Friday, September 3, 2010

pictures of you

a fun side effect of moving is finding unexpected little surprises here and there, tucked into boxes behind old pairs of shoes and your stash of sweatshirts. i found a cache of old snapshots, a path through the halcyon days of college, before digital cameras made it infinitely easier to capture ignominy for the rest of the world to see. (and don't think i am not ETERNALLY grateful that i missed facebook in undergrad.) i spent a few happy minutes glancing through the stack, remembering some things fondly, with a pinch of bittersweet for how things have changed.

then i got to the last picture in the stack, and the shock of the sight took my breath away.

when i married at age 21, there were a couple hundred random snapshots in addition to the stiffly posed portraits. the photographer was far better at choosing action shots, casual vignettes of what was supposed to be our special day. dizzy with the good humor of the day, i convinced my least-social friend, who stood at the altar and watched me walk down the aisle to take my vows, to pass a slow dance with me. as we danced together, we talked, laughed, et cetera. the photographer crept up near us, without me even seeing it, and snapped a single photo of the moment. he was in mid-sentence, gesturing with one hand. i had a hand on his shoulder, smiling. we were looking each other in the eyes. honestly, to an outsider, you'd think he was the groom, so intimate was that moment.

so here we sit, so far from that day in so many ways. the man who put the ring on my finger doesn't live here. the wedding dress i wear hangs in the new closet, bearing witness to the past. and the friend from the picture? well, we laid in what was once my marital bed, skin against skin, and held each other close in the dark of the same night that brought me this slice of memory. we spoke in voices measured and fearful, pledging our love to one another and fearing the uncertainty of the changing dynamic between us. he mentioned that day, all those summers ago; watching me walk down the aisle and take another man's hand, he said, cut him in ways he couldn't articulate until that moment.

that photo, once a pleasant aside to the day that would build my life, is now only a stark reminder of what should have happened. but that's the funny thing about memories; you can use the example of what came before to rectify mistakes, to learn, and to grow. we learned from our errors, and in the darkness, in each other's arms, we forever changed the context. now, when i see the way we look at each other in that long-ago slow dance, i see a future, a possibility.

a memory reborn, reclaimed, all in the space of a picture.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


[the reference]

today, the president told us that we're done fighting in iraq. next summer, we'll start leaving afghanistan. perhaps this was a good day to take myself to a war documentary. let me tell you something right off the bat: you owe it to yourself as an american (or if you're not american, as a person) to see this film. it's, to my decidedly civilian eyes, beautifully done, and it pulls no punches. it's especially moving how, just for fleeting moments, we were able to see the guys find release in small and sometimes utterly silly ways. films like restrepo bear silent, non-ideological witness to what we do when we make war.

i expected to be deeply affected by the movie. i know people who served, and they are never far from my mind, especially in that context. hell, full metal jacket gets under my skin and it's 100% fiction. but this was a level of emotion that i can't really even articulate. i mean, some of these soldiers, sent off to this insanely remote and ridiculously dangerous corner of an intractable war zone, were BOYS. i don't say that to condescend; they were easily 10 years younger than me. to watch them in action, just dutifully going forward with their orders... well, i was in awe. it's like this. when i worked my 2L summer, my boss said to me a lot, "hey, drive down to the court house and walk this succession through." in the same tone, these guys were told, "hey, go into this valley where people are shooting at you. fire back at them. oh, and by the way, we're pretty sure they're our enemy, but we're not totally sure. oh, and there are kids and women down there. oh, and you may die." and they went and did it.

the question that kept popping into my head throughout was, "why the hell are we doing this to them?" these guys were amazingly poised, skilled and sharp. they're so well trained, and they're an asset to this country. it is my personal opinion that american soldiers are precious on so many levels, and that they should only be placed in harm's way if it's absolutely necessary. watching the officers try to get the mission advanced, i didn't get the feeling that these guys were being used that way. that's the thing that really boils my blood. i hate war, but i accept it as a necessary evil of human life. but by god, it does things to people. watching these boys talk about loss broke my heart in ways i can't describe. they will never, ever be the same. they'll always be in this war, in some way or another, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. and for what?

if there's not a really good answer to that question, we have failed our soldiers. and that is unacceptable.

so go see restrepo. if it's not playing where you are, get it on DVD when it comes out. give to iraq and afghanistan veterans of america or a similar group. and make damn sure you tell your government to respect our precious troops. use them smartly. honor what they do for us. god knows it's the least we can give them.

Monday, August 30, 2010

the city that care forgot

i have a hard time writing about katrina. i didn't experience the storm firsthand; i watched it wreak its havoc from a thousand miles away, sitting in my living room with my cadre of gulf-coast-raised friends in a kind of dull horror. i took a trip across the south about two weeks after the storm, turning north from oxford, mississippi instead of south, meeting dazed evacuees in every town. i watched the nation's people come through in whatever small way they could as the nation's government was perfectly content to let an entire region drown. the wounds ran deep enough for those of us who love the place; for those who live there, who call it home, it's an unimaginable grief.

it's five years later. i have written a couple of times about my love for the pelican state and my special relationship to new orleans. i firmly believe that new orleans is the most special, unique and soulful city in this nation. it's the shot of tabasco in our melting pot. and it kills me that still, even now, it's not okay yet. but there's one thing i know of this place. i've seen it myself. there's a toughness to new orleanians, and by extension everyone in the region, from mobile across to lake charles, that should be the model for american backbone. it takes true grit to call that place home. you either have it or you don't.

but beyond the toughness, the gulf south has a kind of well-worn sparkle about it that's hard to describe. it's not the glitz of new york or los angeles, the flash of las vegas or miami, or the sophistication of DC or chicago, but there's a louche, bluesy redolence about the area. the spirit of new orleans is hard to put into words, but it touches the whole region in varying degrees. you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand, but once you've opened yourself up to the city, it's in your blood forever and you'll never be the same.

so five years after the storm, we mourn what's lost and celebrate what's left. i hold that wondrous city, brassy, beautiful, loud and sticky, in my heart with everything i have. there's much left to do, and it's vital to keep moving forward. the soul of our nation lives in new orleans. never forget it.