We left the house on Treme in an ambulance. After the near death experience with Johnny and Linda, Liam and I sat outside on the stoop, waiting for the military to return and take us away. The sun climbed up towards the peak of the sky, radiating its warm and wondrous rays down on the city. The sun licked our faces, and began to also lick our wounds with the healing power of nature.
I looked up at the early morning sky radiating a pale yellow across the horizon bringing life to what had been lifeless. My mind began to thaw, and the warmth of the sun enveloped me, comforting me like an old blanket. The sun streaked the sky with a million levels of refracting light, reminding me of heaven. Reminding me of times less chaotic. Reminding me of new beginnings. And reminding me of the exhaustion that finally settled down into my bones.
The sickness had also settled down into my bones, just a little. I opened up my duffel bag and reached for a handful of pills. Valium, Clonidine, and Vicodin. In the chaos, I abandoned the idea of one last shot. In the chaos, I also managed to abandon one of my bags, although I would not discover this for many, many hours.
Liam and I sat in silence. Locked in silence by the creeping sense of withdrawal, we relished in the quiet. Locked in silence by anticipation and exhaustion, we took a deep breath. Locked in silence by a thin layer of shock, we listened to the sounds of the Treme.
The neighborhood was quiet. It was eerie for the normally bustling corner to be as silent as Liam and I were. The wind tiptoed against my ears, slightly rustling up loose debris as it danced through the street. Shutters banged slightly, bap, bap, bap as they rhythmically slapped the house. No cars, no voices, and I heard only the breathing between us. I felt the heat of the sun stroking my cheeks. I knew it would be hot soon.
I thought about this life I was leaving. I thought about Sophia for the first time in many, many days. I wondered if she got any dope that night. I wondered if she had also broken into the pharmacy. I wondered if she was still sick, or if she had left the city. And then, I feared for a moment…that she could be dead. I wondered about all of my friends for the first time in many, many days. I wondered how many of them survived. And I wondered how many of them I would never hear from again. I vaguely wondered about Bob, the dope man. I still owed him a hundred bucks.
It felt like forever, sitting there in silent pondering. We looked down the deserted street from time to time, wondering what type of vehicle would soon approach. Liam was anxious, bouncing his knee and turning his head. The anxiety that comes with impending withdrawal settled in as we wondered if these pills would hold us over enough not to blow our cover. The last thing we wanted was to be kicking hard core in military custody.
An ambulance finally pulled up. When it first rounded the corner, I thought it must have been going somewhere else. I expected a Hummer, or some other military green vehicle. The ambulance slowed to a crawl when the driver saw us. My guard immediately shot up, as did my mistrust of authority.
One of the soldiers I encountered yesterday hopped out of the passenger seat in the front. He had beautiful light blue eyes. They reminded me of ice, and they were so clear you could see for miles in them, the kind of translucent blue that looks eerie. I looked at Liam’s blue eyes and noticed they were clouded with trepidation. Liam’s eyes were a deeper blue, with a certain grayness about them swirling just below the surface. They were a reflection of what was churning just beneath his own surface; something dark and foreboding often swirled behind his blue eyes.
The Military Blue Eyes looked out from behind his green cap, smiling a little. He recognized me immediately and pulled out a tattered piece of paper to confirm my name.
“Eliza Player?” he asked.
That was me, and they were in the right place. Liam limped off the steps, and Military Blue Eyes helped him into the back of the ambulance. He was limping terribly by this point, and I think he would have been in excruciating pain if he had taken handfuls of looted narcotics.
Several nights earlier, Liam injured his foot as he sat on the porch by the firelight. He poked fun at strippers, pretending to toss his hair as he grabbed onto a metal pole that held up the porch. Gracefully, at first, he spun around until he crashed down off the porch. Had this happened several days earlier, he would have fallen into waist deep water and remained uninjured.
Instead, he pounded onto the concrete ground. He jumped up after a minute, emphatically assuring us he was fine. He said it hurt a little, but he kept on without a moment’s pained expression. I wondered if he even felt the initial impact of the fall. We were all full to the brim with painkillers. Over the next few days, the limp had slowly progressed into the marked labor I witnessed as he climbed into the ambulance. I thought maybe an ambulance was the best way to transport an injured man.
I gathered our bags, big and bulky with our sole possessions, and tossed them over my shoulder with a deep grunt. Toddling back and forth a little, I carried the bags to the rear of the ambulance and slung them on board. Military Blue Eyes offered his hand from above where he stood by Liam. I took his hand and climbed inside.
There was another lady in the ambulance. She had three cages, each holding a cat. The cages were the metal type that the humane society uses, and I knew they were not her cages. I breathed a heavy sigh, laden with layers of fatigue and anxiety. The cats meowed wildly. The lady explained that she refused to evacuate without her cats. She had been asked to leave repeatedly, and each time she was told she would have to leave the cats behind. Each time she refused, until they finally agreed to let her leave with the cats. I guessed they even provided the cages for safe travel.
The ambulance bumped along through the streets, and the cages bounced along with all riders, animal and human alike. It was dark in the back of the ambulance, and Liam and I sat side by side on a bench facing the Cat Lady. We could not see out of the windows, and we all stared at one another with wide and fearful eyes.
We had no idea where they were taking us, and the anxiety and fear crept back in with this abyss of unanswered destiny. Had I known then that the rest of the evacuation process would be just as blind, I would have kicked back to relax. There was no room for relaxation in my mind at this time.
The bumpy ambulance ride was quickly over. I am still not sure where the ambulance took us. My mind was still clouded with pills, and a hangover was quickly settling in. I was ready to take a sip from one of the many bottles of Sprite and apple juice that we replaced the sweet, sugary substances with vodka and whiskey, respectively. I hesitated, and waited for a more discreet opportunity.
When we got out of the ambulance, the sun was basking in its full brightness. We squinted as we climbed out of the darkened interior of the ambulance, emerging once more into the light. I pulled down the cumbersome duffel bags that contained everything we owned.
We looked back in our minds time and time again as we drove away through a destructed city. We watched the city speed through our memory, taken aback by all the horror. We talked about our friends left behind often, wondering if they would survive. We could do no more than save ourselves.