The Christian kids were following me long before I knew it. It's true that I was distracted by many things. It was my first trip to New Orleans (pre-Katrina) and I found it delightful. I rode the trolley, which made me feel like I was inside a giant pinball machine because of all its bells and whistles.
Views of stately homes, hanging Spanish moss and green, green lawns completed the feeling of being in another realm. Well, I was in another state, having arrived from California about a month before. Before that, I'd been on the commune in Colorado, where I'd eventually return. But now I was in love with New Orleans.
I went often to the French Quarter to people-watch and listen to the music, all kinds of music. I never saw the other side of the Mississippi; it was foggy every time I tried. I also went to Tulane University, to sit in the student union and feel more at home.
Probably about now I should say I was under the influence of LSD a lot of the time. I stayed in a huge crash pad with three other people. One was the cute guy I'd gone there with, in a 'drive-away' car; the other two were already there, making grandiose plans for Mardi Gras, which wasn't long off. The other two also already had sunshine acid, and shared it liberally. Or I should say, I took it liberally. Gene, my sort-of boyfriend, seemed unhappy half the time and he left the house a lot without me.
So I went my own way, too.
One day at Tulane, a guy came to the table I sat at and said the usual pleasantries, then, "You look like you have a secret."
"I do." The secret was the acid I felt coursing through me. "Don't you?"
He laughed. "I guess so. I'd like to know your phone number."
"I don't have a phone," I said.
He looked astonished, then almost angry. "You don't have to lie."
He stared at me. "I guess you're not. You don't even have a proper accent."
We chatted for a few more minutes, then I left. Time to go 'home' and crash. I looked forward to seeing Gene again. I'd spent the last of my money buying him a book he wanted.
Gene smiled at the book and frowned at me.
"Listen," he said. "I can't keep this up. I know you like me, but we have to separate. It's something that always happens when I get close to a girl. It's something to do with my mother, but nothing you need to know. Just that I'm leaving tonight and I can't take you with me. I hope you have enough money, because I can't give you more of that either."
I was devastated. What a crash indeed!
I put on my best fake smile and said, "That's okay. I'll stay here with the crazy couple and find my own way home. I'm fine. I guess you're the one who's messed up, huh?"
"I guess," he said. "I'm pretty messed up because I really liked you and thought it would be different. But it isn't. Forgive me."
And he rolled up his sleeping bag, got his gear into his backpack (with the new book) and disappeared into the night.
I lay flat on my back on my unopened sleeping bag, discovered my tears dripped into my hair, and wished I could disappear, too. What would I do? Where would I go? How would I get home?
About then, a shadow loomed over me. It wasn't one of the crazy couple--they never left their part of the house. I stopped crying and got ready to yell. But the figure spoke first.
"Are you ____ ? I see you are. Your mother is looking for you. She wants you to go home. She's afraid of you being here, in this city, and asked me to look for you and give you this message. 'Please come home. This is my cousin, Brother Cyril. He'll take care of you.' " Brother Cyril knelt beside me.
"That's who I am, but you can call me Cyril if it makes you more comfortable. I'm here to help you go home."
While the tears were still wet, I started to laugh.
"How did you know who I am? How did you find me here?"
"We have a Christian Coalition in a house not that far away. Your mother sent me this photo, and my 'kids' have been looking for you ever since. A couple of them found you and told me to come here. They're outside and would love to meet you."
"I haven't been a Christian since I graduated parochial school."
"That doesn't matter. We're just going out to eat. Want to come?"
I was the opposite of hungry, but curiosity lead me to go with them.
Pretty soon I sat in a restaurant behind a huge platter of lobster, listening to the Christian kids rhapsodize about their coalition and how many run-aways they saved from certain abuse. I kept laughing and found my appetite, but no interest in going to their place with them. I finally told Cyril.
"This was really nice," I said. "But I can't go with you. I have another home that's not here or in California."
Cyril stood and offered me his hand. "I know," he said.
He took me aside. "That's why I'm giving you one hundred dollars, for a plane ticket home."
"Are you serious?"
"Just get your things and I'll put you on a plane myself."
"To Colorado? I'll tell Mom, but I think she wants me in California."
"If you have family in Colorado, surely she'll understand. Write to her and I will, too."
"Yeah, I have lotsa friends and family in Colorado! Thank you so much, Brother Cyril! You don't know it but you saved my life."
He hugged me and whispered "Yes, I can guess. Don't take any more of that drug, you hear?"
I flew to Denver where a couple of friends met me at the airport and I eventually made my way back to the commune and what made sense to me: open country, lots of friends, music, laughter. It spelled love to me, as did Brother Cyril. I wrote my mother and she seemed to understand. She said she'd heard from her cousin that I was fine. What a difference that man made in my life.
I kept my promise to Cyril, at least as far as I could.