I recently said to my buddy Marcus (as wise a man as I’ve ever known) that I wasn’t writing much lately because I had too many thoughts in my head and I couldn’t decide what to write about, to which he replied “isn’t that what writing is for?” And so here I am on a cold, rainy Saturday, remembering that I started this particular blog with no preconceived notions about what it should be, which means that the fact that I can’t decide what to write about should actually be a benefit to this blog, if not necessarily a benefit to you good people.
Mrs. Circle Pit and I are headed south next week, to visit some friends in Austin, Texas, and I’m extremely excited about that. I lived in Austin from late May 2003 until mid-August 2006, when my first marriage fell apart for a variety of reasons (namely that I married the wrong person), and I haven’t been back since I left, also for a variety of reasons. My time there is well documented in my journals, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about re-visiting those days in my writing, and this seems like as good a time as any.
A little background: in my early twenties, I decided I wanted/needed to move away from the area I’d lived my entire life. I’d recently watched Twin Peaks for the first time, which went a long way toward instilling a sense of both wonderlust and wanderlust, and I decided to visit my friend Kara in Seattle, in part because I missed her, but also so I could make her drive me to North Bend, where much of the fictional town of Twin Peaks is located in real life.
Everything about the trip was amazing and perfect, and I returned home determined to move there. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. If you know me at all, you know that I’m both indecisive and lazy, two things that are not good companions to determination. Instead I continued living in my parents’ house, delivering pizza part time, and saving approximately $0.00 toward any kind of life change.
Then one fateful day, my friend Matt got married. Well, the fateful day was actually the day before, when I arrived about 30 minutes early to the rehearsal. There I met Tara, best friend of the bride-to-be, bridesmaid, and all-around cool chick. I sweated my way through some long since forgotten conversation with her (and with the minister, whose conversational skills made mine seem good), and the next day at the reception, I slammed down two rum and cokes so I could work up the nerve to ask her to dance. She accepted my sweaty offer, and we had a nice time, and the next day I sweatily returned to delivering pizza part time while I lived in my parents’ house, where I continued to sweat.
A couple weeks later, fresh off his honeymoon, Matt called me up while I was working and dropped a knowledge bomb on me in a way that is so perfectly Matt. Our conversation – or at least my recollection of it – went something like this:
Matt: “Did you have a nice time at the reception?”
Me: “I did.”
Matt: “Tara had a nice time, too.”
Me: “Oh, cool.”
Matt: “Is that all?”
Me: “Should there be more?”
Matt: “No, I guess not. I’ll just tell Katherine to let Tara know you’re not interested.”
Matt is very good at talking in circles and speaking in riddles; it’s part of what I love about him. And while unrelated this particular conversation, he also likes to argue. I shouldn’t have been surprised when he decided to go to law school. Anyhoo…
Moving the story along: Tara and I started talking on the phone, pretty much every night, and we started making plans for me to visit her in Austin ASAP. Her involvement in grad school got me excited about college for the first time in a long time, and I decided to go back in school for something like the 300th time . I flew down to visit her shortly after the fall semester began, missing a few days of classes in the process, but I had an amazing time, and I fell in love with both the girl and the city. Suddenly, my wanderlust had a real and specific destination.
We spent time together over our Christmas break, and I flew back down to visit her over my spring break the following March. We attended the Bloodshot Records showcase at SXSW while I was there, and it was fucking awesome, and I also spent some time finding an apartment, finally settling on a one-bedroom place one block away from Tara’s apartment.
I had the most enjoyable and successful semester of my long and wasteful state university career (3 A’s and a B+), and moved to Austin less than one month after the semester ended. My dad, my brother, my cousin, and my nephew all helped with the move, which was an exhausting and miserable 18-20 experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. They left the next day, and just like that, I was 1,000 miles from home, seemingly forever.
I found a job at an H-E-B, stocking the grocery shelves overnight. It was awful, and it remains the only job I’ve ever quit via the hated “no-call/no-show”. I also decided on a whim (after seeing a commercial on TV) to visit the local culinary school and see what they had to offer, as I’d long had in interest in cooking. Approximately 90 minutes later, they had me signed up to start classes in two weeks.
I won’t go into my experiences at school all that much, except to say that it was not a very good school (they’re actually no longer in business, as they were one of those shady for-profit schools that preys on people like the person I was in 2003), and the bulk of what I learned there was only indirectly related to cooking (Chef Leichter’s stories of cooking in New York City were hilarious and fascinating). I did gain a few things of note, however.
First, I got a job through the school, working full time at a cafeteria (the Harcourt Cafe) in a corporate office building (the Harcourt Building), making coffee, then going on to cook breakfast and lunch for the employees of a company that publishes textbooks for elementary, junior-high, and high school classes. I met some cool people there – both co-workers and customers (I also met some real assholes there) – and I have enough stories from my two-ish years there for at least one more full blog post, but I also learned a lot about cooking while I was there (way more than I learned in culinary school).
Second, I made some friends at school that I’m still friends with today. I’ve lost touch with/completely forgotten about way more of my classmates, but I’m still in contact with a few of them, and they’re good people, and I’m glad that I know them.
The third thing of note that happened to me at culinary school was meeting Alison. She was in my class, and I’d noticed her early on, thinking offhandedly that she seemed funny and was cute, but that was that. We continued on with our schooling, finishing out our year by working together for six weeks in the school’s short-order style cafe. Next thing I know, I’m breaking up with Tara one week before we’re scheduled to move in together. I didn’t handle it well, but in my defense, I’d never broken up with anyone before. Tara was my first girlfriend, which I didn’t mention earlier only because it didn’t fit the flow earlier. I obviously should’ve broken up with her sooner, but I legitimately had no idea how to go about it.
I still feel kinda bad about the whole thing, and I don’t know if she ever thinks about me anymore, but if she does, I’m sure it’s directly related to what an asshole I am, and if that’s the case, she is not wrong about that.
Without a place to live, I ended up moving in with Alison right away, doing little to quell Tara’s suspicions of my infidelity (which for the record were unfounded, at least in a physical sense, though I’d certainly checked out of that relationship emotionally at least a month prior to the breakup). She drunkenly proposed to me on her birthday that August, and I stonededly accepted, and we were joined in unholy matrimony the following January.
In retrospect, I think that’s where we went wrong.
My family and my friends Kara and Katie all traveled down to attend the ceremony and reception, and a good time was had by most. I probably should’ve taken the raging migraine I endured on our short honeymoon as a sign of things to come, but I was too swept up in love and lust.
We kept on keepin on, me working full time at the Harcourt Cafe, her looking for work part of the time and doing who knows what the other part. Her employment status certainly added some strain to our marriage, but I believed in us, or I wanted to, anyway.
When our lease ended, we moved to the south side of town, into what I soon realized was a Section 8 apartment complex (when something seems too good to be true, it probably is). Many shitty adventures awaited us there, but there was a silver lining – Alison got a job! And it was close-ish to my workplace, so we could carpool!
Some of the shitty adventures involved Fred, our downstairs neighbor. Fred was unemployed and on disability, and spent most of his days and nights leaning on the stair railing drinking and smoking, making it nearly impossible for us to enjoy the out-of-doors, as he simply couldn’t not talk to us, or more accurately, at us. The memory of his drunken laugh still makes my skin crawl. His wife, Tammy, was friendly enough, but interacting with her always bummed me out; I could sense the sadness and regret in her eyes and in her voice.
Fred had a shitty mid-90’s Mercury Sable that he outfitted, bafflingly enough, with an alarm. It was a shitty car, owned by a shitty person, so naturally the alarm was shitty. Fred’s goddamn car alarm went off ALL THE DAMN TIME.
Neighborhood kid rides his skatebard down the sidewalk? There goes Fred’s car alarm.
Thundershower rolls through? There goes Fred’s goddamn car alarm.
Garbage truck collects the trash at 5 in the morning? There goes Fred’s motherfucking car alarm. And naturally, Fred was always passed the fuck out when that would happen.
There are many more stories about our year living in the ghetto, but I’ll save them for another time, because I don’t have all day. Suffice to say, the stress of living there (along with with stress of our 20 minute commute to work taking over an hour on the return trip because of the goddamn ridiculous traffic in Austin) definitely added more cracks to the foundation of our union. When that lease ended, we moved back north.
Our new place was much nicer, and it was located such that I could ride my bike to work, which was nice/essential when my car (my beloved 1994 Kia Sephia that I’d driven down there, as well as all over the midwest before I moved to Texas) wouldn’t pass the mandatory state inspection for registration. Alison got a new job somewhere around that time as well, and things were looking up. We moved in on a cold, drizzly February day, and the next morning, I walked out the front door and down the stairs to look around the parking lot, only to slip on some ice on the bottom step, bust my ass, and spill my coffee. Like that honeymoon headache, the incident should’ve set off warning alarms.
Time marched on, and Alison started talking about this new friend from work who she thought would be a good match for our friend Leah. She arranged for the two of them to come over and hang out one night, and there was no obvious chemistry between them, but looking back with that perfect 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight, I can see the faintest beginnings of what eventually culminated in Alison leaving our house to stay with him while I spent my last two weeks in town packing up my stuff and waiting for my dad and my cousin to drive back down and help me move back home, because she and I now resided in Splitsville, USA.
I wrote a poem about us:
You never changed your maiden name
I never got that matching tattoo
Neither of us ever did a goddamn thing
We said we were gonna do
I spent my last week there staying with my buddy Steve, who also let me keep all my shit in his garage while I worked out my notice at my job. In the early evening hours of August 18, 2006, my dad and cousin arrived in a rented van, we loaded up all my worldly possessions (aside from some junk I left behind on purpose, in part so she’d have to deal with throwing it away or otherwise figuring out what to do with it), and drove up to Waco, where we stopped to stay for the night. Next morning we lit out for home, taking a very long, not-even-remotely-on-the-way detour to Springfield, Missouri, so they could see the Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters. Given the situation, I was in no position to protest their decision, but to say I was unhappy about adding at least an hour of drive time to what already seemed like a 15,000 hour trip would be putting it mildly.
At any rate, we arrived at my parents’ house very late on August 19th (or possibly very early on August 20th), and Dad drove me to Bloomington the following afternoon and helped me unload the van into my new place, and a brand new chapter of my life began just as quickly as the last one had ended. That chapter may or may not be related here another time.
Long story short, I’m now happily married to the love of my life (going on 10 years!), and in just a little under 68 hours, I’ll be back in Austin for the first time in 13 1/2 years, and as I mentioned previously, I’m very excited. I’m gonna visit Austin Books and Comics and Waterloo Records and Amy’s Ice Cream and maybe Magnolia Cafe and I’M SO EXCITED! Also, I won’t be at work, and that’s definitely a bonus.
I do hope I don’t run into Tara or Alison, but it is a possibility, because as far as I know, all my ex’s do, in fact, live in Texas.
Thanks for reading, y’all. Until next time…