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The to-do list of things to take care of before we move is dauntingly long. It seems like every day another packet arrives by email or snail mail with forms to fill out, forms to be notarized, forms to have pictures attached to, forms to get fingerprinted on, and forms to tuck checks in with when we mail them back. Then there are the actual physical mechanics of moving: decluttering, weeding out which furniture we’re taking an which we aren’t, finding a moving company vs. renting our own truck. It’s getting to be a very long list.

Then there’s the other to-do list.

As soon as we found out we were leaving New Orleans, I started to make a list of stuff I wanted to make sure and do before we leave. Some of it is cramming as much of all of the things I love and will miss the most abut the city into the few weeks we have left, while some of it is doing those touristy things I’ve always meant to do but never made time for. BWB is not a huge fan of this plan, as he is of the opinion that we will be back soon, maybe even next year, and this list is treating our departure as too permanent for his liking. He understands where I’m coming from, though, and is up for the list as much as possible.

The following is my New Orleans “bucket list” as it stands right now. I keep adding to it, but I still hope we’ll get through most of it.

1. Visit the Old New Orleans Rum distillery with my friend H.
2. Go river tubing.
3. Eat as much Cafe du Monde as possible.
4. Eat as many snoballs as possible.
5. Eat as much crawfish as possible.
6. Go to Upperline at least one more time.
7. Take advantage of the $0.25 martini brunch at Commander’s Palace.
8. Take at least one more cheese class at St. James Cheese Co.
9. Attend French Quarter Fest (done!)
10. Visit the WWII museum.
11. Go on a swamp tour.
12. Go on one of the haunted history tours.
13. Ride my bike down the levee trail at least one more time.
14. Play golf with my friend B in City Park.
15. Take a carriage ride in the French Quarter.

As you can see, many of these points clash with my other to-do item, “lose 12 pounds before starting residency”. I think that one may be a lost cause. Losing weight while leaving New Orleans? Please. I’ve got my priorities straight.

In any case, that’s where it stands right now. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the list. I’m sure it will get longer, but at least this list I’m looking forward to working on!

Nearly two weeks ago now, we received the incredibly good news that we have both matched into residency. Not into our first choice, but in a program which is doing amazing, innovative things and which felt like one of the best options for us. The interviews I had there were among the most up-front and honest of any I experienced on the interview trail, and I am certain this program will be an exceptional place for us to learn.

It was not our first choice, however, because it is not in New Orleans.

It is a little ironic to me that I am immediately following my previous post declaring New Orleans as home with one about having to leave it, and yet here I am. It has been such a roller coaster of emotion, glad to be moving forward, glad to be in a program I liked so much, excited about exploring a new place, but then it occurs to me that I am leaving this place and my heart aches.

It is 80 degrees here this week, mostly sunny although a storm is rolling in tonight. The trees and plants have fluffed out into the proportions of spring, and the tourists seem to be getting in a few more good weeks before the heat gets too bad. French Quarter Fest is two weeks from now, and since we’re close enough to walk this year I’m planning on soaking it up. We still haven’t finished sorting the last of the Mardi Gras beads, and I guess the plans for next year’s costumes are going to have to be on hold. We have invites from friends for dinner, lunch, puppy play dates, and/or coffee every week. I get to feed random friends on a semi-regular basis. We’re finally making inroads at synagogue, and I’m going to miss both our priest and our rabbi.

I’m going to miss New Orleans for its quirky spirit, for the glorious weather, for the community of friends we have here. I’m going to miss walking the dog down to Cafe du Monde for beignets, running in City Park, and knowing that when we go out to dinner, we’re going somewhere local and eating food we can’t find anywhere else. I’m going to miss St. James Cheese Co. and the Creole Creamery and Sucre. I’m even going to miss the bizarre roads that go in strange directions, are full of potholes, and have names that only locals are sure how to pronounce.

We’re determined to come back here as soon as we can, but there’s no telling if it’s going to be next year or ten years from now. I really am grateful for the opportunity ahead of us, and I know we’re going to discover amazing things about the new city, but I’m still sad about leaving this place I’ve come to call home.

Recently, the university administration has started collecting information to put in the graduation bulletins. Where did you go to undergrad? What are your previous degrees? Where is your hometown?

Most of these are no-brainers, but I stopped short in my response when I came to that last question. Where is my hometown? No really, where is it?

Is it the small town I was born in, but moved away from when I was four? Is it the town I lived in from age four until I went to boarding school at fifteen, but haven’t been back to for the better part of 15 years? Is it, as the one administrator insisted, where my parents now reside, somewhere I have never really lived in? Maybe the last address I had prior to medical school, a place I lived for two (admittedly wonderful) years?

Or perhaps it is the city I moved to five and a half years ago with the mindset of putting down roots. The city I watched drown, the city I sobbed hysterically over having to return to. Maybe my hometown is the city I met and married my husband in, or the place I have spent more consecutive years living than I have any other town since I was fifteen years old. The city my great-great grandparents are buried in. The place I am terrified I will have to leave in a few months, and the place I want to grow old in.

New Orleans is one of those towns where if you weren’t born here, your parents weren’t born here, and your family hasn’t been here for generations, then saying you’re “from” here results in polite chuckle from “true” locals. To claim it as my hometown seems presumptuous, especially when I’ve only lived here for school. And yet, to give any other answer feels wrong. This city has engraved itself on my heart. I want to claim it, declare it to the world.

In the end, I took the wording literally. On the university-wide form, I responded with the place of my birth, the answer that every Southern-born individual considers to be where you’re “from”. The email from the medical school, however, specified that we should respond with “the place you call home.”. So that one ended up being easy.

New Orleans is my home.

I feel as if I should, on this day, write about Katrina.

Except I haven’t wanted to.

As the coverage of the fifth anniversary has ramped up, I have seen the #5yearsagotoday tweets, the documentary premieres, the news stories and the blog posts, and I have found myself avoiding them. I avoid them because when I think about five years ago, I feel myself falling into a dark, angry-sad, miserable place, sucked back into the emotions of the time. I have worked pretty hard to move away from that place, and so I am not keen on falling right back into it — so, to take care of myself, I am opting to avoid most of the coverage.

Still, it is hard to completely avoid marking this event which has so permanently marked me and my life. I have a tattoo of a hurricane symbol on the bottom of my foot, because Katrina marked my path, but I still stand above it (and because this way I can stomp on it every day). I moved to New Orleans exactly one month before the storm hit, ready to begin medical school. I was also moving in the spirit of establishing a home base; up until then I had been moving around quite a bit and I was ready to embrace this city and call it my own.

After the storm, I sobbed because I realized my school would not permit me to transfer, and I couldn’t bear the thought of coming back here to this unsafe and broken place. If, five years ago, you had told me that I would be fighting to stay here, thinking of raising children here, calling this place home, I would have told you about some nice padded rooms and delicious anti-psychotic medications.

And yet here I am, five years later, doing exactly that. I can’t explain it. New Orleans gets under your skin, insinuates itself into your heart, your nerves, every fiber of you. I drink it in when Mr. Okra goes by my house, or a seemingly random parade marches by. I taste the words coming out of my mouth with New Orleans flavors, and I go hoarse from Who Dats on Sundays. I am fairly certain there is a portion of my blood which has now turned to hot sauce. Nola Notes has a wonderful post up about Katrina, and why we stay in this crazy sinking city. I suppose I am one of the “hard-wired” people she talks about, called to New Orleans by some unexplainable drive. I love this city in strange and unusual ways, and I truly am proud to call it home.

That is all nice, of course, but still leaves the problem of the fifth anniversary of Katrina. The sad truth is that there are still people whose houses are not rebuilt, cultural landmarks that have faltered or never re-opened, and of course an entire hospital whose fate is still in question. I have seen the marks on the minds and souls of my patients, too. We are better, we are moving on, we are rebuilding, but we are not “back to normal”, as people from other places like to ask me. We have established a new normal, we are coping, but New Orleans will never be the way it was before Katrina.

New Orleans will not be the same, and neither will I. And really, as much as the me-of-five-years-ago would deny it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

If it had not been for Katrina, I wouldn’t have come to know Slappy and, through him, Katie. Slappy was one of my classmates and became my roommate the year we were in Houston immediately following the storm. He was exactly the right person for me to lean on that year, and I count both him and his lovely wife as two of my dearest friends.

If it had not been for Katrina, I would never have come to know a whole host of friends, people who are now among my family-of-choice. Certainly other relationships would have developed, but I cannot imagine my life without these friends who sheltered me, physically and emotionally, in that year and in the years since. My life is richer for knowing them.

If it had not been for Katrina, I would never have met my husband. I would have still been in the class ahead of him, and our paths would likely have never crossed.

If it had not been for Katrina, I would be a lot more stressed out right now. Pretty counter-intuitive, right? Granted, I am still a little stress fiend, as I think most medical students are, but having been through this has strengthened my faith that things work out. Even if I can’t understand why on earth this is happening to me (whatever ‘this’ happens to be at that moment), some part of me now deeply believes that I will understand it in the long run. I could, for example, be completely in pieces over our excessively complicated and potentially terrifying residency match prospects, but I find it hard to get worked up about it when I am completely confident that in the end, it will work out. I credit that directly to the effects of the storm, and how I’ve grown since.

Katrina was horrific. I would not wish that year (because it was truly at least a year before I started feeling even remotely okay again) on my worst enemy. It was a deeply destructive force, on a physical, psychic, and emotional level, and it laid me flat for a long time. It shattered me, but not into a million pieces as I might have thought at the time. I look at it like moving through a prism — split apart into my barest components, I moved off at a new angle, and I see the world in a new light because of it. Five years later, I am choosing to focus on that light, and move on.

BWB and I are in Florida visiting family at the moment. It’s been wonderful, even though we both still have to study while we are here — there’s something to be said for studying on the beach!

Tonight we went out to dinner and I ordered fried oysters, one of my favorite bad-for-me indulgences. As I tasted them, I was puzzled by the flavor; something seemed not quite right about it. I finally realized that they were citrusy, some kind of lemon flavor in the breading, and I have become accustomed to hot sauce and pepper on my fried oysters (or anything else, for that matter).

This comes on the heels of our first night here, wherein we went to a pizza joint and ordered food to go. I asked for a beer as well, and when the manager cracked open the bottle and handed it to me, I was flustered. I was fairly certain that I couldn’t carry the open container out of the store, but was she giving this to me now instead of with the food because I couldn’t take a closed container as carry-out, either? I realized I had no idea what the laws were regarding alcoholic beverages. I mean, I knew better than to ask for a go cup, but beyond that I was completely clueless. (It turned out she had just misunderstood and was happy to give me a new, unopened bottle in a nice paper bag to take home with me. It was tasty, as was my calzone, but that’s beside the point.)

At dinner tonight, I relayed my oyster epiphany with amusement, and pointed out that taking into consideration both of the incidents I was definitely having issues. He grinned.

“We’re just New Orleanians now, baby. That’s all.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Now pass me the Crystal. There’s something wrong with my oysters.

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