The milestones we use to mark time in New Orleans are different, but it definitely isn’t as simple as winter, spring, summer and fall. Every year, Bayou Boogaloo and the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience make me realize that the anniversary of my sister’s death is approaching. Jazz Fest means it’s time to remember my brother’s birthday; Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, my grandfather’s and aunt’s deaths, respectively. I have so many memories tied in to things like Tales of the Cocktail or the People to Watch party or the Junior League Kitchen Tour (which is this Saturday). And now, my friend Jim’s death is forever linked, in my mind, to Hogs for the Cause (also this Saturday). This is notable mostly because it enables me to truthfully say that the only public nervous breakdown I have ever had was at a pork judging, which I guess is almost worth it for the novelty.
It was four days after I’d learned that Jim had drowned, and I had barely eaten or slept since then, but still I made myself go to judge the High on the Hog pork cookoff. I lasted maybe four dishes before I just put my head down on the picnic table and started crying hysterically, getting barbecue sauce in my hair, bits of pulled pork mixing with tears and snot on my cheeks. I have never just lost it like that in public, ever. My now-husband got me up from the table and half-carried, half-dragged me to a golf cart where I sat hyperventilating for probably 10 minutes. It was incredibly embarrassing, especially for a control freak like me, but then again, there was something sort of liberating about it, too, about just completely losing your shit like that and not having to be the one in charge for once.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since my friend Sarah and I stood in front of Jim’s Bywater apartment in the windy late-March twilight, peering through the broken window by his door, watching the curtains flutter and listening to the eerie silence on the other side, wondering where he was. It’s hard to even remember the madness that followed, the frustration and the anger and the moments of levity like my daughter eating 18 gumballs in the lobby of the 5th District police station. It’s hard to conjure the pain back up, harder still to realize how quickly he’s slipping out of my day-to-day consciousness.
The year that has followed all of that has taught me way more lessons than I’d planned or wanted to learn about the nature of grief and loss and love. It’s taught me a lot about trust and friendship and loyalty. It’s taught me about weakness and strength and resilience. It’s taught me about forgiveness and kindness and the power of communities.
These are all lessons that I would give up in a heartbeat if I could rewrite the script and have Jim answer Sarah and my knock at his door that day a year ago. I’ve imagined it many times, him stumbling to the door hungover and shirtless, half-asleep still at 6 p.m. and laughing at us for being such worrywarts.
But it didn’t happen that way, of course, and now, a year later, we’ve celebrated every milestone of a typical New Orleans year without him.
I am set to judge the pork contest again this weekend, and at seven months pregnant, the only reason I might cry is if someone attempts to get between me and bacon.
It’s a good place to be, I guess. And in the past 12 months, I can’t say I haven’t learned a whole lot. I have. I just can’t really say it’s been worth it.
What about you? Have the losses in your life taught you lessons you’re grateful for? Would you trade in that wisdom to have things back the way they were?