In years past, I have gone down to the French Quarter on Mardi Gras Day and paraded around incognito, usually dressed as a fairy or something that allowed me to wear a flowing dress and lots of makeup. Despite what the rest of the world believes, Mardi Gras is not all boobs and beads. Mardi Gras is a day to let your alter ego burst forth and shine through and, for some people, that means lifting your shirt in public so that drunken fraternity boys and old men engaging in frotteurism can pelt you with cheap plastic beads.
But, for most of us locals, it means people watching, meeting old friends, and acting like a fool for a day.
Back when I used to drink, I would, after having a few beers in me, tell people my name was Simone. I would tell this to new people and also people who knew me already, and they, knowing that I tended to get mean as the night wore on, would just take the easy route and not argue. In my mind, Simone was exotic and beautiful. Instead of a plain girl from the suburbs, Simone was mysterious and daring. She was a gypsy and a poet and wasn’t afraid to live her life as she saw fit.
On the other hand, Claire was scared, insecure and generally consumed with self-loathing. Simone was that part of me who came out only when I drank enough to forget how much I hated myself. After I got sober, Simone went into hiding for a while. Without my bottled courage, Simone stayed deep inside and just when I thought she might be gone forever, Mardi Gras 2002 rolled around and she came out with a vengeance.
I would love to say that I went on a meditative retreat with my swami and tapped into an abyss of self love, but I would be lying. I realized instead, that if I painted my face entirely and dressed completely different than normal, then I could parade around on Mardi Gras Day and be whoever I wanted, and that’s when Simone came back. I was, for one day a year, stunningly beautiful, alluringly mysterious and completely not the Claire who is me for the other 364 days of the year.
This year, Mardi Gras was quiet. Simone is still there, but instead of parading around with wings and fairy dust, Max and I walked our neighborhood and looked for ant piles. My little boy, just like me, does not like parades and big crowds, and so, Simone will just have to wait a few years until she can come out again to play. Besides, there is no greater joy than hearing my little boy tell me he loves me and climb into my arms after a long day of ant hunting. Simone pales in comparison.