Oh, we needed that.

We needed every hedonistic second of it, every pair of crappy plastic beads, every stuffed animal that thrilled a child for 10 seconds before they tossed it aside and threw their hands up for something better from the next float, every overly caloric bite of fried chicken and king cake, every last salty drop of Bloody Mary, and absolutely 100 percent of every note played by every single marching band.

It’s been a hell of a two years. I’m not the same person I was on Fat Tuesday 2020 – and not necessarily in a good way. Since the last truck float rolled into the sunset two years ago, I’ve cared for my seriously ill father during two hospitalizations and worsening dementia, planned a funeral after the sudden death of my mother, navigated two years of parenting a teenager in a pandemic, and ridden out Category 3 and 4 hurricanes.

None of those things went away while my kids and I danced in the street and threw our hands up and yelled, “HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY!” When the fire engine and the street cleaners came, we were still grieving, our roof was still leaking, we were still aware that World War III seemed to be looming … but somehow we felt more connected, more alive, more aware.

The first Mardi Gras post-Katrina felt almost like this: cathartic, melancholy, but oddly defiant, a way of telling the world we were still here, still standing.

There have been moments over the past two years where I haven’t known how I was supposed to keep going, how I was expected to keep standing … but here I was, dancing in the streets with my kids and throwing my hands up and yelling, “HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY!”

After so much isolation and uncertainty and general existential dread, we all needed this season of joy and chaos and color and sunshine. The traditions I’ve known for years resumed: the Thoth Sunday brunch (this time, full of toddlers who were in utero the last time I saw their mothers), the balcony where I’ve stood and watched Bacchus for my entire life, the neighborhood Lundi Gras crawfish boil.

And on Tuesday night, as I soaked in the tub and Googled, “What do shin splints feel like?” after swallowing a handful of ibuprofen (spoiler alert: I have shin splints), all I could think was, “We needed this. Oh, how we needed this!”

I hope everyone’s Carnival was similarly life-affirming and helped you, as it helped me, connect with the community and celebrate being alive while mourning those we’ve lost.

I’m not the same person I was two years ago. I’m sadder. I’m stronger. I’m scared about the future and I’m grieving the past. But dammit, I’m still here.