straws, for crying out loud!”
Your free spirit is intoxicating. I love that you stand on the bar and don’t care when everyone stares. I love that when the room speaks in whispers, you get up and sing. I love that you show up at black-tie functions in feathers and a mask.
But I also learned that beneath your sequined gown, you have alarming black-and-blue bruises. You can be violent. Deadly. You have deep, deep-rooted issues with race and inequality. You have a police force that some of your own citizens fear to call for help. When I tutored at Banneker Elementary School by the Riverbend, I saw firsthand what a failing school looks like. I worked with your children, some of whom had single parents who couldn’t help with their kid’s homework because they themselves couldn’t read the assignment.
You are certainly not perfect — far from it, if I can be frank with you. And yet it’s impossible to stay mad at you. After my third flat tire of the month or another triple-homicide in Central City, I want to delete your number and never speak again. How could you do these things? Get your act together! But you implore me, “Come on, just meet me at the Po’ Boy Fest on Oak Street.” I grudgingly accept a bite of your duck confit sandwich. My eyes roll back into my head in ecstasy. Why was I mad, again?
With my future up in the air after graduating from Tulane two years ago, I realized I couldn’t leave you. Not yet. Many other grads bolted for more robust job markets in New York and DC but I remained by your side. Three years just wasn’t enough. So I pursued my dream of becoming a journalist with you, Nola. You’re so nuanced, so remarkable—really you’re a media darling!
Over the next two years, while writing for virtually every publication in the area, I watched more and more of my friends pick up and move. The allure of sexy metropolises and their myriad career opportunities eventually snared them. I took a hard look at the situation and realized it wasn’t really a mystery. Unless you’re in one of a handful of industries, it’s hard to make it work with you, Nola. It may sound harsh, but it’s true.
If you’re pursuing a career in oil and gas or education, you have tremendous growth opportunities. If you’re striving for a life in wine and spirits or the service industry, put your bags down and stay a while. But if you’re looking to rise in anything else, you’re going to have trouble. This can’t come as a surprise, Nola, dear. I told you two years ago that I was having a tough time launching a career. Since then I’ve made it, sort of. I’ve written for every outlet in the city, but staff jobs are still fewer than competent Saints defenders. In fact they’re fewer every day.
And that’s why I must leave you.
I know I said earlier that it’s not you, it’s me. But maybe a bit of it is you. Listen, since Katrina you’ve grown in so many areas: film, technology, healthcare to name just a few. As we celebrated Katrina’s tenth anniversary, the mayor — heck, even two presidents! — rightfully lauded you for your comeback accomplishments. You’ve made remarkable strides and I’m so proud of you for that. It’s just that you still can’t really compete with the Bostons, New Yorks and DCs. You’re on your way, but I don’t see a future for us right now.
As much as I looked in dismay as my buddies left for the East Coast, the jobs are simply more plentiful there. It’s not even close. If I had family down here, that would be different. I’m 25 and I need to pursue my career now; I hope you can understand. This may sound harsh, but if I stayed I’d just be treading water.
And yet, even after coming to this realization, I lay awake in bed for months, staring at the ceiling. I had agonized over the decision. How could I leave you after all we’ve been through together? Am I making a huge mistake? That’s the pull you have on people. You defy rational thought. You yank people in, hand them a drink, and tell them to hang out for a while. I hung out for five full years and they were absolutely the best years of my life. Nothing else comes close.
Look at me, Nola. You’re frustrating and magical, ill-conceived and delicious. You’re dangerous and unforgettable. I’m going to miss you so much, and I really hope we can stay in touch.
But right now, it’s time for me to go.
Freelance writer Sam Tabachnik, a recent Tulane graduate, grew up in the Boston area.