I’m not usually the type to get depressed for no reason, but on our 15th anniversary something changed.

Adoley had arranged a surprise trip to New Orleans to celebrate and visit a city we’d both heard a lot about but never visited.  We checked into Le Pavilion, a beautiful French wedding cake architecture hotel in the French Quarter.    A uniformed doorman out of Cinderella welcomed us in a warm Louisiana, “How y’all today?”.

We strode in over polished marble and under glittering chandeliers and notice the 4 star rating over the concierge’s Louis XIV cherry wood writing desk.   It was a moment, rare in my life, where I allowed myself to think, “This is nice.  This is what all the work was about.  I can relax.”

The feeling lasted as we toured the dining room with a warming fire in the fireplace reflecting off of water glasses and flower vases with fresh cut flowers on each of the 45 tables.  Large portraits of Louisiana patriarchs of the 1800’s in heavy gilded frames covered the walls and plush oriental carpets hushed the room to a whisper.

Our room was elegant, regal and could have been in the Palace de Versailles.  Pale blue walls were set off with white trim and hand painted flowers decorated the corners of the ceiling.

Our first evening was spectacular, as we explored the French Quarter on our way to Muriel’s, a top rated seafood restaurant that has been a New Orleans favorite for over 100 years.  We drank sherry to toast our 15 years together and remind us of the sweetness we’ve known together.  We ate blue crabs and gumbo and duck.  There was nothing else I could possibly want, my heart was full.  As I watched my love enjoy her wine and her meal,  and the sherry warmed my thoughts something said to me this was it, your moment is here.   The moment where you can say, whatever else happens, you’ve made it.   You have what you wanted.

We walked back to the hotel through the raucous chorus of football fans in town for the Sugar Bowl through the lamplight and filigree iron of the friendly French Quarter.  The polar vortex that was freezing everything north of Louisiana chilled the air to late autumn.   We picked up our pace.

Why was New Orleans near freezing?  It was a quirk of nature, inexplicable except to scientists, and so easily ignored.   Yet, the temperature triggered something, something from earliest memory, something was wrong.  We continued through the cold.  Adoley hadn’t been feeling well and craved warmth now, so my protective instincts were now engaged.  I wasn’t exactly sure how far it was to the hotel, but I knew it was a long way.

The cheerful football fans were now obstacles – bleating drunkards weaving across the sidewalks in swarms.  No taxis ventured into the Quarter, apparently they wanted no part of the rowdy fans either.  The shopkeepers huddled in thick sweaters in their quaint, old shops – there was no heat in there.

We dodged the trolley cars on Canal Street that had charmed us on the way to dinner and scooted across the intersection ignoring the don’t walk signs.  The streets off of Canal were dark and peppered with ticket scalpers who loomed out of the alleyways hoping to snag a desperate tourist.  Rival gangs of fans shouted taunts across the street at each other.   Beer bottles smashed against brick.

In the hotel finally, we got into our room and all imaginings of danger passed. But the warning hum of some unseen threat stayed on, a beacon of distress sounded through the cold fog of dread that surrounded me.  As we prepared for bed in our safe, immaculate, luxury hotel with every advantage of modern life on our side, I hid the truth behind a loving smile and kiss goodnight.

Then they came for me in the dark – the goblins of conscience, the night terrors.  They tore away any feeling of confidence, security or hope I had.  Life was suddenly a misery to be endured, there would be no happy endings, nothing would last, love was a mirage and the best I could hope for was to die in my sleep first, before the people I loved.  I laid awake in this torment for unknown minutes afraid that I’d lost some part of my mind forever.

Then the tiniest voice shot through the howling terrors, it said, “Happiness.”  The wrecking of my heart’s treasures continued, then it happened again, a bit louder, “Happiness.”  I grabbed this word like a life line and began repeating it to myself, clinging to it against the riot of destruction I was feeling.  “Happiness, happiness, happiness,” I repeated over and over.   Then a second word jumped into view, “Optimism.”  I repeated them in turn, then a third popped up, “Positivity.”  And finally, “Engagement” completed a life line back to sanity.

I said them in order, “Happiness, Optimism, Positivity, Engagement” hundreds of times crowding out all other thoughts.   Over and over again I prayed to myself until I was exhausted and the morning sun began to lighten the window shade.  It was over, the night terrors retreated to their dark cave and I was falling asleep in the embrace of H.O.P.E.   I slept until noon.

When I awoke, H.O.P.E. was still with me, running through me like a love song.  I was then given the logical order of these ideas; meaning I realized that happiness is the fundamental choice that made life worth living, optimism is the belief that goodness was the natural order, positivity is the belief that my life in particular was blessed and engagement is the positive action we bring to the world to share with everyone the happiness inside that we hold so dearly.