139 in New Orleans

Sigh. Last night at like 2 in the morning, I woke up to a lady screaming outside my window. I was totally disoriented and couldn’t figure out if I was night hallucinating or if I’d just had a bad dream, until I heard the lady scream again, then yell—I mean, like, yell, scared and desperate lose-your-voice kind of yell, HELP! She yelled again, long and whimpery and hoarse, and I sat up in this weird paralyzed terror. I listened to her scream again and then heard a car drive away. I thought I might throw up. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat in my bed in the dark. Yes, I realize normal people would have run to the window, grabbed the cell and filed a report. But I was too afraid to look out my window.

When I finally snapped to it and peeked out the window, the street was empty, and leaves were swirling around in the middle of the street where the car must have pulled away, presumably with the lady in it. I could hear the lady screaming in the distance farther and farther away.

I never called 911. I don’t know why—maybe, I think, because I could imagine them saying: where? What did she look like? What did the car look like? Why didn’t you call right away? And I just didn’t know any of those answers. The longer I waited, the more stupid and irresponsible and guilty I felt for not looking and then for not calling right away. I just stared out onto dark, creepy Jackson Avenue, and the saddest, angriest feeling of hatred for this city came over me. I just wanted to pack up all my stuff and go back to Indiana. Like they don’t have abductions, rapes, murders, etc. there…

I love this city, and I have this beautiful view of the skyline, and the front of my building sits right on Saint Charles with the streetcar line and parades and everything. But outside my window, six floors down is Jackson Ave. I started to wonder about Jackson when I first moved here and people kept asking me where I lived, and I’d tell them, and they’d say, ‘Oh, Crack Corner? Just don’t park on the lakeside of St. Charles and you’ll be fine…’ or, “Isn’t that the triangle of death?” Yes. In fact, it is.

I’ve seen a thousand million drug busts and arrests and roll calls out that window, most of them at like 6pm, with a beautiful sunset and skyline view behind the cop car lights, and safety is a daily discussion in class, but I just felt unaffected. Until this lady’s screams came into my window.

So I turned on all my lights, the TV, my music, watched videos of my baby niece, Lily, for 2 hours and took an Ambien. I had to wake up 3 hours later to work this family therapy conference in the quarter—and my body was still on Ambien, I think, until noon. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that lady, and I couldn’t stop wondering if she was safe, and I couldn’t stop asking: what if that had been me and people heard me screaming for help but didn’t do anything?

Anyway. I’ve been telling myself that if I heard her, other people heard her too, and one of those people probably called, right? We looked up the crime stats for last night—3 murders in 3 hours, no women.

At noon today I got caught in a downpour and went home to sleep. I woke up 3 hours later in a gloomy haze. It was a beautiful night with a beautiful sunset and I couldn’t even bring myself to look outside or acknowledge Jackson Ave out my window, which is so unhealthy—as if me and that street and, consequently, this city are in some kind of irreparable fight. It was so strong a feeling of withdrawal and isolation that I forced myself to get up and seek out all the places in this city where I know beauty exists. I went to Audubon Park, I went to the fly, and I went to the lake. I ran and jogged and walked until I couldn’t take another step, and then I cried for a long time. I felt like God didn’t exist here last night, and that ugliness had taken over.

But it’s not true. Ugliness is everywhere. But so is truth and beauty. Are New Orleanians eating and laughing and enjoying things and generally being held together? Because if they are, then God is here. These things—truth and beauty—can’t exist here without Him.

I read this book. It was given to me by my Grandma, who’s friend’s granddaughter had self-published, called Charismatic City: My New York. She did a funny thing with Psalm 139, and I liked it. I claim it as a way of humanizing this amazing, ugly, beautiful, complex city:

139 in New Orleans

Lord, you have searched Crawfish Guy, and you know him.

You know when that avocado vendor sits and when that preacher on channel 79 who hangs out at the Daiquiri shop rises.

You perceive that pickle-tub drummer’s thoughts from afar.

You discern the blind, deaf guy outside my apartment’s going out and his lying down.

You are familiar with all the meter lady’s ways.

Before a word is on the hotdog man’s tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for this streetcar driver, too lofty for him to attain.

For you created those scary guys on the corner of Jackson and Carondelet’s inmost beings, you knit them together in their mother’s wombs.

I praise you because that little girl with the booty shorts is fearfully and wonderfully made. The man following her on his bike was not hidden from you when he was made in the secret place.

How precious are your thoughts about that homeless man under I-10, O God.

How vast is the sum of them! Were he to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

When the super skinny lady on Louisiana Avenue awakes, you are still with her.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Amen.

Oh, and please let that lady be safe tonight.

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