Around 6PM on a Monday, the rain beats down hard on the streets of a Southern Louisiana town. The pitter patter of the cold December rain can be heard on the various metal rooftops around the city of Hathian. The grounds become soggy around all the various pieces of trash, litter, used condoms and hypodermic needles. A car sits broken down near Lou’s bar. The bar is quiet at this hour but will soon be bustling with the nightlife. Filled with the diverse and often rag tag variety of Hathian-ites. Down the street, one can hear a gunshot ring out and the occasional scream for help. Up near the Gein, the air is filled with the odor of greasy fried foods. Near the gas station, Hathian’s finest are shaking down someone acting suspicious. Afterwards, they plan to head up to the Grind to grab a cup of coffee. A siren rings out as the FDH responds to a 911 call. A stripper from the Twister is found unconscious; raped and barely alive in an alley. This stripper will be taken to HGH and treated. Then the person will recover and choose to go on trying to survive in Hathian.
The above is just a glimpse of what it is like to live in Hathian. Murders, rapes, suicides, crooked cops, shady doctors and crazy gang members is all part of our town’s story. For years, we have chosen to live in what many call “the ass-crack of Louisiana.” The government of the state pretends we don’t exist; rumors of how bad it is being quickly swept under the rug. Cheaper to deal with that way. The citizens threaten to get the FBI or feds involved. These calls are ignored. Meanwhile, most of us continue to live here in an impoverished community that has not quite recovered from hurricane Katrina. A walk down near the diner will show some of the damage still present from that fateful event. In district 8, construction is forever halted on some of the buildings; abandoned by the owners due to crime and other risks found in opening a new addition in Hathian.
The citizens tweet constantly about their displeasure. People tired of being bullied by the cops. Women tired of being victims of psycho rapists. Professionals displeased with their failing business constantly being targeted for crime. Doctors frustrated that they are constantly saving the lives of people go back out and do the same activities that got them put in the hospital. Police shooting gang members. Gang members shooting cops. Innocent civilians tweet angrily as they are caught in the crossfire. Business owners and those just trying to survive often end up on the losing side.
While there are many people born and raised in Hathian, Hathian has also often been the hotspot for relocation. People get off the bus in Hathian all the time looking for a fresh start. Maybe they come to town for the dirt-cheap college tuition. Maybe they come because they are running away from something. Or they come looking for something. Foster kids that have escaped a horrible foster home. Someone looking for a lost sibling or parent; or even a child. Some looking for work. Some just running from the law. Hathian is a melting pot of diversity. Turn a corner and you may find an angry Russian cop or a voodoo practicing Hathian-ite. Or you may run into your long thought dead father. Or you may find that abusive ex-partner that you thought you got away from by coming here.
I’ve lived in Hathian for nearly 20 years of my adult life. I came here just as a young intern hoping to make a difference in a town that I only knew about through rumors mostly. During this time, I’ve watched as countless people moved away and swore they would never be back. Then not long after, there they are back in this place. They look at me and remember how I said, “You’ll be back.” And they wonder how I know this. How do I know that they will be back? Could it be that I have seen it time and time again since I’ve lived here? Is it wrong that I assume it? I can tell you first hand now why I know people will be back. It is a simple answer and it boils down to why many of us are still here. We come back here or choose to live here because we are broken.
Before you say, “I am not broken”, just hear me out. Chances are that as you read this, you found something above to be something you relate to. Maybe it’s the reason you came here. Or maybe you are one of the few that came here thinking that you aren’t broken. But it ultimately, you are only lying to yourself if you say it isn’t true. I am not even saying that it happened all at once. I am not even going to say that you will know for sure how it happened. I will say that if you search deep enough, you will find it to be true. Most people in this town come here looking for something. They come here missing that “something” and where better to look, in a community of broken things. Or you lived here and lost something along the way. There’s comfort in being surrounded by likeminded people. We are always battling our own insecurities. It is easier to feel at home when you know that you aren’t perfect but no one else around you are either.
Someone reading this is probably already mad at me. “How can you say this about me? I am not at all broken.” But you are kidding yourself. Why else do you stay here? And honestly, why do you resist the thought so much? I know I am broken. I’ve lived here for almost 20 years. In this time, I’ve had to bury three of my kids. I’ve held my best friend as she lay dying in my arms; shot by her lover and most trusted friend in the gang she ran with. I’ve had my heart broken and been rejected by the love of my life. I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve watched as my own morals come into question as I do what it takes to survive here. I’ve even done things I am not proud of just to survive. I’ve hurt people I care about and pushed away those who would try to get close to me. I’ve been in jail and I’ve been in a hospital bed on countless times. I’ve nearly been killed on several occasions and with each occasion, I am left wondering why I am still alive. I’ve become a father; despite the fact I swore I never wanted that role. A role that now I try so hard to be the best at; despite my flaws. I am sure a great many of you can relate to these things and have your own stories that you can tell.
So how do I know you will find yourself back here? Because there’s beauty in broken things. We are attracted to the broken. Sure, we can move off to a fancy new city and pretend everything is okay, but our problems will just follow us there. You cannot run away from what you carry with you. I don’t know about you, but anytime I go to anywhere else; even just for a day trip, I feel so awkward and out of place. I see these people living what seem to be “perfect lives” and I wonder, “Why didn’t I ever have that?” I come back to Hathian though and I feel at home. I feel accepted. We sure as hell judge each other here; don’t get me wrong about that! But at the same time, we all know the truth when it occurs. No one here is better than the other. Those that try to pretend they are better are only trying to cover up their own insecurities. In Hathian, we are all just trying to make the most of a bad situation. Trying to plug those holes in our lives and just survive. Moving away is not going to do that for most of us.
To those of you that have moved away to try to find a better life, kudos to you. I wish you nothing but the best. To those that stay here and are just trying to make it to tomorrow, just remember you are not alone. Eventually, everyone returns to this town and together, we are all less than perfect. We just must find our purpose and why we always end up back here. As a doctor, my goal is always to try to fix people and I’ll continue to strive for this. I know I will never be perfect either. To those that move away and find themselves coming back here, welcome back home. I hope you find what you are looking for.
I opted to write this today on a whim. It is my hopes that the Observer will publish this editorial. People keep asking me to move away and join them in new places and I just smile at them. Hathian is my home and it always will be. One day; most likely sooner than later, I will be buried here with what family I have started in this community. Thank you to those that have shared in this life with me here. I look forward too many more years in this ugly, rotten and yet strangely beautiful community. Hathian, the place no one wants to go but will always come back to.
Sincerely, James Matfield, Chief of Medicine at Hathian General