When I moved back to New York City after university, I worked in the Computer Assisted Reporting unit of the Associated Press for a while. Getting the job had been a bit of a bitch, with their head Editor asking me if I was going to sue them for sexual harassment when I bumped into porn on the Internet.
Thinking I was clever, maybe in the way all women do at 22, I'm not really sure, I leaned forward, said I put the porn on the Internet and then leaned back against the couch and laughed long and throaty, like I didn't need anything. Or anyone. Or the goddamn job. Which I got, you know.
I had a couple of different tasks there: create an internal online resource for reporters doing Internet-based research; liaise with the database guys who did stuff like cross sex-offender registries with teaching licenses to see what horror shows popped up; support reporters in the field with on the fly research they called in for; and travel representing the CAR mission to journalistic conferences, major news events (I covered the 1996 Democratic National Convention), and AP regional meetings where I trained reporters to do what I did best -- which basically was fuck off on the Internet.
And all that is how I wound up in New Orleans at a Doubletree Hotel with a busted air-conditioning system writing a letter to the man I was having an affair with while watching The Lost Boys.
I'd never been to New Orleans before. Hell, I'd never even traveled on my own. And here was a business trip. I felt so grown up. And utterly filthy. I mean, someone else was paying for my hotel room, and all I had to do was give a speech on the wonders of the Internet, and then hang around New Orleans for 72 hours.
It was May and 95 degrees when my plane landed. I remember an elderly man in seer-sucker suit dancing on a street corner and a horse tied up to the side of a building and my black jeans drenched in sweat. And I remember thinking the city was whispering to me the way the wind lies. All the big stuff always happens after dark, you know. Patience. Patience.
Besides, I had a speech to give. I threw on my black suit, bound my hair back loosely, and headed to the meeting room, which had like 60 people in it sitting around a giant square table with stupid amounts of empty space in the middle of it. Christ, who the fuck thought that was smart?
So I'm handed a mic. I've never used a mic before. Fuck. Okay. Give my speech, am perfectly awesome (hey, I didn't take rhetoric and six years of Latin for nothing), move on to the q & a.
"Are you from New York?"
I did the laugh again. "Yeah, how could you tell?"
"Black suit. You don't wear black in New Orleans. Too hot."
"What, were the vampires a lie?" I asked even as my brain was going Shit fuck shit. Why didn't someone tell me not to wear black? FUCK!
And then we were on to question two.
"So... uh....," some guy started to stutter, and I realized he was looking right above my eyes. Right. Eyebrow ring. FUCK.
"Yeah, but not as much as you think. Okay, anyone got anything else for me?" and then I got some real questions out of them.
Fucking reporters, knew I was 22 and probably thought I looked 16 and decided to fuck with the kid. Fine, fair enough. I just wanted to finish the thing and be out of there.
Now, I don't know, maybe I could have asked someone for help, advice on restaurants, suggested drinks with coworkers, something like that. But I didn't know how, and I probably didn't even really want to. Whatever it was, I wound up in a cajun restaurant bitching at the maitre d' who wanted to put me at some table in the hall on the way to the restroom. Fuck that shit.
"I'm on business. I'm not ashamed of eating alone, and I'd like a better table." I was really angry then, and maybe everything changed for me with that, who knows. Anyway, I ate my jumbalaya fast as I could and went out into the New Orleans night.
Now, I've never been afraid of a city for a second, but I knew New Orleans was dangerous, and I knew the rules. Stay on the main streets in the Quarter and be sober and careful and you might not be totally fucked.
And I tried. I really did.
But when I was twelve years old I'd read The Vampire Lestat on a dare, and I had believed in the background of every moment in the ten years since then that there was something out there waiting for me. And maybe it wasn't vampires or spies or the TARDIS I didn't even know about then, but it was something. I was sure of it.
And if there was going to be something, well, it damn well was going to find me in New Orleans, wasn't it?
Too bad it played hide and seek with me. Too bad I didn't find it, I had to think for a long while after, even as it lured me onto dark streets, followed me with clacking heels and whispered to me from trees.
I wandered, late, for two nights looking for whatever the fuck it was I thought I felt in that city shivering over my skin, so sure, in some way that I was good enough to be chosen for something.
But it turned out not to be, and I went back each evening to the hotel with the busted AC and worked on a letter to the lover I hadn't had the balls to invite with me, while I watched The Lost Boys on cable.
I told him there was something waiting for me.
And I told him I was sure he would laugh at that, like it would somehow make it hurt less when he actually did. And like everything else I did in New Orleans, I mailed the letter in the dark and thought the consequences could be damned.
Seven years later, I was helping him clean his apartment in the precious sunlight of Brooklyn. He had waffle cotton blankets on his California King and sheer drapes blowing in across the wood floor from the long windows.
We'd broken up at least a half a dozen times by then, and the night before we had, had some pretty fucked up ritualistic sex while we were both trashed (and after he screamed like a little girl because of a water bug that accosted him in the kitchen) that was somehow meant to make us feel like we were no longer in each other's clutches. And trust me, I'm not even saying this made sense at the time, because I'm pretty sure it didn't.
But I was in a pretty good mood. Felt happy, maybe a bit free and was sorting through a stack of papers when I found the letter I had written him seven years earlier from New Orleans. Unopened.
I turned it over in my hands a few times, conscious of how the shot would look in the movie.
"Dawdling!" he teased.
I looked up and waved the letter in my hand.
"You lose it, or could you just not be fucked to open it?"
"I.... God, I don't know."
He went back to cleaning.
"No curiosity?" I asked, meaning to sound coy, and surely sounding vicious.
I laughed in a way that always reminds me of my gender. Women know how to laugh to make men scared.
I opened the letter.
And I read it.
And I then I put it in the trash and dusted off my hands.
Because if you're unprepared for pretty much everything in life? Here's a hint: you're unprepared for the vampires too, because they aren't what you think they are and they aren't where you think they are.
But that doesn't mean I won't always listen like hell in the cities and in the dark, because I don't leave letters unread.