02 October 2005

I am caught...

...I can explain it best by saying that I’m somewhere between where I exist in actual reality, and where I was from the ages of 17 to 27.

Being in Spring lately, the area where I grew up, I’ve realized how many things have remained the same since I left home for college in 1991. On Friday while I was working at a coffee shop, a girl walked in wearing my high school colors...blue and gold from head to toe. Her spirited costume included striped Pippy-Longstocking socks, a blue bow in her ponytail, trademark yellow Converse high tops and a gold polo shirt with STANDLEADER stitched across the back. Her uniform was almost identical to what the Standleaders wore nearly fifteen years ago. (I can’t believe it’s been that long.) The Standleaders were comprised of about twenty guys and girls who wore the fabulous ensemble described above, who performed skits at pep rallies and stood in the bleachers during football games getting the crowd excited. They were kind of like cheerleaders, minus the gymnastics stunts and teensy skirts, and just like every other senior at my high school, I desperately wanted to be one (sort of.) I wasn’t picked though, so I lived vicariously through my friends who were, and filled my extra-curricular schedule with Student Council and the newspaper staff.

A few hours later, I left the coffee shop and drove home. I noticed that the skater kids are still hanging out with their skateboards and black T-shirts on the cement lot at the edge of the neighborhood. When I was seventeen, there were popular kids, there were skaters, and there were lots of groups in between. Amazing how the same cliques that existed years ago to rob us of our true identities for the sake of fitting in, still manage to endure today and probably always will.

[So it’s almost like I’ve been plucked from what I think of as my normal life and am floating around with one foot in my past and the other foot reluctantly in the present. I think part of it is just being here (where the past is all around me) and part of it is that my experiences these past few weeks have bent me toward reflection.]

Today I let my floating lead me downtown. I had to get away. If I can be honest, I find that the suburbs start to suck my spirit dry after very many days. I am a city girl usually…other times I love the tranquility of a small town where faces are all friendly, or escaping to the mountains or a beach. But the suburbs feel like purgatory to me. I can’t breathe here for very long.

Downtown (Houston) is where I lived for most of my middle twenties, and it was a time rich with memories. I found myself tracing a lot of them today, riding through the years in my father’s shiny red pick-up truck (which I must say I feel quite ridiculous driving.) I wandered for at least six hours with no sense of time, paying no particular attention to which direction I was steering, but ending up in places that felt like home and connected me back to myself.

I drove past my old apartment at Three Fountains II, where I lived for a few years with Lisa. It was like our own little less-scandalous Melrose Place, because several other close friends lived in the complex too, and we’d hop between apartments and cook dinner for each other. Those apartments had an oldness to them that was really comfortable. Lots of dark wood and built-in shelves and the smell of nostalgia that is hard to describe. It was a time that we all seemed to burn a lot of incense for no particular reason, and had deep theological discussions, and shopped at thrift stores for old cardigan sweaters that made us feel like we had the wisdom of saints (or at the very least, scholars.)

I drove past a lot of our favorite hang-outs…Mama’s Café where we’d all gather for late night talks and bottomless cups of cinnamon coffee. It was the kind of place, and the kind of time, that you know when you’re in it it’s something special and it’s not going to last forever. I drove past General Joe’s Chopsticks (or what used to be it), where I always ordered Moo Goo Gai Pan and met friends for lunch. I drove by The Blue Hand, our favorite shop to buy earrings and candles and anything with an ethnic flair.

I crossed town and drove slowly past my West Gray apartment, where I lived by myself for a year or two after Lisa went to the Czech Republic to teach. I loved that apartment, and that time in my life too...my alone period, I like to call it. Our group had kind of scattered into wisps by then. We still saw each other, but it took more intention. I lived in the more eclectic part of town now, and my bedroom had a little room attached to it that I used as a miniature art studio. Saturday afternoons were my favorite. I’d sit in my Art Room with the bamboo blinds rolled up to let in streaks of sunlight, and I’d sketch or paint or write for hours, listening to Garrison Keillor whistling through his nostrils on A Prairie Home Companion. Down the street was a little French bakery, and the River Oaks Theatre which showed independent films.

Today I kept going though, past the bakery, past my old apartment, turning onto Montrose toward the museum. The last time I was at the museum was with my dad, a couple of years ago. It was during a Christmas visit and we had a date--just the two of us. Out to lunch and to the art museum, and I bought a Picasso print for Jeremy. I passed Ming’s Café where I used to go for solo dinners (good grief I eat a lot of Asian food!) and I’d sit out on the deck with a plate of stir-fry and a bottle of Rolling Rock. It’s so funny to think back to that…something I can’t imagine doing now, having a bottle of beer by myself. I wasn’t depressed or anything---it just went really well with the Hunan Chicken and the humidity.

I made a turn and passed The Menil, a smaller museum where I took Alexandria. I was a nanny for the summer when I first moved to the area, and worked for a very wealthy family with an only-child named Al-ex-an-dri-a (emphasis on each syllable.) She was a very sweet little girl whose parents were busy attorneys, and I made it my goal to show her some culture. This was a child whose favorite food was couscous and who had never seen a Barney video, so it wasn’t a stretch really. I took her to see the Menil Collection, and we studied the sculptures and jotted down sketches. Then we bought hunks of grey clay from the art supply store and attempted to recreate what we had seen. Truth be told, I think she'd have much preferred playing Barrel O' Monkeys, but she had learned to fake things pretty well.

Curving around the three billowing fountains on the rim of Hermann Park, I got disoriented where the road forked and ended up in the Medical Center. At the stoplight, I looked up to see a familiar sign for Scurlock Tower and realized that I was right next to Methodist Hospital where I had back surgery in 1991.

I found my way back to more welcoming sights, like my favorite music shop to browse with Jenni--Cactus Records, and a jewelry store--Fly High Little Bunny--that I always liked the name of. I ended up at Diedrich Coffee. They no longer carried my favorite chocolate biscotti, but amazingly, they were still featuring artwork by a painter whose print I bought seven years ago. After finishing my tea, I walked between the buildings through a small alley with a cobblestone path. It has always seemed so out of place there, like something that belonged in Italy instead. There used to be potted rosemary plants edging the walk, and I’d pinch some off when I passed and hold it to my nose. Today the rosemary was gone, replaced by a long stalk of basil that I had to hunt to find. I plucked off a couple leaves just for the sake of habit.

Another thing I noticed while driving today is that I kept passing bright hibiscus bushes. I am not sure if they just grow plentiful in Houston because it’s so hot, or if it was meant to be symbolic that they were everywhere today, jutting out of storefronts and window boxes every place I looked. Hibiscuses are my dad’s favorite, and he has them all over his garden.

As I drove along, letting my mind wander through intersecting strands of my life, I flipped the radio stations too. I heard a lot of Journey, which I found sort of funny...ironic maybe. I also let it linger on a few old country songs, remembering back to when those songs filled my house and my father’s collection of records.

A song came on that I had never heard before…it was called “Walking In Jerusalem Just Like John”…and I listened to the words and drove and drove, letting everything outside the windows fade into a blur and letting the inside start to matter again, just until the song ended.


GL said...

You evoke the bittersweet of home, the journey, good things past, the wonder of who we were and how we became. Beautiful.

Jason Frank. said...

Wonderful post. Thank you.