New Orleans was the last place James Gibson wanted to be. While he spoke fluent French, Laissez les bons temps rouler meant nothing to him. He was a man of discipline — A man who stuck to his plan. He didn’t believe in debauchery, voodoo, alcohol or any other of the various vices offered along Bourbon Street. Who had time for fun? That night, when his fellow Navy SEAL squad mates went partying, the beckoned, “Come on old man!” He responded by going to bed.
The alarm greeted him rudely right at sunrise. He laced up his running shoes and left the old hotel. The streets in the French Quarter were wet from the street sweepers who had attempted to erase the evidence from the night before. New Orleans was a city that engaged all five of your senses. James could smell the spilled drinks from the revelers the night before. He had reluctantly agreed to come over here for the weekend after drills near the Stennis Space Center. As stretched, he saw the tourists heading toward Cafe du monde to get their sugary fried thingies fix. The powered sugar reminded him of the cocaine factory he had once blown up in Columbia. Overweight men and women marched past Jackson Square to get their fried dough.
James had mixed feelings about New Orleans. It was the city of his birth — but he didn’t know his birth parents. They had put him up for adoption when he was born. His adoptive parents — his real parents in his mind — lived in Baton Rouge. So that was his home. He had graduated with honors from LSU and entered the Navy after successfully completing Naval ROTC. His focus, his drive, his pain pushed him harder than all the other officers. BUD training in San Diego pushed him even harder.
Discipline. Focus. Purpose.
He ran down Decatur Street toward the Convention Center. The relentless humidity reminded him of the jungles of Panama. He ran back up past the National World War II Museum and then looped back toward the French Quarter. James Gibson didn’t worry about criminals. Criminals worried about James Gibson.
He had been here after Katrina, providing logistical support for the relief efforts that took too long to get here. He remembered seeing the bodies and the chaos. James would give New Orleans credit for one thing: It was resilient. It earned his respect for that reason and that reason alone.
He ran back down Bourbon and toward Jackson Square. There he saw the artists lined up and saw the fortune tellers in front of the Cathedral. He shook his head. God and Voodoo ten feet apart. As he huffed past, he noticed one lady sitting out on her own. Her handwritten sign read, “Madam Duvall.”
“Come over here boy.”
“No offense man, but I don’t believe in fortune telling.”
But there was something intriguing about this woman. She seemed familiar.
He sat his sweaty self down in her folding metal chair and she grabbed his palm.
“New Orleans causes you great pain. It digs up many questions in your heart.”
OK, this lady was pretty good.
“Many unknowns surround you. Like your parents. You seek your parents.”
James pulled his hand back, but Madam Duvall grabbed it and continued on.
“You were given up at birth. You seek your mother. And your mother seeks you.”
James was sweating even more, but it wasn’t from the heat.
“I can give you answers you seek,” Madam Duvall said. “I know who your mother is.”
James felt nauseous. He started to stammer and get up but Madam Duvall held up a copy of a piece of paper.
“I, James Gibson, am your mother.”
James looked at the woman. She didn’t seem much older than he was.
“What?!? No. No, you’re not”
She held both his hand and told him the story behind his birth.
“I was 16. Your father and I were in the same high school. He was killed two years later in a gang shooting. I knew I couldn’t raise you like you deserved. My mother knew your adoptive parents. Like so many refugees after Katrina, you started a new life in Baton Rouge.”
She held out a copy of his birth certificate and a baby picture of him.
James felt a wave of emotion crash over him. Tourists walking past would have noticed the hulking man holding the fortune teller and weeping.
New Orleans is a town that engages all your senses. And on that muggy morning in Jackson Square, a man of great discipline learned the true meaning of love, sacrifice and redemption.