Dark Underbelly

[Exercise: Tell me about a funny or odd thing that has happened around your car.]

My mother reached a sufficient level financial stability several years after her divorce from my father—enough to upgrade her car from a Honda Civic to a Honda Accord. We couldn’t afford to keep both cars, but I was allowed to drive the Civic until it was sold. With a “For Sale” sign stuck to the back window, I felt proud to have a car “of my own” even if only for a short while.

One afternoon I drove home from my high school in Metairie to our two-story, brick apartment in Kenner (Metairie and Kenner are suburbs of New Orleans). I walked into the empty house, up the stairs to my bedroom, and changed out of my school uniform—a white, collared shirt with a plaid, green skirt and saddle oxford shoes—into more comfortable clothes. My bedroom faced the front of the house and had a door with a window that opened onto a small balcony, facing a row of apartments across a busy street.

Our phone rang and I answered it. The man on the line said, “I see you. I’m watching you right now.” He described what I was wearing and told me I was sexy. With my heart beating violently, and my body feeling limp and drained of blood, I crouched down to the floor. I managed to hang up and call my mother. She told me to not move until she and the police arrived. My phone rang a few more times, but I hung up when I recognized his voice. I sat immobile waiting for my mother to rescue me.

This is one of several frightening experiences I had while living in New Orleans. People wonder why I lock the doors of my car as soon as I get in. Why I’m suspicious of people I don’t know. People ask what it was like to live in New Orleans. I’m always unsure which aspect to focus on. There are many good things about New Orleans, but there’s also a dark underbelly. Which stories are you willing to hear?