Last month, Mike and I were driving home from an event in downtown San Antonio. We were making our way through a part of town we’d visited more often when our kids were young, but not as often in recent years. Even so, it was easy for us to see how much had changed.
All of which led us to realize that we’ve now lived in San Antonio longer than we’ve lived anywhere else during our almost-29-years of married life. In a few more years, I’ll have lived in San Antonio longer than anywhere else. That includes Boise, Idaho, the town where I grew up.
Is that why I think of myself as a Texan? Why I feel an obnoxious swell of pride when a Texan makes me proud, or a flush of shame when a Texas politician (much too often, I confess) leaves me feeling embarrassed? Why my spine straightens out involuntarily when someone suggests that Texas should just go ahead and secede, because who would miss it?
I don’t know. What I do know is that I spent most of my life feeling like a (voluntarily) displaced Idahoan, and I don’t feel that way anymore. When people ask where I’m from, I don’t say “Originally . . . but now . . .” I just say I’m from Texas.
And I don’t think it’s a simple matter of having lived here for a while. There are places where Mike and I lived for many years and never felt at home, places we lived for a short time and loved nonetheless. For instance: we spent only two years in Iowa City, while I earned my MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Those were very difficult years, for a number of reasons. And yet I’ve often joked that, if it ever appears I’ve dropped off the face of the earth, people should start looking for me in Iowa City. I can imagine myself ending up there again someday.
By contrast, we spent six years in Columbia, Missouri, while Mike and I were working on our doctoral degrees. Those years were happy ones, for the most part: the doctoral program was a good fit for us. We had excellent, affordable daycare right on campus. I got my first grown-up job (with health insurance and everything) at the University of Missouri, once I’d completed my course work–and I had supervisors who supported me as I balanced that employment with completing my dissertation.
But for all those good things, Columbia never grew on us. I’m positive that has nothing to do with the place itself–I can’t say one negative thing about Columbia. I can say many wonderful things about the friends we made in the years we lived there, some of whom came to feel like family. We’ve all kept in touch over the many years since graduate school. And yet Columbia isn’t a place I think we’ll go back to, even for a visit.
I’m not sure how a place works its way into or out of our hearts. When I go back to Boise, I don’t feel like I’m going home anymore. In part, that’s because things have changed so much in the years since I left for good. The city itself has expanded outward, as most cities do; little farming communities that used to be far outside the city limits are part of the Boise metro area now. (The fact that Boise has a metro area is, in itself, hard for me to accept.) Only a handful of things look familiar anymore.
Which is not to say I have negative feelings toward this place, either. I’m always happy to go back and visit my sister and brother, both of whom live there still. But whenever I’m in Boise now, it feels like visiting–not like going home. Especially now that my parents have died, and the house where the three of us grew up belongs to another family.
As a teenager, of course, I couldn’t wait to get out of Idaho and into the world. (That had more to do with being a teenager than with Idaho.) I went to graduate school in the Midwest by way of doing just that. And while I was homesick the minute I left, that was mostly because it’s scary to navigate a new place by yourself. It took a year or so to settle into the new life I was building there.
I lived in Kansas for four years. I met my husband there, and most of his family still lives in the area where he grew up. We’ve gone back intermittently, over the years, but Kansas is another place neither of us feels especially connected to anymore. When we drove through the college town where we met in 1987, after his uncle’s funeral a few years ago, both Mike and I had the feeling that this would be the last time we made the rounds. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to go back again.
We thought Texas would be a temporary stopping place, too. We came to San Antonio in 2001 thinking we’d stay here for a few years, while we learned how to be full-time professors–then one of us would find another job, and we’d move on. We had no plan for where we wanted to end up; we’d just never thought of Texas as the place where we’d be digging in for the long haul. We couldn’t imagine how that would happen.
But here we are, making our way through the endless summer portion of the Texas year. (People in other parts of the world call this autumn. We don’t even try to fool ourselves into thinking summer is over. Not until late October, anyway.) We’re looking forward to another mild Texas winter without the snow we thought we’d miss, but haven’t once.
Because it turns out that, when you put down roots someplace, that place will sometimes do the same to you.