Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tragedy in New Orleans – Traveling Kids: Special Segment

I am not the same person that I was before I awoke this morning.

For a while I was writing about ‘Traveling Kids’ and my perspective as the mother of one. It was intended for providing basic information about a rapidly growing culture that many know little of and I will admit, therapeutic for me.

If you followed it at all, you will notice that I stopped writing about this topic. I have a few drafts waiting patiently in a folder, but I have avoided them. I guess it’s because the pain, fear and uncertainty was better off in draft form. I didn’t have the desire to polish my pain. I needed to move ahead in my life and deal with my issues privately and quietly.

This happened around the time I met my daughter’s traveling partner’s mother. On our way out of town, we stopped there for dinner. It’s the first time that I have met another mother of a ‘Traveling Kid’. It was brutal. Looking into her tear filled eyes was looking into my own. Our bond was immediate, powerful and did not require words, although many were exchanged for the mere purpose of release. That blog waits.

Then there is the blog about dropping my daughter off in an abandoned parking lot near a (seemingly) deserted train station in Worcester Massachusetts. That good bye was almost indescribable. That blog waits.

I carried on. I worked on short, effective, articulate prayers each night. I decided that it was best for my overall health and well being to quickly dismiss thoughts that threatened to churn about in my head without any solution. This became my long and short term goal. I knew that I had little or no control over my daughter’s choices at this point in time and that I had talked with her openly, leaving no stone unturned. I had to live with peace in my heart. The turmoil had to go.

This is easier said than done. It requires awareness and diligence. Oftentimes we are tricked by our own unconscious when suggestions trickle in and without knowing, we find ourselves squarely in the middle of negative, fear inducing thoughts.

My daughter was better than ever as far as keeping in touch with me. She hasn’t disappeared off the radar for too long, and when she does, it is because she is keeping her minutes down on her cell phone. She has been keeping me informed of her progress.

Her original goal was to be in New Orleans for Halloween.
Halloween came and went, and she did not make it.

She spent a great deal of time in Asheville North Carolina because of the unsavory practice of the Burlington Violin Shop, who erroneously released her cello to a well intentioned young man, when they were instructed to release it to me. He took it to Asheville as a surprise. That blog waits.

She and her boyfriend traveled back and forth between Knoxville and Asheville until she shipped her cello to her father (because it was closer and cheaper than sending it home). They spent Thanksgiving there and meandered to Chattanooga.

I cannot state with accuracy, where they were until today, but they did spend time in Memphis and then Christmas in Mobile, Alabama.

She called me and told me of her traveling adventures and plans. Sometimes they stayed in a motel and other times with friends and they camped out. She mentioned going to work on a farm in Florida. New Orleans was still in the picture, but hadn’t happened.

She called me on Christmas day. She said that she loved Mobile and that they would leave in a day or two for New Orleans. I always try to talk her out of going there. I went there a few years ago and think it’s a dark, depressing place. Throughout most of my long career as professional trumpet player, I always wanted to go to New Orleans. Many of my older seasoned friends warned me that it was not as romantic as the old days. They were right. When I went to Jazzfest, I loved the music but felt the heavy hand of depression and despair. I wanted out.

When my daughter told me that she was going there last year, fear set in. That was the worst winter of my life.

I tried to talk to her about how things have deteriorated since the BP Oil spill. How much more toxic the air, water and food must be. How much more desperate the people there must be. She agreed. We talked about it at great length.

She told me on Christmas that she wanted to go there to see her friends and play some music before going to work on the farm in Florida.

I prayed for calm, inner peace and focus. I prayed real prayers, not the ones that hit the ceiling and fall on the floor.

I was sad at first when I put the angel on the tree, because she made it when she was four. She told me not to be sad. So, I wasn’t…for her.
I am proud of myself for being so strong and celebrating the holidays with her far away living a life that I try but do not comprehend.

It all changes in an instant.

Sophia shined down on me today...She did so in the most mysterious and almost cruel way...
This morning…cup of coffee in hand…anchor on weather channel, “Horrible Tragedy in New Orleans…”
An abandoned warehouse burned to the ground last night killing eight ‘Traveling Kids.’
It was where my daughter could have been.
By the railroad tracks.
Trying to keep warm.
Burnin’ trash in the barrel.
Even the dogs perished.
She’s traveling with her boyfriend and a dog.
News says that the remains are so charred that it is impossible to determine the sex of the victims.
Calling and calling and calling my daughter. Instant voicemail. Phone is off.
Looking at the atlas, how far is it from Mobile to New Orleans? How fast does the train travel? Which train?
I forgot to pray for her last night. I fell asleep so quickly…did I pray?
Called the mother…whose tears match mine.
Called the brother…another traveler, son of the other mother…
He looked at his crew schedule. Is that what it’s called? The Hobo Cheat Sheet.
Yes. It could have been them.
Called the grounded girl in New Orleans who helped me find my daughter last year.
She’s in Miami.
The train goes to this warehouse.
Why didn’t they wake up?
I told her and I told him not to stay in abandoned buildings. Why is she doing this?
I remembered the necklace that I gave her for her birthday. A, Mother, Integrity, Remember….

I tried to call again.
I tried to call again.
I tried to call again.
Message inbox is full.
There were dogs in the fire too.

They travel with a dog.
I can’t live without her.
Beyond tears. Choking or something weird. Can’t breathe.
Brother tries to be calm but thinks that is where they would be. Could be. Can’t be.

Hit send.
Hit send.
Hit send.
Nothing matters. I might throw up.
The ring tone.
Does that mean that her phone is on?
The brother exclaims…exclaims...and dares to exhale… “It’s okay. Her phone is on now.”

From: Anna
Hey just woke up give me a few minutes.
December 28, 12:07 pm


Almost could not breathe.
Someone’s child
Someone's baby
Died in those flames.

It wasn’t mine.
Coulda’ been.

She called.
My Brown Eyed Girl.
Still in Mobile, Alabama.

I told her.
She knew from all the messages.
I cried hard.
Different, crazy, desperate tears linger into the night.
Visions of one girl…I met her in Burlington two summers ago.
She is there somewhere.


Someone’s baby
Everyone’s baby
Someone’s Momma
Someone’s Pappa
Never the same
Might not know.

Thank you Sophia for shining down on me.
Shining down on you.
Shining down on what coulda been.

My heart breaks in the midst of my own relief.


  1. Maryjane, I am so relieved Anna is ok. I am anxious to find out who the eight were. God, what a tragedy. Our traveling community is not very big relatively, so the chance that we know these kids is great. I love to read your writing. Thank you for the topic MJ <3 --love, gewel

  2. This is an incredibly powerful piece here. I actually spent ten years in New Orleans, and many of my closet friends are "traveling kids." I knew one of the fallen. I am also a recovered heroin addict who has a blog, and through my blog I have come in contact with many parents of addicts. It has been theraputic to see my mom's perspective in others. I heard many of my parents out there in your words here. I am a parent myself now, and my perspective is so different. What really resonates with me from the post is the shared experience of all parents. The worry, the heartache, and the love. We may not always love the things our children do or become...but that will never change our love for our children. They are still our children, and we are still family, and that kind of love is unconditional, and incredible special. The bond between mother and child is the strongest bond I have ever known. My mother is infinitely special to me, as I will one day be just as dear to my own son. I am truly blessed to have finally come full circle. From the mothering pit of my heart, I am glad your daughter is okay.

  3. Thank you, Gewel.
    I will not be the same. The light in my world is different - a different slant.
    I am thankful yet infinitely saddened.
    Life is fragile. Life is a gift.

  4. BMelonsLemonade,
    Thank you for your comments - for relating. I am certain that your experiences and insight will be an important resource for many as the years unfold.
    You are so right about the bond between mother and child. Think about it, our first human relationship is with our mother, in the womb, we know her before anyone else and before we enter the harsh but beautiful world. Mother sustains and nourishes us from the moment of inception.
    I know that I don't have to write this, but I will...celebrate, enjoy, appreciate and love your son to the max...
    Thank you for connecting.

  5. I can honestly say I know exactly how you felt. I shared every feeling you had, as you had them. My niece passed away in the warehouse fire. Reading this now has tears streaming, uncontrollably down my cheeks. May they all rest in peace and know they were loved!

    Thank you for sharing this. <3

    1. I regret that I missed your comment somehow. My love goes out to you and the memory of your niece. And yes, contrary to what some believe, they were loved indeed. <3