Shifty

Until him, I never knew about the shops on Royal Street. Actually, until him I never knew a lot of things.

I never knew about real jazz or étouffée. Never knew the second line or Purple Haze.

Didn’t know Saints or Voodoo or Basin Street. Not Port o’Call Monsoons or the fleur de lis.

Never tasted salty, sticky air and beignets.

Never knew Laissez Lez Bon Temps Rouler and joie de vivre.

Never knew love. Never knew life. I never knew New Orleans.

Until him–and, baby, he was a beautiful thing.

“Sgt. Augustus D’Amour,” he said, and I was only twenty-three, wet behind the ears with legs locked at the knees.

“Call me August,” he said. “I just got back from overseas.”

He looked at me with eyes deep as that ocean and I would’a called him anything. In French, his name meant of love, so what else could it be? Like a hurricane, he swooped in with clever words and war stories, and swept me off my feet.

Across a dancefloor, into a back seat, and onto a squeaky mattress in the barracks called D.

“I know a better place,” he said after only one or two weeks.

“It’s pure magic,” he promised. “You gotta come with me.”

So off I went.

And there we suddenly were, thick in color and music and light in a city that really never sleeps.

“The family business is in antiques,” he said as we strolled, his hand on my hip, up and down the length of Royal Street. “As soon as I get out, this’ll all belong to me.”

He fed me food and lines and more than I could ever drink, and it.

Was.

Love.

And more than I’d ever dreamed.

“I want to live here,” I whispered through the darkness and into his ear.

“Let’s do it.” Lips to my neck and hands in my hair. “I belong to you and you belong to me. We’ll make this work. I’ll prove it. Just wait and see.”

And for the rest of the weekend we lived on liquor, and brass, and hopes, and dreams.

“He’s a man of his word,” I said, watching him leave. “Just one month separate and it’ll be reality.”

Oh reality.

I never saw you coming.

Reality is not liquor, and brass, and hopes, and dreams.

Reality isn’t color and music and light, but it is a man who never sleeps.

Over the phone you can’t hold or comfort an angry man who stays up all night and weeps.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Where are you?” But he couldn’t ever tell me.

It’s impossible to break through and rescue this man, the wounded warrior held hostage by PTSD.

Again, he leaves for the city of blinding light and jazz that ricochets in the streets, but this time there was no talk of hopes and dreams and he didn’t say, “you gotta come with me.”

But he didn’t need to say it. I needed no invitation. I knew all he needed was me and a reminder of all that could be.

I packed my car and quit my job and drove through the night, drunk on love and possibilities, looking for the city and the man that never sleeps. In an alley off Canal, I left my car and belongings, headed straight for the Quarter because all I needed was him back with me.

The City where I found love is the same, but different it seems. It lacks whimsy when you’re not a tourist and just a girl walking the streets.

There is still color, and music, and light; still liquor, and brass, and hopes, and dreams.

But all of that starts to fade when you gotta make a buck doing anything and everything.

I haven’t found him yet, but I will. You’ll see. He’s still in my mind and heart, along with everything that could be.

Until then, until him, I’ll still be here; it’ll still just be me, eyes darting and peeking in windows and checking to see.

Alone at night with the Royal Street shops that have made me shifty.

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