Last week I went to Texas. For those of you still confused about Texas' role in my life - it's where I went to school for four years (2008-2012). More specifically, I returned to my Alma mater - Abilene Christian University - the prestigious institution that I have so generously chosen to give every dollar I'll ever earn for the rest of my life to. No regrets.
Let's be real. Abilene is nestled away in the middle of nowhere. Blasted, arid stretches of classic Texas wasteland cage this sad city in on every side. Vegetation and elevation forsake it, allowing you to see the astounding amount of nothing in every direction. Three hours from anywhere of consequence, it's the perfect place to confuse you about what you want to do for the rest of your life, and then die.
Ah, the school cafeteria. Ever a pretty sight.
I won't sit here and recap my years spent at ACU (I sort of did that here), but I have to say that this trip was an extreme eye-opener for myself. I was basically over college by senior year - having been in it for six years - and could not wait to "free" myself into the world. A silly desperation, really...once you see what the world is like. Because I like to perpetuate the idea that I don't know what I'm doing, I wisely waited until the week before finals in my last semester to decide where I was going after school. I was this close to staying in-state - either in Dallas/Ft. Worth or A-town itself. Thank heavens I didn't; doing so would have been akin to psychological gelding. I don't even know what that would look like.
Once I did decided to leave the state, I said loudly and often that it would take a lot to drag me back to there. Of course, I knew I had no choice but to visit from time to time because many of my best friends live there, not to mention family members. While I pray for them daily because of how sad it is that they live there, there is comfort in knowing that I can find them easily. Despite all of this, I found myself on a plane bound for the Metroplex last week. After spending a week in the outskirts in Arlington, a three-hour car ride carried me back to my tomb in Abilene. Surprise - someone kept it warm for me.
Now, I may be exaggerating a bit but that's only because I have to admit that I actually liked going to school there. That wasn't the case at first. My first glimpse of the school from a car in August of 2008 had me thinking how pretty of a campus it was. Two weeks of residency put that notion to death. I soon became acquainted with the begrudging acceptance of the grimness of it all. Yes, I live here and I will probably die here if I'm not too careful. With Abilene, it's easier than you think.
It ain't bad...at first.
I don't make friends easily. Not only that, but it was my first time away from home. I won't lie - I was very homesick. As in, I took a completely random and inconvenient trip home in the middle of October of my first semester without telling my family. I can still see my mom and brother's faces lit up in horror. They thought they had rid themselves of me. The naivete of them!
My culture shock in Texas mostly stemmed from the fact that people were nice. They held doors open for me, let me pass them on the road, always said thank you, and didn't threaten to kill me if I didn't write their papers for them after jokingly offering to do so at a hall gathering where we ate pancakes and talked about our majors. They liked to eat too. All the time, everywhere. Not only that, but it wasn't hard to be cool in Abilene. Because of this, the social summit of the student body was populated by people who would admittedly be the most annoying crowd in the world anywhere else, if it weren't for the fact that they already were.
No one understood why I was there. Why would I leave San Diego for this place? Good question. Of course, people still ask me that up here all the time so that's nothing new. I often wondered that myself during the cherished times I could go home for breaks, always having to fight the temptation to transfer back home.
Replace "Texas" with anywhere else and you've got the state motto.
I assume it happens with most people, but the concept of "home" finally associated itself with Abilene my third year - the year I became a Resident Assistant in a freshman dorm. It made me feel like I had a purpose. My relationships really took off and I had pride in my job because I was good at it. Well, most of it. I hardly ever checked curfew but ask any one of my old residents and they'll vouch for me. Or blackmail me, depends on who you ask.
Because I was able to finally admit that I enjoyed being there, leaving was very hard. Of course, a very traumatic senior year definitely didn't help my wanting to stay by the end of it, but picking a distant corner of the country to live in post-graduation was a scary thing when it involved voluntarily separating myself from friends I had spent years with to do who-knows-what in a place I had never laid eyes on. I was happy to get out of the "black hole" that is Abilene, but that didn't mean it was easy. I'm sure most of you can relate.
That's what made this trip so enjoyable but difficult at the same time. As I have mentioned to many of my friends in Seattle, it was incredibly strange to see my ex-roommates, fellow students and residents graduating, getting engaged/married, applying to high-level jobs, and discussing their next steps in life. Heck, the dude who lived next door to me when I was an RA got up to give a speech (as student body president) to the graduating class. I was like a proud father. Don't get me wrong, I never got self-conscious about my own life. In fact, I'm sure I was incredibly annoying because I talked about Seattle every opportunity I could, which was plenty of times because people kept asking me about it. Probably because it's certainly cooler than where any them live. The few that put it down wouldn't be able to hack it up here anyways.
Anyways, there isn't really a profound message to this post (is there ever?). I merely wanted to reflect on what it was like to visit the place I had once hated, only to later accept it. And even if I ended up disliking everything about being there, my time there led me to here - which is something I'll forever be thankful for. Thanks, Texas. You really know how to put a guy in a better place.
So here I am, five years removed from being a bewildered freshman and a year removed from graduating with a useless degree. Going back will always be weird. It's not home anymore; it's just a place so heavily etched with memories I can see them on every street corner. I was reminded how much I had already forgotten when my friends would say "Remember when...?" No, I do not. But now that you mention it I'm ashamed I do. I've built a new home now (with plenty of help), and it was difficult reconciling that with the place where I did so much growing up. Not that I don't have plenty more to do, mind you.
I'll be going back many, many times. I'll be seeing my friends and family very often. I'm thankful for Texas for playing such a big part in who I've become, and especially for leading me to where I feel like I belong. If I could shake the Panhandle's hand I would. I can't, so I'll just go draw a mustache on it and a missile hitting El Paso on the Texas map in my car. Because that's the kind of love I have for that place.
Y'all best never forget the places that made you who are.
Am I doing this right?
Ok, I just thought this one was funny: