New Orleans

The Choices We Make – A Refugee Story

This was originally posted on Medium — https://medium.com/the-refugees/7c5f8c0435c3

Four years ago today, I thought my life couldn’t get any better. Two weeks before, I had made a rush decision. One I’d later consider to the best I’ve ever made and probably will for life. Seconds after Garrett Hartley kicked it through the uprights and sent the New Orleans Saints to their first ever Super Bowl, I rushed into my bedroom to grab my laptop. A minute later my phone started ringing. It was my brother, Randy.

Neither of us felt it was the appropriate time to exchange greetings. The only choice was to repeatedly say something like, “Holy shit… Holy shit… Dude… The Saints are going to the fucking Super Bowl.” After a pause, it was time to spring the surprise on him.

Clicking the confirmation button, I asked, “Guess what?”
“Huh?”
“I just bought a flight. I’m coming home to watch the game with you and dad.”

So many things made it the right choice. Too many actually. But if I had to list a few, I’d start with the smiling fella working behind the counter at the airport rental car place. Then the elderly black woman I ran into on Decatur Street after the game, tears running down her face saying, “I believe I wanna be in that number!” We hugged like an old friends who hadn’t seen one another for a decade or more. It could have also been seeing my dad’s smile after the game ended, who despite rarely drinking, held his champagne glass high making sure he toasted everyone at the party.

One thing trumps it all. Although I wouldn’t realize it until three months later. In May of 2010, my brother died in a car accident. When I traveled from San Francisco to watch the Saints play in the Super Bowl with him, it would be the last time we’d see one another. 

That morning before the game, he pulled up to my parent’s house and got out pulling a few loads of laundry from the back cab of his truck. This was the routine, as his apartment in Hammond didn’t have a washer or dryer. My parents were living in Slidell now. After losing everything in Chalmette, the desire to return to St. Bernard Parish simply wasn’t there. After all, many of her closest friends—her safety net—moved out here. I’m certain none of them ever thought they’d live there, too. They say you can remove someone from Da Parish, but you can’t remove Da Parish from them. I guess you could say that’s why I convinced my dad and brother to watch the game with friends in Chalmette.

Throughout the game, our party was exactly as you’d imagine it to be. Lots of folks catching up while I introduced everyone to my girlfriend from San Francisco. By the time it was over, everyone’s cheeks were rosy. Mine were hurting. We had to go out to celebrate and there was only one proper place to go: the French Quarter.

Mardi Gras was around the corner, but the streets were never packed like there were that night. Strangers from all walks of life high fived as they passed one another. Cars strolling through the crowd blared music while their passengers hung out windows to join in the camaraderie. The smiles on everyone’s faces were gleaming; happiness was everywhere. Someone grabbed my shoulder and turned my attention to Electric Ladyland Tattoo Shop. It was Randy.

“Let’s go get it now.” he said.

Earlier in the day at Winn-Dixie, while stocking up on booze, we made a pact. If our boys won the game, we’d both get fleur-de-lis tattoos.

“I’m gonna get it on my ankle.” he said. I was undecided. I was on board with the tattoo, but not its location. Our flight back to California was midday tomorrow anyway. Being the good brothers we were, we shook on it, agreeing that the next time I was in town the ink would become permanent.

Eventually we called it a night. Slidell was a much longer drive than Da Parish. The following morning he woke me up to tell me I better head out sooner than I had planned. They had just announced what time the Saint’s flight would arrive and it was the same time as ours.

“Why does that mean we have to leave early?” asked my girlfriend.

Easy for her to say. She grew up in the city by the bay during the 80s and 90s. New Orleanians had been greeting their team at the airport after away games since before we were born—even when they lost. And if they did it after a loss, you can be damned sure they’d be doing it after a Super Bowl victory.

Randy was headed back to Hammond in an attempt to catch his first class of the day.

“What nutty professor has class after the Saints Super Bowl?” It was a rhetorical question, but I still felt it was a valid one. Standing in our parent’s kitchen, we pulled one another in for a bro hug. After exchanging I Love Yous, he grabbed his laundry and left.

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A few weeks later he sent me a photo of two Maker’s Mark bottles, except the wax seal on their bottle necks weren’t red, they’re black and gold. A message followed saying one of them was mine and it wasn’t to be opened the next Saints Super Bowl.

While I’ve looked forward to opening it every year, I know the moment could never be as sweet as it was four years ago. Besides, when that day comes and the bottle of Maker’s has fulfilled its purpose—I’ll have kept my promise. Just like I did when I got a fleur-de-lis on my ankle shortly after his funeral four years ago .

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