If you live here, even if you're "from here," and particularly if you have children here, you've probably had The Conversation. Maybe you had it before The Storm; maybe you had it during the evacuation. Or maybe, like us, you started talking about it only recently, after Nagin rang the bell to commemorate 8/29, or after Bill Jefferson was re-elected, or maybe when the murders started to pile up and everything got pretty goddamn scary.
Never before have we even remotely entertained the idea of leaving New Orleans. Okay, after W was re-elected I spent some drunken hours spewing apocalyptic rants and dreaming of intelligent life overseas, but that was purely reactive. When Cade's company went kooky and I started saying things like "You could work anywhere" and "Why are we staying here?" I didn't really mean it; that was just the Sagittarius speaking. Even when two very large men broke into our house in the middle of the day, when I was at home, and the police did not show up for almost an hour, we did not consider abandoning our post. After spending nearly three months away from home after Katrina we came back with a beautiful baby and an even firmer resolve to stay, to rebuild, to renew, to re-everything. Even then we did not have The Conversation.
But these first 2 weeks of 2007 have been intense. People are dying, people are pissed off, our leaders seem dumbstruck. People are talking about leaving. And for the first time since I moved here, I'm talking about it, too. Where would we go? What would we do there? Where would we work? Would we make new friends? What about our family? Would we miss them? These questions seem far less pressing than the question that sits like a fluorescent pink elephant in the living room of every home in this city--namely, Who will be next?
I don't want to leave. I love this city, I have loved this city since the first morning I jogged down Audubon street, on a September morning in 2001, days before the towers fell in NYC. This is my home, my daughter's home; it has been my husband's family's home for many generations. But it is more than my love for this city that keeps me here. It is a moral dilemma. It is the recognition, as Cade so astutely pointed out, that the "inner cities" in this country are the way they are--dangerous and desperate and depressed--precisely because people give up on them, because people leave. We could give our daughter a cleaner life, a safer life, a suburban life, but we would have to admit something to ourselves in the process of doing so. We would have to admit that we gave up hope--not just in New Orleans, but in the future of this country. And though hope seems in short supply these days, I think I have just enough to stretch it out a little longer.