Prose: Happy Birthday, Mama

Dear Mamacita Verbena,

I woke up early Friday morning, not really because I wanted to. I mean, I did, but not at 4:30am. The cat, Kitty, woke me up meowing like crazy, wanting to go outside. No, I don’t have a cat now. But my friend’s friend does. And that’s where we stayed this weekend.

Happy 70th Birthday!! Guess where I was?! In N’awwwwwlins. You’re right. I am a dirty rat for going there without you. But you were there with me. And in your honor, my first outing was to a French bakery. We met this French guy in Nashville a few weeks ago who swore by the place, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s called Breads on Oak. I think it’s more for vegans, but it was fine. You know what a snob I am when it comes to authenticity. It annoys even me. But anyway, we (you and I) had a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and a soy latté. Sorry. I know you’re probably not into soy, but you know how my digestive system gets.

Happy Birthday some more!! I had a feeling I’d be spending a ton of money on you this weekend. However, not as much as I wanted since I didn’t get to have afternoon tea for you. But we’ll get into that later. Second stop on the Brenda’s 70th birthday tour was the Audubon Zoo. Did you ever take me there? I have a feeling you did when I was little, when we lived in the Quarter. But that was ages ago. And if you were here, we could talk more about it. I’m feeling like more of an adult these days, so I could handle it, our talk. You could recount all your crazy hippy stories, and I wouldn’t cringe. And I could exchange a few of my own, and you wouldn’t make that la-la-la-la-I’m-not-here-I’m-not-here sound that you used to. I’m still your baby girl. You’re still my mama. But there comes a time when we have to be able to talk to each other, really talk to each other, like adults.

At the zoo, just for you, I passed by the zebras twice! They were so precious. I tried not to cry, but some of my tears did mix in with all the sweat under my eyes. Damn, it was hot. Sorry. Language, I know. But you were right there with me the entire time. You felt it too, right?

The snakes were kind of gross. And just now I realized I didn’t do the main reptile area, just the Louisiana snakes. But I saw alligators and frogs, so that’s enough for me. You like that stuff about as little as I do, right? And of course there were the elephants and giraffes. But it was so hot out, I felt the pain of all those sad animals lazin’ around in the shade. Passed. Out. But it was worth it with you beside me every step of the way.

The drive back toward the French Quarter was longer than I expected. No human being should be forced to sit in the car on such a hot day for so long. It was across town, and the traffic was pretty gnarly. I still don’t know my Uptown’s from my Downtown’s from my Mid-Cities. But in any case, at one point I realized all I’d had to eat and drink were the pastries and one-and-a-half cups of coffee. That latter half was from another coffee shop, but it was really gross so I only forced myself to drink half of it. Coffee is so expensive these days that you almost feel obligated to drink it, don’t you? But not this one. Yuck. I made it all the way to Saks, but they didn’t have the perfume I wanted to get for you. You would have loved it. I can still order it online, and I might, but I need to check my finances first. You always did have really good taste.

Parking was crazy, and my car registered 102º. Blech! But after Saks (and a pit-stop for me at Anthropologie), I found two-hour parking across from the French Market, which means close proximity to Central Grocery. And you better believe I had a muffuletta for you, alongside Zapp’s & a San Pellegrino, the blood orange one.

Since it was close to 2pm by that point, and I was only a couple of blocks from Molly’s, I popped in for a refreshing Moscow Mule and a gander at the Wales vs. Belgium match. I know you’re not that into soccer, but it’s the Euro Cup. And remember way back when Christian would make us watch it with him? I guess I eventually got into it. Plus, it’s just one more link to Europe, which we both know and love.

After putting more money in the meter, I hiked it up and over to the Bombay Club. I don’t know why, but I was really craving a martini. Plus, they had these scotch eggs made with boudin instead of regular sausage. They must have heard me and Guy talk about it before, how we were going to put that on our restaurant menu, or else they’re just really smart. They were good, and served with black-eyed peas. While I was there, I met a couple of Haitian guys partying it up during the Essence Festival. Again, you were there in spirit. You remember that one time we went to the music museum together in Paris? I know it was a rough day, but I’d like to look back and see that moment as beautiful. Because it was. Because we were together. And that’s all that mattered.

I ended the evening at another friend of a friend’s house. Just a simple, make-shift barbecue, a few grilled veggies and pork chops, some wine and cheese, some cucumber vodka, which was surprisingly not bad, sitting on the small stoop and plastic buckets, shooing the mosquitoes and flies, and jamming out to the neighbors’ Whitney Houston and Adele dance jams. Pretty sweet.

The next day was cool too, though I have to tell you that I didn’t make it to afternoon tea on Sunday like I’d wanted to, like I’d told everyone I would. I kind of went out, and then went out some more, and then a little more, until all of a sudden it was 10am Sunday morning, and we were swimming in some peoples’ gated pool, after we’d eaten oysters and French fries and a crab omelet and coffee and rosé at Lüke. You definitely would not have approved, nor would you have been proud of me. And what goes up must come down. At least it didn’t come up, well, at least not for me. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky. So much for feeling like an adult. I can’t even believe I made it back home that afternoon, and I’m not sure why I did drive back. I could have slept, I should have slept. But I drove instead. And then I slept, for about two days. And now it’s Tuesday evening, and I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered. I am not 21 years old anymore. And I feel that. And I can’t decide if it’s the hangover or the guilt that is the heaviest. But in any case, I’m sorry. Sorry for messing up your birthday weekend.

But I love you. And I wish you were here. And if you were, I probably would have made you a blueberry-strawberry cheesecake for your birthday. And I certainly wouldn’t have gone out and acted like a crazy person. But maybe because of all the nightmares I’ve been having, and the sadness I’ve been feeling that you’re no long around, and the daily reminders of that horrible day when you were taken from us, maybe, there was something inside of me screaming to get out. And so singing 80s songs at the top of my lungs, and drinking profusely, hopping from bar to bar, and swimming half-naked, and eating lots of mixed-up things, and making out with people, and riding erratically in an old Cadillac through the French Quarter, and not caring how obnoxious I was being, and … well, I’m still in the process of remembering the rest … is just something I had to do. Are you trying to tell me something? If so, what is it exactly? Maybe that I just need to chill out already? I’m working on that.

All in all, this city has always seemed a little dark and heavy for me. But I know you love it. That’s why I went. And I can really start to see why you were drawn to it. It’s a pretty special place. And I’m so happy I got to share it with you this weekend, despite my childish behavior. I love you. I miss you. Happy Birthday.


Your Anne-Julia

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