Here's a parlor game for you and your intimates. The next time the dinner plates are cleared away and you've popped the cork on the last bottle of wine and everyone is fat and happy, a moment of contented reflection settles over the table; ask them.
What if it never happened?
Does it ever occur to you? What would you be doing? Where would you be? Who would you be with? What would have become of you, your life, your job, your dreams, your handicap?
I was just getting good at golf; had finally turned the corner on my short game. But I've only picked up the clubs four or five times since. Shame, that.
Most of the questions are more vexing, of course.
I haven't had a job interview in a long, long time, but back in the days when I had them all the time, they always — always — asked me: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Do they still ask that? Or do they just want a urine sample and proof that you're not a registered sex offender?
I never really knew the right answer to that question. I just knew the wrong answer, which was, of course, usually the true answer, which was along the lines of: "I just want this gig to hold me over until I can find a real job somewhere else, anywhere but this crummy little company of yours, so, like — in five years, I'll probably have forgotten your name."
I've forgotten everyone's name.
It didn't really unfold the way you might have guessed it would — five years ago — when this place was just a damn mess, everything busted, broken and what was left standing was pointed in the wrong direction.
For instance, you didn't have to lose your house and your job and your grandmother to undergo enormous changes. This I know to be true. As we have learned, the damage around here was much more than physical. And nothing didn't change.
Did you ever go back and look at your desk calendar to see what appointments you had coming up that September?
Did you ever get your deposit back from the beach house you had reserved in Gulf Shores for that Labor Day weekend — that three-day weekend that turned into the rest of your life?
Do your kids still freak out when it rains real hard, tend to stay real close by your side, oddly silent and still, never asking you directly anymore — they're older now; too proud to say it out loud — but you can hear their gears grinding and you can see it in the eyes they try to hide, pretending they're reading a book or something, anything other than what they're really doing, which is: wondering.
Is there going to be another hurricane?
So many questions.
Did you find Jesus? Or did you lose religion, convinced by the devastation wrought upon this land that no just and benevolent God would allow such a thing to happen to so many innocents — would allow such things to happen to you?
What would you do over? What would you do different? You'd empty your fridge this time, wouldn't you?
So many questions.
Would the Saints still suck?
He was talking about something completely different, of course, but do you remember when Ronald Reagan once asked America: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
If he only knew the half of it.
On Thanksgiving 2006, I wrote a story for The Times-Picayune wondering how it is we're supposed to thank the tens of thousands — probably hundreds of thousands — of people who came down here and helped us rebuild, or who sent money or who said prayers or did something, anything, to help us get better.
I think you could randomly pick a number out of any phone book in any town and dial it to say "thank you" and they'd likely say "you're welcome" because it's likely they did something. It's a great place, this old U.S.A.
But we really can't pick up the phone and make all those calls. I don't care how many rollover minutes you have from last month; that's just way too much time.
In that Thanksgiving story, I suggested that the only way we could properly thank all those anonymous people who helped us was to get it right. To get the recovery right. To make this place better than it was before.
To not have wasted all their time and money by doing this half-assed.
And I honestly don't know the answer to the question: Did we?
Have we held up our part of the bargain?
Have you held up yours?
So many questions.
The main one, though, is this: Do you, finally, know what it means to miss New Orleans?