In East New Orleans, just off the I-10 interstate is a place that time, music, and humanity seems to have forgotten. They called it Jazzland, I imagine for the city’s connection that soulful music, but there’s nothing soulful about the place. After the storm ripped through us like a Reaper’s scythe in the summer of ’05, I was pretty sure I never wanted to step foot in this God-forsaken bayou. But here I am.
Everything in it was tinged towards Jazz, Mardis Gras or Pirates. Like the internet had just had a baby with the back slums of the French Quarter and it threw up all over the place. Of course, it has attracted people. Criminals, drug addicts and kids, some all wrapped up into one person. They’ve come under the dead of night, the burning mid-day sun and those gloaming hours of in-between. They cut fences, busted down barriers and tagged just about every piece of signage near the ground, some not so near.
Others have come too. High school kids out looking for a place to drink. Couples after a crazy place to fuck and people wanting to prove just how brave they are. Then there’s us.
Three of us, all told. Myself, Annette and Brian; Brain as I like to kid him. We don’t hook up all too often, just when something is a bit more than we can handle, when we’ve bitten off a bit more than we think we can chew alone.
“That why you called us?” Brain asked.
He’s pointing at a sign, tagged up with red and black spray paint. A former welcome to the park’s guests, now it simply tells them ‘give urself over to the Abyss’.
“Yeah, and a bit more. It’s… a bit hard to swallow. One of those things you kinda have to experience, more than you can be told.” I answer.
They nod. They get it. The three of us have been searching this way, on our own, sometimes with others, for going on seven to twelve years now. Mine’s the twelve. I’m one of the oldest that I know.
Somewhere, deep in the heart of the park, a rasping metallic sound croons out the off-key bars of an old jazz song. Annette shivers, despite the heat and humidity next to me. She takes a step closer, and I can sense the Brain’s jealousy.
That seems to always be how it is with us Seekers. We get close, we let down our guard, something we can’t do with other folk and connections are made. We also can’t deny our humanity either. We can turn aside the jealous heads that our souls raise when we feel someone, or something has crossed the imaginary lines into our territory.
I step back, pretending to look over another sign, this one emblazoned with ‘Zombies R lookin’ for U’, putting some distance between Annette and I. Hopefully quelling the Brain’s bruised ego.
“You said it was a she?” Annette asks.
I nod. Not much else to say. I see thing. Glimmers, impressions, after images, like someone’s been flashing a camera in my face all night and I’m able to just pick out bits and pieces. I followed a set of footprints here, but as the thick, brackish waters of the bayou have claimed this place, seeing where they’ve gone is almost impossible.
The Brain and Annette give each other a look. Not like the looks others, normies give me or anyone else when this shit gets brought up. No, it’s a look of understanding, one that says, ‘Yeah, we’ve seen crap like this before. It’s gonna get fucked up real quick like.’
I’m thankful that they came. Thankful that they made the trip in to help me, because if they hadn’t, I was pretty sure I would’ve gone insane. A lot of the time I can push this stuff to one side. I can put up a wall between me and it, but sometimes, every now and then, I find one so deeply personal that I just can’t shake it. And after twelve years, I’ve learned well enough that if you can’t ask for help, you’re gonna drown in your own sorrow.
“I can definitely feel a… thickness in the air,” The Brain says.
“It gets pretty humid this time of year.” I offer.
He shakes his head, staring me down with determined, but hurt brown eyes. I know he wants to punch me in the mouth. I imagine he knows some of what Annette and I have shared. I’m just thankful he doesn’t know every detail.
“No. It’s a feeling, like when you know your parents are fighting downstairs, and you really want to ask them a question.”
We each have our stories from this shit. Some of it is hard to deal with, a lot of no one would ever fucking believe. For me, it keeps me from having almost any type of intimate relationship, which is except from someone who might understand me.
“I hear her.” Annette whispers.
The words are enough to break the tension between the Brain and I. Cut like a thick cord, drawing us from our own thoughts and focusing on her.
“She’s in there… somewhere. She’s singing an old, soulful, sorrowful song…”
I can almost hear the words, running through my memory like fetid flow of water. Trickling across my brain, reminding me that I bear some of the responsibility for what we’re gonna find.
“Yeah, I imagine so.” I say.
“What’s that mean?” The Brain asks.
The greedy, jealous head rears up again, latching on to us. We stare at each, silently making promises to ourselves. Finally, I break it.
“It’s just an impression I got.”
“Thought you only saw.” He says.
“Yeah, well maybe I’ve grown.”
Silence, pregnant and yawning sweeps between us like a daunting chasm of despair.
“We should go inside.” Annette says, once again saving us from our own foibles.
We nod to each other. Keeping our silent promises to ourselves.