Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Leaving Houston

Last night a reading for TimeSlice: Houston Poets 2005. Wayne, the girls and I walked down on a warm spring night to the bookstore. It’s close by, the jasmine and hibiscus are blooming and it’s National Poetry Month. I’m doing my civic duty. By the time we had to slip out just before the end, having already blown school night bedtimes, I had grown nostalgic for this city I will soon leave. The city I’ve endlessly berated for everything from its deep sea disregard of aesthetics to its foul air, ever punishing heat and humidity, endless road construction and traffic congestion. In the crowd were a couple of familiar faces from grad school days at the University of Houston, now just breaching the decade past mark. “This is the last time I’ll ever (go to a reading at the Borders on Kirby, see so and so, walk the side streets with the girls, etc.” So, another ending.

Why do I feel sad when I walk by a home in our neighborhood and see a “for sale” sign in the yard? When a local business closes its doors? “Wait. Don’t go yet,” I want to say, words laden with a sense of lost opportunity, of an acquaintance not yet made, the familiarity, the “givenness” of a place no longer a given. I feel abandoned, left behind. I feel betrayed.

I’ve come to realize it’s not the small circle of close friends in Houston that I’m going to really miss. Those friends are dear enough that whether on this end or that, we will meet again. Unlike our compact 80 year old Montrose bungalow, the house we’ve bought in Columbia, Missouri is big enough to comfortably host small crowds and we intend to do just that. What I will miss are those other faces, the ones seen on occasion, the people who notice you got a haircut when you pick up your dry cleaning or photos or prescriptions at the pharmacy. The ones you bump into at the restaurant or movie theater or someone’s birthday party. The ones that tether you to the concrete and brick and remind you that there’s a soul with your face on it in this city of four million of your fellows. When we arrive in Columbia I’ll have become a ghost. No one will recognize me, no one will miss me if I don’t show up.

I’ve been here longer than I’ve ever been anywhere else. I arrived on the cusp of thirty and stayed long enough to see friends’ grade school kids sprout beards and girlfriends and leave for college. They’ve witnessed the dusk of my youth dissolve into middle age. They’ve watched the wrinkles pinch up little by little and know exactly what wrought them. I have a story here. I arrived with a prologue, they’ve helped write the chapters but they will not be there to see how it all ends.

When I arrived in Houston I did not yet know who I would be. I knew who I wouldn’t be and needed to leave Boston and the betrayed ideals of my youth. Houston was where I landed. I was leaving from, not coming to. I was at the end of and therefore at the beginning of. I didn’t know what I would do with my life. And although I again am at the end of, this time choices have been made. This I do know: I married; I had two daughters. I started a graphic design company. I went to grad school and studied poetry. I will never have a son. I will not be a rock star, a psychiatrist or a nun. I will not spend a year backpacking around Europe or Tibet on ten dollars a day. I will not run for office, win an Olympic medal or lead a revival. I won’t be the first of my mother’s children to die.

Every choice we make invokes our mortality. As illustrated in quantum physics, there are infinite ways to a destination. We make a choice and the possible becomes the actual; every choice we make negates a thousand alternate endings. There are limits to our dreams. Houston became the mother of my invention. Because I was here, not there. Because I made these friends, not those friends. This profession, not that. Saw this sky, these sidewalks, this shade of green tinting the trees and lawns.

Leaving is loss. Previously, it always seemed like gain: onto the next new thing, the familiar shed like a dress gone out of style. But no matter how willfully unattractive your mother might be, all you can do is love her.

No comments: