It’s Valentine’s Day in Austin and good god is it fucking gorgeous outside tonight. I’m at my sister’s house, doing my laundry and sitting on the patio watching through a baby monitor as my nephew sleeps. My sister and her husband went out to dinner, and in return for baby monitor-sitting I was promised a slice of cake from the restaurant.
I’m single now.
I never thought much of Valentine’s Day to begin with, but that was easier to say when I was in a relationship. It’s a dumb made-up holiday! Why can’t we show love whenever we want? Why go out when everything’s so crowded? Cards are stupid! and so forth. And I still think all of that is true, but this year it’s hard to see my coupled friends’ smiling faces in pictures from their dates. I talk to these coupled friends about my breakup, and I imagine that after I leave their houses and head home, they look at each other and say, “I love you so much! Thank god we have each other!”
Well, thank god you do.
I tried to reserve a houseboat on Lake Travis for myself for tonight. I thought, what better way to spend Valentine’s Day this year than alone with myself and the lake and some wine and good snacks and, I don’t know, sleeping in a berth or something? The houseboat turned out to be booked for tonight, but I got so attached to the idea that I claimed it for tomorrow night instead. I’ll still have the wine and snacks and berth, and it’ll be a nice thing to do for myself.
I can’t talk about the breakup here, of course, but I will tell you this: I’m moving to St. Louis. My dad’s condition never improved much after his brain surgery last July (I have a half-finished part 2 post on that I’ll revisit sometime), and my mother is now his full-time caregiver. When I told my trapeze instructor that I was considering moving closer to my parents, she said, “Well, you have to lead your own life, right? But I guess that’d be hard to do if you just sit around Austin worrying about them and feeling helpless.”
And that’s pretty much it. They’re too young and able to start thinking about assisted living, but the house and my dad are too much for my mom to take care of by herself. She puts on a very game, very capable face, but I can see the cracks forming in it, both figurative and literal, and I know she can’t go on much longer without my help.
My sister and I tried to get our parents to move to Austin, since she and I both live here and could share the workload, but my mother won’t hear it. When we brought it up she revealed that she hated all thirty years she spent living in Houston, and now that she finally got out of Texas she doesn’t want to go back, even to a different city. I’ll admit it hurt me a little to hear that since I was raised here, but I understand. In any major life decision involving multiple people there is always a stubborn one, and this time my mom has earned it.
There are other factors. I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, and I’ve always said I would like to live somewhere else eventually. I work remotely now, so I can move without having to find a new job. The Texas summer heat is getting to me, the cost of living in Austin is skyrocketing, I’m tired of the politics here. St. Louis isn’t exactly what I pictured, and it isn’t perfect, but it’ll do. In my mid-thirties I’ve found myself desperate to own a house in a way I never was before, and St. Louis has lots of beautiful, affordable old houses I’d be comfortable and happy living in.
Alone. Which is fine. It’s fine.
I cry a lot these days. It’s triggered by random, mundane things, and then when it starts I don’t even know why or what it’s for. Is it the end of my six-year relationship? Is it leaving the town and friends I’ve known for ten years? Is it not being near my baby nephew to spend time with him and watch him grow up? Is it leaving Texas, the only state I’ve ever known? Or is it the fact that my father, my constant, my rock, the person who always understood me even when nobody else did, isn’t really there anymore?
I mean, he’s there. But he doesn’t know what day it is.
I think about how excited the pre-surgery Dad would be to help me with buying a house. He’d have all sorts of advice about it, which he’d only give me if I asked, but I would ask. He’d know what to do about the financial aspects, the inspection process, the weird little problems and quirks that come with owning an old home. He’d help me knock out walls and install and fix things and we’d have a great time doing it.
But if he wasn’t in this condition, I wouldn’t be moving to St. Louis, and I wouldn’t be buying a house, so none of that would ever happen anyway.
My active imagination allows me to think about all sorts of things that might happen to me, and live them out in my head as if they were real. Last year I wrote that applying and interviewing for jobs was like living a thousand different imaginary lives. With each application, with each interview, I’d picture myself driving to that job, working in that office, traveling for business meetings, moving to a different area of town to live closer to work. And with each rejection, that little life in my head would die, and I’d have to start all over again.
I do that with everything. When I make new friends I invent road trips we should take together. When I used to go on dates I would think about what my life would be like with that person. When my nephew was born I pictured all the time he would spend with his grandfather, learning about sports and woodworking and music and farming and history and all the things my Dad knows and taught me about.
But that won’t happen either. My father is not able to care for his only grandchild.
Okay, maybe I do know what I’m crying about.
I’ll be all right eventually, I guess. I’ll move to St. Louis in a few months and live in an apartment until I can buy a house. I’ll take little weekend trips to places in the Midwest I’ve never been, or to visit old friends who live nearby. I’ll restart my jewelry business. I’ll learn trapeze at a different aerial studio with a different instructor. I’ll make new friends. I’ll meet someone? Maybe? I suppose it’s not impossible to imagine that someday my life won’t be a hot garbage fire, and someone new will come along and say, hey, I want in on that.
But then while I’m on the date with the someone new I’ll get a call from my mom saying that my dad fell down the stairs again, and I’ll have to leave the date to go help him, and then I’ll never hear from that guy again.
Which is fine. It’s fine. That guy sucks anyway.
In the past four years I’ve lost two jobs, my beloved dog died, my nephew was born, my father had brain surgery that didn’t work, I ended a long-term relationship, and now I’m going to move to a different state to help care for my father. When does it ever stop?
It doesn’t, does it? I keep waiting for things to calm down and they never do. I’ll get my heart broken again or I’ll lose this job or my other dog will die or I’ll fall off the trapeze or my new house will burn down or my mother will get sick.
I was talking to my sister earlier about everything I’m going through. I was telling her about some unexpected feelings I’m having, and how I think they’re maybe just my grief over what’s happening to Dad and the end of my relationship and moving away from my friends, but my brain is manifesting them in a different way so I can handle them better.
“Does that sound right to you?” I said. “How’s my armchair psychology?”
She paused. “It sounds fine, I guess.”
“Well, why can’t you just feel your feelings? Do they have to be manifestations? Can they just be what they are?”
“I… I guess they can.”
“I mean, they are what they are, and you’re going to go through them no matter what shape they take.”
This had never occurred to me.
Every few years I get the overwhelming desire to blow my life up and start over. I’ve only done it once, when I left Houston and moved to Austin in 2005, but the compulsion is often there. What I learned in 2005 is that when I feel this compulsion, it always means that what I’m not happy with isn’t my life, it’s myself. I blew up my life when I moved to Austin, but it didn’t work, because when I got there I was still me.
But I’m not the same me now that I was in 2005. I’m still a little weird and self-centered and abrasive. I dramatize things to cope with them, I’m plagued by insecurity and anxiety, I’m oversensitive and over-serious and over-analytical. But I’ve learned how to take care of myself in a way that minimizes these things. I’ve learned how to be a better friend and a better family member. I’m stronger now.
When I move to St. Louis, I can take me with me, and that’ll be okay.