Newsfeeds tripped across the flat screen in my basement the nights after Katrina slammed ashore, and I found myself a thousand miles away from the place that will always be home, calling my parents and relaying to them through crackles and snaps and “all circuits are busy, please try your call again later” what was happening in the parish next to theirs, in the next town, on the next block. Bad news washed over me—more breaching, still overtopping, no help. I pulled my quilt tight around my shoulders, turned the TV off for the first time in days and padded over to the computer in search of some distraction. Logging into my email, I saw a rambling subject line from an unfamiliar address: "Beth, Are You/Family All OK in New Orleans?" I clicked to open and scrolled. It was Brian.

Our relationship had begun on a flight out of New Orleans in the summer of 1992. I had torn myself away from my niece at the gate and was still choking on tears when I buckled into my seat. Brian was the flight attendant assigned to work my area of the cabin. His attention to our row drew comments from the elderly couple seated beside me, and by the time we were halfway to Pittsburgh, I had taken notice of his bright green eyes and his soft Southern accent. In the bathroom mirror, I checked my face. Eyelids swollen, with pin-prick capillaries burst at the outer edges. How alluring. Complexion drained of all color, except for my nose, which was crimson and rubbed raw. 

I scanned his other options. The female attendants on this flight were particularly attractive in their Miss America way, with curls that had been set on huge rollers cascading down their backs and eyebrows plucked high and thin, feigning perpetual interest. I didn’t stand a chance. Even if I had, I was being gathered on the other end by my then-boyfriend (I use the term loosely) Michael, and we were heading straight to Michigan. In my car. So as Brian came by to collect all remaining items in the cabin, I balled up the cocktail napkin on which I had carefully printed my name and number and threw it in the trash.

Michael was on time to pick me up, which was a surprise. It was not a surprise to see that he had strapped his boat to the top of my Honda Civic, that he had “fixed” my car himself when there hadn't been anything wrong with it when I left, and that we were now stranded outside of Pittsburgh, checked into a dingy motel for the night. In the morning, when Michael went searching for a repair shop, I called the airline. Twenty minutes later, I hung up with Brian’s full name and company address, scrawled on the motel’s notepad.

Brian and I dated nearly a year, drawn together by our displacement from home. When he wasn’t staying in airport hotels, Brian was shuttling between Tennessee, where he was learning to be a divorced dad, and Boston, where he had a room in his sister’s house. I was in graduate school in a coal-mining Pennsylvania college town, so far away from Southwest Louisiana, I might as well have landed on the moon.

Back in the days when people waited by the phone for calls, I did. I waited. He would tell me what hotel we were checking into in Pittsburgh that week and when. We monitored flight loads and airline hotel discounts, planning elaborate island vacations, which we never took. But he did give me expensive gifts for a gal on my budget, like surprise tickets to visit far-flung friends and family. Once he booked us a room at the Royal Sonesta and flew to meet me in the Big City, where we drank hurricanes and ate beignets and pretended to be tourists, then sat on the levee and listened to a lone saxophone cry to the Mississippi River. Soon after that trip, Brian’s ex got wind of our relationship—and she got ahold of my phone number. From the sound of her, I wondered whether she and Brian weren’t divorced at all. I’m still not sure. 

“Connecticut?” Brian writes. He is surprised. So am I. Connecticut. A state people pass through on their way to someplace else—New York, Boston, the Berkshires, the Cape. A state where people go to the movies to cross their arms, sit stoically in their seats, and dare a filmmaker to make them cry. A state where women laugh quietly, covering their mouths with their hands, drawing air in tiny gasps instead of letting it out in great gusts. A state where I get my news underground, through a screen, in clipped and urgent phrasings, instead of on the front porch, in lazy conversation, sipping afternoon coffee. A stark contrast to home.

Those of us who can’t leave New Orleans behind are a damaged lot and we're okay with that. New Orleans is a city where the sweat and the grime stick to your skin and where people kiss and hug you anyway. A city that suspends judgment, that not only bears but flaunts her own scars, a place where the wounded seek redemption. New Orleans never expects her apostles to go and sin no more.

With New Orleans under water, Brian was seeking absolution from me. I wasn’t sure what sins I was washing away, but it seemed he had done his penance. He begged me to let him know that I was ok. “Please,” he wrote. I opened a blank email message and composed a gentle, winding response, one that felt like the city we’d lost. I forgave us both our trespasses. I haven't heard from him since.



Originally from southwest Louisiana, Elizabeth Boquet now lives and works in Southwest Connecticut. She writes to bridge the distances between New Orleans and New Haven. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Full Grown People, 100-Word Story, and The Bitter Southerner.


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