New Orleans, Louisiana
I'm basically living in a hippie commune.
I knock on the door of a low building with worn out walls, built over the ground level to avoid floods. A guy that looks like Jon Snow's dopplegänger (but with a crazier look in his eyes) opens
"No, he's upstairs..."
A big woman steps out from the background. She's wearing short hair in a pony tail and sports clothing. She invites me to come in. The first room is a dusty space with barely any furniture and several old books spread over a ramshackle table. There are no doors, only pieces of plastic nailed to the frames. The walls stand naked and most of them are actually just wooden beams. Some of them have cracks and even holes. (...)
The next room is the kitchen. Five people are bunched together on one side, all of them wearing dirty clothes and dirty hair and devouring sticky balls of pasta from plastic bowls. The opposite side is taken over by a long table on which I see different nourishments, a small fridge and a kettle. There is no sink.
I'm offered a bowl of pasta. There are no clean cups, so I drink from my canteen. Jon Snow is sitting next to me. The woman explains that dishes must be cleaned in the bathtub, taking turns. Oh, and there's no hot water either.
It's all boys except a green-eyed ginger girl who's wearing dreadlocks. There is a guy who looks like he may be his boyfriend, his head half-shaved half-covered by dreadlocks. He's sitting on a wheel chair and I wonder if he's disabled in any way - but he's not, the chair is just another seat. The third guy uses thick, rectangular glasses and his long hair is topped with a beret. From his bulging eyes merges an intense, clear look. The three of them are travelling together. (...)
After finishing dinner, I follow the non-disabled guy to the bathroom so we can do the dishes. (...) The bathroom is quite tiny and one of the walls has a monstrous hole that connects it with the contiguous room. We wash the dishes with some dirty sponges and soap, but you can tell the grease is still there. The guy is pretty nice. His name is Charlie. He tells me that he wants to start an ambulant circus so that he can travel permanently. I talk to him about my time in the circus world. We get along immediately.
(Some days later, after Charlie and his friends left, after I had a couple of bad experiences in the house and after I came back to Jack's apartment to take a shower and get some rest).
As I woke up that morning in Jack's apartment, a feeling of unease took over my entire body. I didn't want to go back to the house, I didn't want to spend Christmas that way. Jack started packing to go back home with his family and I was just sitting there, watching him prepare for that reencounter that I so long for more and more every day. It was raining outside and the same images kept drowning me: mum, dad, Alicia, grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, all of them having dinner together at home on Christmas Eve while I was eating pasta from an unwashed bowl inside a windowless hole, surrounded by strangers. I didn't want to, I didn't.
I grabbed my stuff and we left the apartment. "Come to Jackson with me!", Jack had said to me the previous night, but I had taken it as mere courtesy and never given any further relevance to it. However, the idea merged in my mind again. As I was closing the van door, Christmas carols playing on the radio, I felt a wave of homesickness and fear, like I used to on the first day at summer camp when I was a kid. Was it rude to give Marc a call? He did tell me that I could go back to his house in Jackson whenever I wanted, and it would be great to spend Christmas with him.
"This is the first Christmas I don't spend with someone I love", I had told Jack hours earlier. Was I a coward for deserting my initial plan? It was true that I wanted to experience the broken house a bit more, it was true that it was a valuable lesson (...) but I don't have to do something that I know will bring me down, and I'm not talking about the cold water or the dirt, I'm talking about a friendly face, someone to whom I could say: "I'm glad I get to spend this day with you". That's exactly what I needed. It's funny how even the most basic necessities are secondary to the necessity of affection.
"Do you think I could... call Marc and see if I can spend Christmas with him?"
"Of course! I already told you, come to Jackson with me!"
My heart jumped and something was lit inside me, a sudden light. (...) We were approaching the house and I had to make a choice, once again (...) I decided to listen to my gut. That little light had made me truly happy and it was obvious that I wanted to go back to Jackson. Staying in that hole wouldn't make me more honorable, neither less of an hypocrite, since what I really wanted was to get the hell out.
I called him. (...)
"I'm going to Jackson!" I wanted to laugh in relief, I wanted to crack up. The pressure in my chest was gone and I took a deep breath, oh so excited. It's fine. It's all fine.
I jumped off the van in front of the house, I grabbed my things (all of them dusty and stinking of humidity), I said goodbye and left. I felt a bit bad about Sheen (aka Jon Snow), the crazy guy who talked alone, when I told him I was leaving. His face expressed something similar to sadness and he gave me a tight hug, but I don't know what thoughts were crossing his mind.