Ch. 5 – The Long Kiss Good-Bye
I don’t remember the exact reason why one of my parents did not take me to the airport in New Orleans on September 2. Possibly, they were both busy. Probably, I made other arrangements because I had extreme control needs. The story I remember was that I didn’t want a big, emotional scene with crying, so I had asked a friend of mine to take me to New Orleans.
I was discussing my plans with Pablo one night after work, when suddenly he offered to take me. I was very surprised, but instantly warmed to the idea. Not only was I going to not have a parent drive me; I was going with a guy. Surely this was further proof that Pablo was taken with me – although I was given pause for a minute when he also invited a fellow waitress to go along with us… She declined.
Not only was he going to drive me to New Orleans, we decided that we wouldn’t wait until that morning to go: we would leave after Pablo’s shift at El Torito. We would pull an all-nighter! Surely New Orleans, the city that never sleeps, was the perfect place to stay up all night. We decided to do just that. He would get me to the airport in plenty of time for my noon flight, and then drive back to Lafayette.
As usual, nothing was simple. Before I left, I spent the whole day tying off loose ends – and those loose ends that didn’t get tied off, I left for those at home to deal with. My dad was dating someone that I detested at the time, and he had plans with her that night, so we said our farewells early. I went by my mother’s house, where I said good-bye to her and to my Aunt Mary and Cousin Leon. I visited my sister, Elaine, and her boyfriend, Richie, at their new apartment (I was glad they took this big step just as I was leaving – I didn’t think Dad really approved, although we all liked Richie. I had no idea how Mom would react!).
My friends, Marilyn and Emily, did the honors in packing me into a car and taking me to the restaurant, where my luggage and I would wait for Pablo to get off work. His shift wasn’t over until midnight, so I sat around the bar and restaurant, chatting with my managers and co-workers. Everyone was surprised that Pablo was taking me to the airport, since Robert (the waiter) and I had been an item for a large part of the summer. I evaded the question, asserting that Robert had not offered to take me – and Pablo had.
After work, we stopped by Bennigan’s, where the gang usually went after their shifts were over. I was able to say good-bye again to my sister and some other friends, and Pablo was able to have some coffee. By the time we left Bennigan’s, it was 1:30 in the morning. We spent a lot of time talking about the possibilities of having a relationship – what I called our “hypothetical” relationship, since I was leaving for nine months. He talked about his future plans, which included a trip to Venezuela to pitch a restaurant idea to a friend, and asked if I would be averse to living in South America. Of course, since we were only speaking hypothetically, I said that I would be able to do that. After all, wasn’t I about to go live abroad for a year?
We arrived in New Orleans at around 4:00 AM and found a parking garage in the French Quarter. Pablo was very serious in his duties of making sure that I got to the airplane without incident, so he suggested that I keep my passport and cash with me, and made sure that the receipt for my traveler’s checks was in a separate place from the checks themselves. Had my former boyfriend – or even one of my parents – been so solicitous, I would have been resentful. But it felt good to be taken care of!
We walked arm in arm down Bourbon Street, which still had a little going on. We passed a bar where a trio of women was singing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and Pablo said that that would be out new song, since I was leaving on a “Noontime Plane to Atlanta.” We went to Pat O’Brien’s. I had a Hurricane and Pablo had more coffee. We didn’t stay there long, because they were closing at 5:00 AM – I didn’t know that Pat O’Brien’s ever closed!
In order to avoid falling asleep, we got up and walked some more. We made our way to the Café du Monde, a place that I was sure never closed! I was actually surprised at how deserted the Quarter was. Of course, I had never been there at 5:00 in the morning, but I always imagined that there would be a party going on every night – all night! I also never fully realized how filthy it was before the street sweepers made their rounds! But the Café du Monde was clean and warm. We listened in on others’ conversations, and Pablo told me where the Latinos were from by their accents.
After more coffee and some beignets, we headed for the Moon Walk on the Mississippi River to watch the sun rise. There were quite a few people there already – some sleeping off their night’s festivities on the broad steps leading to the river’s edge. It was calm and peaceful, and we sat together in silence. I was grateful for the chance to be somewhere quiet, because my voice was almost gone. Pablo quoted some poetry, and I had second thoughts about leaving Louisiana for nine months!
On the way to the airport, we stopped at a Denny’s to have breakfast. Our conversation was wearing thin. Then he talked about “the other woman” – a waitress at Bennigan’s that he was pining after. I was so tired of hearing about her that I made some wisecrack about getting the word to her that we had “spent the night together.” He quickly called my bluff. “Okay, bay-bee,” he said, “We still have enough time to get a room…” That shut me up. I added that Chris, the waitress, should be glad that I was leaving, because I would give her a run for her money. Pablo didn’t understand that idiom, so I had to clarify that I meant to give her some competition. He looked into my eyes, and said that there would be no competition. My heart melted.
There was an awkward moment when we got to the airport. We were both exhausted, and I was worried about Pablo driving back so far on so little sleep. I said, hesitantly, “I know you’re tired. You can go home and leave me here. You don’t have to wait with me.” He just looked at me with mock disgust and said, “Cut the bullshit.” – and kept on talking. I was so relieved. He checked me in with my luggage and made sure that I called my mother, and he lugged my baggage cart for me. He kept me together, telling me funny stories to make me laugh and to keep my mind off of my imminent departure.
He went to the boarding area with me, although I thought for sure that this was where we would part. I set off the alarm because I forgot that I had 3 large Bennigan’s promotional buttons in my pocket. I began psyching myself up for our parting of ways. I was determined not to cry. This was not easy, as I was weary and had a feeling that I was coming down with something. I was not at all sure that I wanted to leave for France. Imagine that!
As soon as my fellow travelers began boarding the plane, Pablo said, “Well, bay-bee, I guess this is it,” and hugged me. Then we kissed. I said something exciting and memorable, like, “Drive carefully.” We kissed a couple more times, and started moving toward the plane. He handed me my things, and we kissed again. I walked up the gangplank and turned to find him looking at me very seriously. Then, he winked at me, and I blew him a kiss, and turned to leave. That was the last that I saw of him. And I hadn’t cried, although I wanted to. I was very relieved that the whole evening had gone smoothly.