Short Time Gone

Part 1

Some months ago, an acquaintance messaged me on Facebook asking if I’d ever published a blog or social media post about why I’d decided to leave Texas. She was considering leaving the state, and wanted to know what had compelled me to move away from a place I clearly loved so much, a place I believed I’d live for the rest of my life. I outlined some of the reasons why I decided to return to the Midwest, and made a note to actually write a full blog post about it.

Ultimately, although I love Texas deeply and will always consider it home, over the past few years, it became apparent that I was not going to be able to live the life I wanted, especially if I stayed in Austin. 1,000-square-foot 1960s bungalows in my neighborhood were selling for a million dollars, and they weren’t even in great shape. There was no way John and I would ever be able to afford the kind of home we wanted if we stayed. Nor was trying to buy a house in another city really an option. Neither of us cares for Dallas. After growing up in a remote rural area, John had no interest in moving to a small town farther west. I adore Houston, but given the way hurricane season seems to be getting worse every year, buying property anywhere on or adjacent to the Gulf Coast does not seem like a wise investment. We both think the Panhandle is depressing. That pretty much leaves San Antonio, and while we both like that city, neither of us loved it enough to resign from our jobs and totally start over. 

Then there’s the issue of infrastructure. The 2021 Snowpocalypse, which left virtually the entire state without power or water, was a contributing factor in our decision to leave. Before that, I hadn’t even known that Texas was on its own power grid (though I wasn’t surprised when I found out). Since then, there do not appear to have been any serious improvements to ERCOT. Austin also faced another crippling ice storm this past January, barely two years after the Snowpocalypse. Between that, Gulf Coast hurricanes, and the desertification of the Hill Country, it doesn’t feel like Texas is a safe place to live in the era of climate change. 

While Texas politics had a small impact on our decision, it was not the biggest factor. I mean, I moved to Missouri. It’s barely a step up. Saint Louis is an amazing city, but like Austin was 15 years ago, it’s a blue dot in a sea of red. But with cost of living being a factor, we were likely to end up in a red state anyway. Illinois is just 15 minutes across the river from our house, but our cost of living expenses would have a dramatic increase. Our options for housing would have been more limited. As it relates to Texas, politics was only a factor in the sense that it was clear that the state government is clearly unwilling to do anything to ensure its citizens are protected from weather disasters. Saint Louis has some of the oldest and well-maintained water and highway infrastructure. It’s not perfect, but it can handle a blizzard. 

I wanted to be able to buy a house with my partner. I wanted to live in a place where I was less likely to lose access to water and power in winter. I wanted to be in a place where I was well-positioned to have access to fresh water in the event of the desertification of the western portion of the country, as well as the potential for a serious environmental apocalypse in my lifetime. Even if there had been a mutually agreeable city in which we could have afforded our dream home, I would have been forever fearing the next big weather event. 

Part 2

Coffee at my favorite burrito place

My friend sent me the initial question sometime in August of 2022. We’re now into 2023, and I’m just now getting around to being able to put these thoughts down. As I type this, I’m actually on a plane flying from Austin to St. Louis, after a brief trip for a Pilates training. It’s the second time I’ve been back since moving; I was in Texas for the first part of my Level 3 teacher training in January. Both times, I’ve mainly been there to work, and haven’t done much socializing, or even let many people know that I’m in town. It’s honestly been painful to return, and with an intense training schedule, I don’t have much bandwidth for going out after. However, advanced teacher trainings in my Pilates program are few and far between; Texas is one of the only states where you can find them. So if I wanted to complete my advanced certification, it was inevitable that I’d be back, even if I wasn’t emotionally ready to return. However, I’m glad I got a few visits in before actually attempting to write this post. Each time I’m back in Austin, I’m caught between the competing feelings of How could I leave? and Thank goodness I left. As difficult as it is to hold both of those emotions at the same time, it’s provided useful reflection.

When I try to get from the airport into town without getting stuck on a toll road, I’m glad I left.

But I feel the sun and see the sky, and my heart aches to return.

When I try to find parking pretty much anywhere, I’m glad I left. 

But I have breakfast or dinner with a friend, and something in me begs to stay forever.

When I see that places I used to love have gone out of business since the last time i was here, I’m glad Ieft. 

But I go for an early morning hike before my flight home, and I wonder how I ever could have imagined being anywhere else.

When I see the downtown skyline, which now boasts some buildings that really should belong to Marvel villains, I’m glad I left. 

But I smell mountain laurel and see bluebonnets and feel like this is my true home. 

What it boils down to was that I had to reconcile two kinds of love: the place where I wanted to spend the rest of my days, and the person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my days. 

Now, to be clear: if I had truly insisted on staying in Texas forever, John would have stayed with me. He would never have made me choose. 

But it’s also true that he wanted to leave. And the day he suggested we consider moving to Saint Louis, I readily agreed, and threw myself into the process of starting over. Because once I have made a decision, I will go all-in. 

In the romantic break-ups I’ve experienced, before the inevitable end, there was always a period in which I was struggling to reconcile who the person actually had become during our time together, versus who they used to be or who they might have been when we first got together. On this second trip to Austin, I realized that’s what I’d been doing with Texas before making the decision to leave. 

When I came to Austin in 2008, it was a particular kind of place: cheap, with decent job prospects, and great weather. As I explored more of the state as a whole, I fell further in love with the varied geography and culture. I loved being able to drive to Mexico. 

But Austin became more expensive and libertarian. The deep flaws in local and state infrastructure came to light. I still adored the west Texas landscape. I was still enchanted by Big Thicket. I still loved the friends I’d made. 

But let’s face it, there were still things I loved about ex-friends and ex-romantic partners even though those relationships were also clearly not going to work out. 

It was never really a choice between the place and the person. It was about recognizing that I could love this place with every single atom of my body, and still know that I couldn’t have the life I wanted if I stayed.

There are no easy conclusions. I will return to this topic again. For now, the plane is about to descend at Lambert International Airport. John will pick me up. We will take 170 to South City. I will keep my eyes open for the Arch, the sight of which tells me I am home. And yet I will still be yearning for my other home.

After tacos with one of my best friends

One thought on “Short Time Gone

  1. As I make my final departure from Austin, it’s interesting to see you make the opposite trip that I made more than 20 years ago now. Missouri is, of course, now, just as hostile a place for people like me as Texas is, but I will always love both St. Louis and Austin. I am really excited for your new life up there.

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