After our escape from the ancient city, we sought out news from home, ate up every report, even the ones we knew had to be wrong. At first there were so many stories, so many conflicting reports: we went from highs to lows so quickly, from We’ll be home by Thanksgiving to We’re never going back. But too much word was better than none, we soon discovered as the world got bored with us and our stupid pained faces, and the message boards begrudged us what little we still had: Why did you build your homes below sea level? Why did you take Helen and kill Patroclus? Why did you let the horse in? Why should we pay to fix your lives?
Somewhere outside Carthage or Houston, we watched the buses coming in, saw the tables loaded with blankets and bottled water and MREs. I asked my friend, Is there a place on Earth that doesn’t know what we’ve been through? No city failed to remind me, either with its hospitality, or its inevitable antipathy. We never got the comfort of forgetting.
Here some Dido took me to bed and asked me to tell her my story, the story that fixed me forever as a refugee, stranded me forever between before the storm and after the storm. The storm had come like Christ and split my history in two. Every story I told either anticipated that the storm would come or acknowledged that it had come already. But never gone. Never gone.
I told another Dido (so many fires behind me in the distance) that we didn’t lose the city because we didn’t fight; we lost the city to deceit. Someone opened the gates, and the water marched through. The night it all went down, I cleared out my altar and filled my pockets with household gods—Venus, Fats Domino, the Virgin Mary. Their weight in my pockets kept pulling me back toward the water as I scrambled to the roof, where I had an epiphany: my mother came to me, and she said there was nothing I could do and I had to get out. And she told me to watch, and she tugged on the edge of the sky and drew it aside like a curtain. And I saw gods hurling ships at the levees and tearing trees out by their roots and bouncing cars onto rooftops like quarters into a shot glass.
A cool night followed. I saw only a sky full of stars, and my pockets were empty.