The Call To Houston

We avoided Houston for ten years. We dodged and weaved, heard rumours, and silently pleaded that it please not be us, not this time. I was happier to go to Libya than make my way to Texas. If Americans are tarred with the same broad stroke of a loud, obnoxious brush – Texas cops a spray can of technicoloured assumptions and cliches.

I got the call. The call that every expat understands and experiences. The call that you’ve been waiting on, the one thats been creeping around in the back of your mind. Your mouth has been moving in conversations that relate to here, but your brain has already gone there. You’re just waiting for confirmation, permission to say it out loud.

“It’s Houston. They want us there in January. We can’t get out of this one. The job has to be done in Houston.” G knew what the news meant for me.

My job was over, I was going to have to resign. The children were leaving their school, our neighbourhood was no longer really ours. The house moved from being a home to something that needed to be improved for sale.

We knew we couldn’t be miserable, the children would notice and we’d all be done for. We had to find the bright side.

After 4 years of Calgary weather we told ourselves the sun would be wonderful in the South. We bribed the children with a promise of Disneyland, and a pool in the backyard. I was excited about seeing old friends, but did it have to be Houston? I mean wasn’t it the land of franchise fast food, big box stores and nut jobs.

We arrived to discover our neighbours were Australian. And they weren’t the only ones in the city. There were others: ballet dancers, musicians, doctors and university professors. It turns out that Houston was a hub for a lot more than cheap TexMex food and drive through Starbucks.

We joined the gym, we rode our bikes on the bayou, we went to the ice-cream shop or the park after school. We caught the latest movies in really comfortable cinemas, we shopped at outlet stores with prices that I can only now dream about. We ate at fabulous restaurants that were comparable to Melbourne or San Francisco. We learnt of openly gay Mayors and vibrant art scenes in cities nearby. We went on road trips, we adopted a beagle. We were slapped in the face with the reality that we had gotten it all terribly wrong. Houston was like most places, you had to dive in to find what you needed, but it was there.

I watched friends get healthier than they’ve ever been (I’m talking from couch to marathon). I discovered organic food chains and a really nifty Middle Eastern supermarket. I watched my children swing from an old oak tree on the front lawn and play baseball at the end of the cul-de-sac. And yes I missed the beach and I hated the flyovers on top of the flyovers, and we met a really scary gun toting redneck (but he was Russian and just plain weird), but I kind of loved being able to say I got on the I10 and took the 69 to route 66. Okay, I never said that, but it was something like that.

It was all just so much better than we had expected.

And then it was time to leave.

G’s on a plane to Houston as I type. He has an empty suitcase and a list. He has great friends to visit and much to look forward to. He excited about getting there and I’m bummed not to be going with him.
The little travellers and I talked about our old life in Houston and what they missed.

“It was just easy, it was sunny, and I loved our house and that we could swim all the time. Do you think we’ll go back and live there again?”

I knew that we wouldn’t. We’ll never live in a big American house with an old oak tree in the front yard again. That was our Houston life. It doesn’t kind of fit anywhere else right now, but even I wasn’t ready to give a definite no.

“Oh my gosh guys! I think we have enough going on right now with this house and the beach house!” I joked.

We all remained quiet. We were all back there on that street. Swinging on the oak tree, and thinking about a swim in the sun.

Houston, I think you may have had the last laugh.

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