I spend a week in New Orleans visiting my best friend. Ali and her fiancé, Mike, live in a studio apartment with plenty of space. Still, it’s generous of them to allow me to crash on an air mattress two feet away from their bed, giving up any and all privacy. This is my first time meeting my best friend’s betrothed.
Every morning, Ali makes us egg sandwiches. She beats the eggs with shredded turkey, grated cheese and Old Bay seasoning and serves them on rye bread smothered in remoulade sauce. Mike says this is why he is marrying her. We eat quickly because it’s beautiful out and Ali insists we should be “doing something.”
Though she hates being indoors, Ali’s has added her personal touches to the apartment. Her walls are decorated with tarot cards and a painting of a peaceful-looking, floral-haired and clearly-dead Ophelia. There are also Tibetan prayer flags, a record player and giant canvas print of a full moon.
I scan the bookshelves for something to read while I’m here, and Ali warns me that all of the young adult books are hers and everything else belongs to Mike. I pick up Fun Home. Mike mentions that after Ali told him to read it, he found it inspiring enough to write poetry. It also inspired a Broadway musical. Convinced, I put the book in my backpack and we head out.
We get sangrias to-go and wander through vintage stores and wig shops. Ali is New Orleans embodied. I was shy and self-conscious throughout my teen years. Ali dyed her hair blue when we were twelve, and got her eyebrow pierced on St. Mark’s Place when we were sixteen. Ali shows me her future wedding location.
“I hate that people think I am going to walk down the aisle in something ridiculous. I want to wear white. I do like some things that are traditional.”
I have always been quick to contradict anyone who tries to put Ali in a box. I defended her impromptu move to New Orleans a little over a year ago and her subsequent engagement to her now fiancé.
“She ran away with me,” Mike muses wistfully. Ali adds that they will never have children together because they both have such dark circles and that their children would look like Tim Burton monsters.
“Isn’t that what you want? Y’all have Nightmare Before Christmas plates.”
“Yeah, I guess we would want that.”
Halfway through Fun Home, I announce that I am immensely enjoying it. Mike comments that he enjoyed the way the Bechdel sets up archetypes only to deconstruct them. I pretend that I totally noticed this as well. So far, my favorite thing about Fun Home is the reveal that the “fun home” is the nickname the kids had for the funeral home where their father worked. I love the dark humor of this and the way I expected Fun Home to simply be the ironic title to a story about a tragically broken home (which it is too, of course). The dark humor and vintage charm of the book allows it to blend well into Ali and Mike’s apartment decor.
We spend one of my days in New Orleans touring the Longue Vue House and Gardens. The homeowners were the Stearns (as in Bear Stearns) but this home was supposed to be more of an assembled art piece than a testament to their wealth. Every piece of carefully curated furniture was to be preserved forever in a museum, down to the most intricately carved tea-box.
During the tour, Ali leans over and whispers a quote from Fun Home, “What’s the point of making something that’s so hard to dust?”
On my final night in New Orleans we all go out to a parade. Mike wears black eyeliner and Ali squeezes into a leather leotard. Unprepared, I dig through a wooden chest-of drawers until I find a see-through top with the bat symbol on it, blue and purple leggings that feature Mufasa contemplating his own existence, and a hot-pink wig. I also snag cat ears adorned with faux flowers. Ali scoffs at this last addition.
“I got those for a character I was playing. I was trying to be the most basic.”
“That explains the ‘Cali Girl’ tank top.”
Ali travels locally and overseas to participate in Live Action Role Play. Beforehand, she spends weeks practicing and preparing her character so that she is ready to live fully reincarnated. I think about this as I take selfies of my pink hair. I read once that if you have reoccurring dreams about finding more and more rooms in a house, it means you have aspects of your personality you haven’t yet unlocked. I’ve been dreaming of wandering through giant houses my whole life.
I examine the photos of us together on my phone. “I look like a cartoon character and you look like a Dominatrix. I’d say these fit our personalities pretty well!”
“I know. Actually, we should have worn opposite outfits. That would have been even better.”
Ali moved to New Orleans to start her life over. She’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. And yet she never stops being the girl I’ve known since I was twelve years old. There’s a lot of beauty in that, I think.