Maybe I don’t have any right to miss her as I do. Maybe the missing is reserved for what people conventionally call ‘family.’ For kin related by blood or marriage. And I am neither. She is ‘family’ in that other sense. The sense of what we call family.
My home was her home. Her home wasn’t home to her.
She escaped as often as she could. She’d be in Moscow. In Tuva. In Brussels, when she had to be. She was here. She was there. She just wasn’t home at home. Although, to be sure, I’m glad I got to be with her in Stockholm and see what her life was like there. People loved her there as well. And she had — and has — family. And love. Lots and lots of love.
So why am I thinking about her now? After all, it’s not her Yahrtzeit until May. Until Memorial Day. She died on Memorial Day (on a US calendar, anyway), which makes the mourning process feel large, really large — as if the country itself takes up the mourning cry… I never thought much about Memorial Day until I got that phone call that she was gone.
The American Anthropological Association Meetings will be held in New Orleans this year. Our panel will focus on Trance. We’ve got two papers on North Africa — Hager’s on the Zar cults in Egypt, and mine on accusations of faking it in Tunisia. We’ve got Jeff on Christianized Laotian refugees. Tina on contradance trance. And Jennifer on Sulawesi trance now for television audiences. It’s gonna be a wonderful panel. With one exception.
She won’t be there. The queen of trance and structural categories. Researcher extraordinaire. Indefatigable writer, editor. Not a thrilling teacher, if truth be told. But most of all, beloved.
The thing about conferences is that it forms some strange sort of bonds. Where you only see the people you love at the height of their form, and in a spectacular setting not your own. Altered time, altered space. And presenting the apex of your research at that moment. A high, of sorts, which is more than an academic high. It’s a high of ideas, and the confluence of ideas. Of resonance to discover your own research dovetails with another’s. Comparing notes. Deciding to present together the next year, to further the research to the next stage. To see what happens. To build momentum. To go from high to high: the meeting of more than minds.
Last time, in New Orleans, we were together. The theme of the meetings was ‘100 Years of Anthropology.’ It was 2002. I presented on Mouloud Mammeri, Algerian anthropologist, and founder of the modern Amazigh Movement in North Africa. Did anybody care besides me? Does anyone ever really care? I’m not sure.
But she cared.
And we played. This was pre-Katrina New Orleans. Pre-Deepwater Horizon oil spill. New Orleans both playful and serious. We spent a lot of time in churches, as I recall. We were cleansed. We were healed. We were cleansed and healed. She was in her element, that’s for sure. I, for sure, was not. I don’t do church.
But then we visited John T. Martin. Four of us, I think, together. The Anthropology of Consciousness meets the Druidic Voodoo Priest. And the rapport was magnetic.
He stared into our eyes as he spoke. It wasn’t about the transmission of charisma. It was about thirst. He was thirsty for this meeting of the minds. His readings were spontaneous and on target. But so were hers. Ours. The snakes were all upstairs, I remember, except for Jolie, the albino. Pythons all. It wasn’t how I had remembered it from my last trip to New Orleans — right after the Voodoo Queen had died. When the snakes (who refused to be photographed, but appeared only as shining light) were still downstairs.
Now John kept them upstairs. Eugene, especially. Although Jolie still came downstairs. A barometer for who may and may not enter a more sacred and less public space. I keep a remembrance of them — pieces of the skins they’ve shed — inside a special wooden jar, set upon a special place. I don’t call it an altar to Dhamballa. I don’t have to.
I wanted him to speak at our next conference. He wanted travel funds for all the snakes as well. It wasn’t like he was going to leave them for anyone else to attend. It wasn’t like they’d leave him on his own.
There was a rapport, a resonance, an electricity among us all. Those trite words “I-can’t-explain-it” are apt, but also inappropriate. It’s my job, is it not, to be able to explain it?
No, it was my job to investigate further. I promised to call, when he asked me to call. I looked him straight in the eye and made the promise.
And every day from then till now, I have thought of calling. Every single day. I’ve thought of him.
But I don’t make phone calls.
He probably knew it. I hope he knew it. I’m a flake. Just terrible at keeping contact. Bad, bad, bad. What else can I say?
But now. We’re going back to New Orleans. I wonder what he’s suffered. I wonder whether he’s alive. I wonder what happened in all those intervening years in which each and every day I thought about calling.
Because I miss her as I do, I will go back and find him, if I can. I won’t do it for him, or for me. I will do it for her. On her behalf. Because she is the one who follows through.
I know I have a message for him. I’m not sure what that will be. Just to say she’s gone? Just to say I’m sorry? Just to cry out how much I miss her? Not sure.
All I’m sure of, is I won’t call.
I want to look him in the eye, face to face and mind to mind, and have him tell me why I’m there.
And what I can do to make amends. …
But that’s not what happened is it?
He looked me in the eye — and told me of his own losses. Eugene and Jolie, python elders that they were, both gone to their maker. And the Treme churches we had visited? All under water. Completely gone. This was, after all, New Orleans. The city that knows how to sing the blues.