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« In Which The World Is Burning Somewhere Else »

Doing This Again


As a little one I loved school. It was normal. It always helps to be good at it and to have a nice teacher. My parents went away every day, and when they traveled and I felt particularly lonely my first grade teacher asked me if I would like to call her at night just for a familiar voice. I did. And then I was given a hardcover copy of an interesting book called Annie Bananie, My Best Friend. Evidently, we were moving on. To Texas. I didn’t even know I was "from" any place at all until then, but afterwards this "from" concept would be a problem.

It was August, there was tumbleweed, and as my father drove us "home" from the airport my sister and I wept. It was really hot, and by that I mean awful. The first day of school I found out I had missed last year’s introduction to cursive. Horrifying. Behind. I also learned a new word, so common that the other second graders used it in cursive in their little journals we kept to practice writing. "Yawl" or "ya’ll" or "yall" or even correctly, "y’all." But this was simply too much. I remember sobbing that night, a seven-year-old cutie from the preppiest town on Long Island, describing these barbarians (yes, my name is Barbara) to my parents. I can't imagine how they dealt with me, or what they felt when they found out they had a snob on their hands.

In spite of this seemingly innate bitchiness, the children of Dallas were kind to me and became my friends. I caught up in cursive and slipped into y’allsing every now and then. Soon I was from Dallas, I became a normal, average teenager. I wasn’t too good or too bad, and I wanted to be Winona Ryder in Reality Bites (that’s actually Houston) so just before ninth grade began I cut off my hair. I had cool friends even if I wasn’t awesome, and no one even made fun of my boy hair because the point of a girls' high school was not to start hot and stay hot, but to start a kid and end up a woman. So. Then we were moving again.

In Houston being from Dallas was like being from the moon. And a leper colony. I had no friends for the first six weeks of school and from August to October I went to the phone booth at lunchtime, to cry instead of having to sit alone in the cafeteria. Great attitude. Where the hell was Tavi Gevinson then? Probably not born yet.

Part of the problem was that little snob inside, who thankfully found acceptance at college and occasionally snuck out of hiding while I lived in New York, where she had been born, where my family lived and where mild snobbery is neither exceptional nor such a bad thing: "Home."

Then I decided to move. It was in tiny part about loving or wanting someone who had left for California before me, but it’s mostly a cruel streak of habit and a desire to challenge whatever I think of as my identity. Whether it’s true or not, I believe that once you start moving around, it does not get any easier to adjust to new places, it’s just awfully hard to terminate the pattern. My mother, who has moved at least 25 times, says you can make a home for yourself anywhere. And I have taken this statement as a dare. Who are you when the things you do and the people you know and the places and certainties change abruptly, for you, and you can’t get back home because you’ve just forsaken it? Anyone you want to be?

It helped that I could convince my best friend to drive with me, and it was awesome. Well, I was kind of a mess, but I was also so excited to go and explore and see what I was worth to other people. My friends in Los Angeles were amazing despite obnoxious complaints about traffic, pollution, strangeness, erratic public transportation, occasional rain, etc., so I thought "I can do this again!"

I came back to Texas, this time to Austin, ready to embrace August this time, to go back to school again. I knew summer here was not really a great way to kick things off. I didn’t suppose it would be this bad. The drought here has been exacerbated by temperatures in excess of anything seen before. God is clearly punishing Rick Perry or me, or all of us Texans and our plants and animals and water. Driving through the western half of the state from California I passed scorched corridors that wildfires had recently decimated, groves of thirsty live oaks alternatively charred and spared, all of us equals under the wide greedy heavens.

My first evening in Texas there was a burst of lightning and rain splattered Marfa, kicking up dirt before evaporating. That’s the last time I saw this enormous blue sky do something so kind as obscure itself in the daytime. Austin’s summer has finally ended, the hottest on record, and just this week daily highs dipped below 100˚ for the first time in two and a half months. Given the circumstances, the outbreak of wildfires around Austin was unsurprising but dramatic and scary. The sunset reminded me of Los Angeles, colorful through all that smoke. Meanwhile my old apartment in Greenpoint was in a Flood Zone B, two blocks from the East River, and had just days before escaped Irene/Borene. Everywhere a natural disaster zone.

Graduate school is like a mix between high school and college, so far, as we’re all shy aliens of different ages, doing different things, and it is hard to be the right amount of friendly to absolute strangers. On the first day I dressed myself as Scandinavian, with clogs and a Marimekko tunic and everything, and it really did not matter because adults are less likely to really notice what other people are wearing, and no one else seemed to have dressed "special" for the occasion.

I brought all of this with me, ideas about who to think about and how to act and where to say I'm from, and I got my sister to come and make sure it’s really true, that I arrived and that I still exist. All of the people who love me, who I love, I think about them all the time that I am not worrying about sunscreen or my reading for Tuesday or new wrinkles. I do not love a single soul in Austin yet and I think that is the strange thing, why it feels very weird to be here, to live here. Not so weird as it feels to be cool in my air-conditioned house when the world around me is burning or to find delightful fruits and lettuces inside grocery stores when I can’t keep a sage plant alive in my backyard.

Wherever you are, be somewhere else. But no matter how hard you resist, you will also be exactly where you are. So thank Tim Berner-Lee for the www, and please send us your rain.

Barbara Galletly is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Austin. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Photographs by the author.

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