When I was 16 years old — and 14 and 15 and maybe even 12 and 13 — I knew that I would have to leave Texas. Looking back, I can say I truly believed moving away would solve all of my problems. It didn’t. But it did save me from falling into the sort of life I knew would suck all of the life out of me. And I am reminded by this every single time I befriend an old high school classmate on Facebook, and I see in living color the exact sort of lives they lead.
This is not to say they have bad lives or that they are unhappy (or even that they have been fooled into being happy or are complacent). I truly believe that there happiness and contented lives can be found in every corner of the world; it just wasn’t (and wouldn’t be) possible for me in Texas. At least not the way things were going.
But all of the women — even the ones who were popular or cheerleaders (or both) — from my teen-age years have the same sort of lives, give or take a few girls’ nights out. They have husbands or boyfriends who wear cowboy hats and boots, carry (usually) more than a few extra pounds around the middle, and sport varying degrees of (non-ironic) facial hair. These are not bad men, nor are they generally unkind. In fact, there is a certain sort of gentility around which I was raised — Southern men have it, other men remain clueless — that even the biggest idiot of a man can comprehend and mimic in Texas. My father has it. My brother has turned it into an art of the most romantic sort. But me? It just was never what I wanted, though I certainly could have if I had.
The truth of the matter was that I was never a small-town girl. I always wanted something bigger and more exciting. It’s even true today. While Chicago is a fine town — and bigger than any city in Texas — it doesn’t seem “enough.” Maybe Tokyo wouldn’t be, which would mean it’s a problem with me and not Texas nor Chicago nor a thousand other cities. I tell myself New York City is The One, a geographic soul mate, but then I also think that perhaps it’s what it represents more than its qualities: it is the opposite of Texas.
I often think that, had I visited New York as a teen-ager, my life would be completely different. And perhaps that may be true. But it’s not worth spending too much time worrying about. I can’t go back, and I can’t afford too much regret. It’s better to think about what I’ve left behind, and to feel confident I made the right choices, or at least I made the right decisions when I was afforded them. That wasn’t often.
I can look back and think of what could have been, if only… and I can look ahead and wonder what will happen, if only… or I can look at where I started and where I am now and come to the only logical conclusion: it’s a million degrees of difference, and one of which I’m damn proud. But it’s also something that no longer separates me from my past; it used to be that I wanted the path from A to B to be obliterated. I enjoy looking at it now, and I can see the continuity, how there is still some affection for Texas in me, especially when I see its mark on my brother and father.
My 20-year reunion is in 2011, and I’ll be happy to go. Not because I want to show off or feel superior or anything negative or haughty or unkind. No, I want to go to see how everyone else has turned out, staying there, where they want to be, and to remember how I’ve turned out, leaving, going where I wanted to go.