Last week I went to Houston to take a class for work. I spent my days in class, my afternoons in the hotel or at the movies, and my evenings driving around town, wondering what to do with myself.
Last week is when I realized that Houston doesn’t feel like home anymore. There are more people there I want to avoid than people I want to see, more places not to go than places to go. Some of the places not to go have disappeared, too, leaving little holes in the landscape, not-places to which I will not go.
As I drove around I kept remembering things I don’t remember. I turned right from Westheimer onto Mandell and had a sudden flash of going to someone’s house nearby. There was a whole big group of us at this person’s house, it was late at night, and whoever lived there wanted to teach me how to play the drums. But since it was so late, I couldn’t play too loudly, so I had to hit each drum and cymbal as if tapping a spoon against a wine glass. That’s all I remember about that night. Whose house was it? Who was I with? Where did I live? How old was I?
When I drove down Wesleyan, I thought of Jamie. Jamie and I took a drawing class together at U of H, and we spent our evenings after classes at a karaoke bar with another friend from class, Laura. Jamie was a singer-songwriter in his spare time, and he gave me a CD with one of his songs on it. One of the lyrics was, “on the corner of Edloe and Wesleyan.”
“Edloe and Wesleyan are parallel,” I said when he played the song for me.
“I know,” he said. “I just thought it sounded cool.”
I had a crush on Jamie, so I listened to the CD multiple times before stowing it carefully inside a Moby CD case. He had a stage name he used because he didn’t like his last name, but I can’t remember what it was. What did he look like? Why did I like him so much?
I have a vivid memory of going to the West Alabama Ice House with Brandon. He sat on the picnic table, I sat on the bench. It was night, and one of the patio lights was right behind Brandon, so he looked like a solid black shadow with no face.
But that memory is false. It never happened.
Houston isn’t real anymore. Driving down the freeways, the streets dappled with potholes, felt like taking a tour of the folds of my own unreliable brain. Houston is a sinkhole, a below-sea-level basin too flooded with memory to hold any new experiences.
When I tell people that I don’t really like living in Austin, most of them say, “Are you going to move back to Houston?” No, I tell them, because moving back to Houston would feel like moving backwards, and I’d rather move forwards.
This isn’t technically true. Since time only goes in one direction, there’s no such thing as moving backwards, not really. If I moved to Houston, I’d still be moving forwards. But it’d be like taking up residence inside my own head. Every experience I would have, every place I would go, would have cast upon it a corresponding shadow of something that already happened, or didn’t happen, depending on how reliable my memory is. “Is this happening right now?” I would ask myself as I walked into a coffeehouse or bar, “or is this happening six years ago? Or is it happening at all?”
This, I think, is what makes time travel possible.