You Have to Break Up with a Place
Living in Houston has been nothing like I imagined it would be, way back when I first realized that I would inevitably be moving here. The last two and half years have been pleasant, relaxing (in between life curve-balls which were not Houston-specific), and a nice time of both connecting and re-connecting with friends. Getting set up was fast and hassle-free compared to past locations. It turns out that extricating ourselves is the tricky part.
We are in the process of selling our house, which is a pain in the patoot, as I always suspected doing such a thing would be. The trouble is mostly due to managing baby paraphernalia and a baby schedule in the face of unpredictable periods of exile, and the fact that our first offer fell through, slowing down the process of finding the correct buyers. Since the first offer came within days of listing the property, we were faced with wrapping up our life in Houston in a few short weeks, a prospect which left me feeling sad and slightly frazzled.
Then the offer fell through and in the ensuing weeks of house showings and various other low-grade life challenges, I started to feel quite sour at Houston in general. When I shared this feeling with a friend of mine, and expressed my surprise at my change of heart, she astutely observed that "you have to break up with a place". She had been describing her husband's growing impatience with some circumstances at his place of work; little things he had been willing to overlook in the past had now become unbearable now that he was planning to begin working elsewhere. It struck me how much that sounded like what had happened to my relationship with Houston. I had been feeling good here, and then suddenly I wasn't; my affectionate thoughts and concerns about our departure evaporated in the space of days. And so, as our house faces its inspection today, I am feeling hopeful for the strength of this current offer and am allowing my specific complaints about Houston to float to the surface.
It probably sounds silly, but one of the things I hate most is the deplorable condition of the streets and sidewalks. While running outside, or walking the baby in the stroller, I face sidewalks that are broken, interrupted, missing, filthy and in one instance even blocked (for months) by a fallen telephone pole. Once, I tripped on a broken piece of sidewalk which abutted a huge tree root, and a half-block stretch of no sidewalk. When I put my arms down to break my fall, my hand and wrist were both gouged by the broken sidewalk and attacked by a swarm of nasty ants who bit me all over. As if all of that were not enough to deter a committed urban pedestrian, I was also recently bitten by a (leashed) dog. Ugh.
An additional headache day after day are the residents of my neighborhood who park their large vehicles on tiny driveways, blocking any hoped-for passage and forcing pedestrians onto the equally treacherous streets. People who park this way do it over and over again, never receiving any type of citation from the city. Luckily I am able-bodied and have a sturdy stroller, but I feel anger in my heart for the challenges that such obstacles pose to wheelchair-bound and other people with mobility challenges.
I will also not miss Houston's aggressive and terrible drivers, who are so bad and scary that I will not ride my bike in the city, nor will I allow my husband to bicycle with the baby. Lanes are narrow, drivers are fast and careless, and the bike lanes are a joke. Recently on the radio there was a story about a rash pedestrian and bicycle deaths in Houston, and the spokesperson for the police had the audacity to blame the pedestrians and remark that jaywalking would be in the future more aggressively ticketed. Shame on you, Houston.
I will not miss living in a place where the air quality is terrible enough to warrant warnings as part of the weather forecast. I will not miss living somewhere where I am sometimes hesitant to speak my mind in case the other party is trigger-happy. I will not miss being "governed' by Rick Perry. I will not miss living without lakes. I will not miss living in a place which celebrates "freedom" in the name of lawlessness, but is only too happy to deny freedom to women trying to take care of their health.
There are lots of things I like about Houston, and I have spent much energy in the last couple of years enumerating them on this blog. Most of what I appreciate about being here relates to food and our friends. As with any breakup, this is a messy decision, pocked with grey areas of emotion. It is possible that we have put home on a pedestal, and once we get there, we may find it not worth the fuss. Perhaps ultimately we will have to break up with the idea that there is a "home" for us which can be marked on a map.
In the meantime, Houston, it's not me, it's you.