I haven’t talked to Paul since he left New Orleans. I saw him only briefly in the lobby of the hotel by the airport, the night after Helen was killed. For the first time in my life I was literally at a loss for words. I just couldn’t think of a thing to say. So, really, I haven’t talked to Paul since New Year’s Eve, when he and Helen and Francis stopped by our house for a visit.
I need to write Paul a letter. I still hardly know what to say, but I will have to find the words.
Here are some wise and painful words from Paul, which appeared on this morning’s Times-Picayune op-ed page:
For my poor, sweet wife, fix New Orleans
Friday, January 26, 2007
My wife — my lovely wife, and the most interesting, original, beautiful, funny person I have ever known — was murdered in New Orleans Jan. 4. A stranger invaded our home and attacked us, and in the space of a few moments, her life ended violently.
Helen Hill was a true creative genius who chose to express herself through the medium of independent filmmaking and experimental animation. She made short, intense, personal, bright, colorful films. She was the best, most loving wife anyone could imagine. And she devoted the last two years to raising our little son Francis with the greatest of love, care and creativity.
Francis is only 2 years old now, but he is coping with this inconceivable loss with a great inner strength that I know is a direct result of the deep sense of trust and self-confidence she (and I) instilled in him.
I do not know if I could ever go back to New Orleans. Even before this terrible tragedy, I lived in fear of the violence and unpredictability that has become a daily fact of life.
But Helen loved New Orleans with a great passion. She was content only when she was in New Orleans, walking among the old shotgun houses, admiring the morning glories and magnolia trees and Spanish moss, listening to WWOZ, straining to catch a Zulu coconut, marching her pot-bellied pig in the Krewe du Vieux, bringing visitors to the Mother-in-Law Lounge, and cooking vegetarian versions of famous Creole dishes.
Helen believed deeply, at the core of her being, in the equality and dignity of all people. She took part in Eracism meetings, the progressive Gillespie Community Breakfasts and political rallies to help bring back New Orleans in the most fair and inclusive way.
Together, we brought free meals to poor and homeless people with the local Food Not Bombs group. We welcomed our neighbors into our home, African-American, Honduran and white, the neighborhood kids and the elderly. Helen deeply desired to share our love and good fortune with others.
I am writing to you, all the citizens of New Orleans, to ask you two things.
First, please, if you have any knowledge of the person who killed my wife, please come forward and speak. Please be brave and tell the police or Crimestoppers what you know.
Help bring this villain to justice for filling my wife’s final moments with terror and for taking her away from her baby and her family and friends.
He must not be allowed to hurt more people and destroy more lives. Please be brave and speak.
Second, please do everything you can to heal your desperately broken city.
Helen herself was an innocent victim. But her murder, like so many others, is a symptom of a sickness, a terrible sickness caused by grinding poverty, hopelessness, bad parenting, a lack of respect for human life, pre- and post-hurricane neglect and persistent racism against African-American people.
I am begging you to reach out to your neighbors, across the borders of race and class, and help them when they need you. Don’t stand by while people hurt each other.
There has been an outcry against violence in New Orleans since Helen’s death. Please do not stop until things improve. I am begging you to find a way to get people out of those hellish trailer parks, which are cauldrons for the kind of violence that destroyed our happiness. The people living there need decent, well-maintained, affordable housing and it needs to happen now.
No one is going to fix New Orleans for you. You need to do it yourselves. Please do these things now, for yourselves and for my poor, sweet wife. I know this is what she would want.
. . . . . . .
Paul Gailiunas is living in South Carolina.
Footnote: I almost forgot. Old School 102.9‘s Home Team Morning Show has “Shut the Hell Up Fridays” every Friday morning. Listeners can call in and air their grievances and tell anyone they like to “shut the hell up.” This morning, host LBJ read most of Paul’s editorial and endorsed it: “This man is talking about the real issues, this takes courage.” They gave Paul an unprecedented reverse “shut the hell up,” which I thought was sweet.