Unexpected Attachments

A person can get tied to a place during the course of lifetime.  For some, the attachment can happen gradually, like the slow-growing roots of an oak tree gripping the soil and rocks beneath so tightly nothing can uproot it.

But for others, it can take place almost overnight; the place can be “just a place” until something triggers a connection so deep and so abiding that it’s impossible to tell that it’s new, that it didn’t grow over a lifetime.  In some cases, I suppose, the attachment is a hybrid; a slow-growing tree aided by the injection of a powerful root stimulator.

Of course the attachment is not physical.  It is mental. It is emotional.  It is tied up in the psyche so deeply, though, that it feels like a physical bond.

I’ve seen these kinds of attachments in other people. I’ve experienced them, too.  I was surprised by them.  And one of them, the one with slow-growing roots, grew so slowly I didn’t even know it was taking place.

When I moved to Chicago in the mid-eighties, I had no particular attachment to Texas except for my family.  After I moved away, I stayed in touch with them, but with few others.  I didn’t read Texas news, did not keep up with Texas politics, and didn’t miss the heat and humidity and deeply conservative nature of the majority of people in the state.  Perhaps the fact that I didn’t miss “things Texan” helps account for the fact that I fell in love with Chicago and the upper midwest.

My attitude about Chicago changed from vague concern for my safety and that of my wife to adoration.  It was a big, cosmopolitan city with unparalleled opportunities to see and experience new cultures and new cuisines.  There was a vibrant, exciting population that was visible! People walked!  The streets of the city filled with people. There was art, music, festivals, fairs, a beautiful lakefront, spectacular architecture, food from a hundred cultures, and people of every color and hue who spoke languages I’d rarely heard in Houston, from which I’d moved to Chicago.

But there was crime and congestion.  The traffic between downtown Chicago and O’Hare airport was the stuff of legends; it was horrible.  The “projects” were dangerous places for anyone, probably doubly so for unsophisticated folks from Texas.   Those downsides notwithstanding, I loved being in Chicago.  What I didn’t love was the job that got me there.  And I didn’t love the job that I had after that.  And the one after that.  I felt a need for more money, more challenge, more responsibility.  Without even realizing I was about to sacrifice one of the things that made me happiest, I took a job that required me to leave Chicago.  I made a temporary move for the job to White Plains, New York, before moving, along with the job, permanently to the Dallas/Fort Worth area several months later.

After the move to Dallas, and after the chaos and long hours of work involved in the job began to subside, I began to realize how much I missed Chicago.  Not only did I miss my wife, who remained there for a year while I was in the process of relocating my employer, but I missed the culture and the environment and the weather.  It was a shock; I hadn’t realized how fully and completely attached I had become to Chicago.  It wasn’t just Chicago.  It was Chicago’s proximity to the beautiful countryside in Wisconsin and Indiana and Michigan.  It was being able to visit apple orchards and fruit stands and buy farm-grown vegetables by the side of the road just a short drive out of the big city.  Though Chicago’s traffic was nothing short of horrific, it had what Dallas did not: a first-class system of public transportation.  So many, many things to miss.  And I did.

But I’d made the move and had to adjust and adapt.  My wife moved down to  join me and we bought a new house in a new subdivision with trees and a feel of being “in the country,” though we were just a short distance away from the thick of the traffic and the chaos of a car-dependent region.  And then, several years later, we moved to another house, the one in which we now live, after I got another job forty miles away.  That job lasted only a little over a year before we started our business, a business that ate up most of our days and evenings for more than thirteen years.

During all that time, though, we adapted to Dallas and to Texas.  We went for long, aimless drives far, far from the madness of Dallas traffic.  We went in search of wildflowers in the spring and we found them; huge fields of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, Mexican hats, evening primrose, giant purple thistles, wine cups, and others too numerous to remember, much less name.  We visited the beaches along the Texas coast, viewing all manner of  birds from roseate spoonbills to laughing gulls to least terns to frigatebirds to cormorants.  We slowly explored the far reaches of Dallas and Fort Worth and east Texas and wandered into Oklahoma and Arkansas and Louisiana.  We went to rodeos and concerts and settled in to a lifestyle that allowed us to get away for brief changes of scenery.  We toured old forts in Goliad and drove through Galveston in the aftermath of  Hurricane Ike.  I remember driving through many old, decrepit little towns and commenting to my wife, “I would love to be able to come here and work to rebuild this place; it could be a beautiful and lively little town with some time and attention.”

I remember back to the years we drove through the desolate and arid but beautiful  stretches of west Texas, where desert morphed into mountains and the skies are so big and beautiful and full of light and color they bring a lump to your throat.

And it’s beginning to hit me.  Just as we’re about to sell our house and move away from Texas, I realize I have an incredible attachment to this place.   The weather, especially the heat of the summer, can be horrible.  Summers in north Texas are brutal and no one should have to endure temperatures of 100, 105, 110 degrees.  The worsening, deeply-conservative-bordering-on-fascist politics of the State are off-putting and, I truly believe, dangerous to freedoms that we enjoy.  The lack of political will to create a decent, if not spectacular, system of public transportation is disheartening.  The car culture shows no signs of abating.  Lack of respect for women, at best, or misogyny, at worst, is rampant, especially in the idiot-cowboy culture.  The heat of the summer can do horrific things to concrete slab foundations.  There’s the risk of tornadoes year-round and the coast is subject to hurricanes from June to November.

But for all those things, I have an attachment to Texas.  After giving this matter a lot of thought, I’ve decided this attachment is the kind that grows slowly over a long period of time.  It’s the kind with roots that slither between the rocks buried deep underground and latch on to them so tightly they cannot come unwound.  My attachment to Chicago is the other kind; the kind that springs into being in the blink of an eye.

So what do I do, now that I’ve come to this realization that I have this life-long attachment that just keeps getting stronger?  How do I break the bonds that tie my soul to this place?  I don’t.  I acknowledge them and move on.  I know I have the capacity to develop strong attachments to other places, so I will develop new attachments.  I will remember and treasure those bonds that have grown over my lifetime so far, but I will not let them interfere with my desire for a better climate, a more hospitable political atmosphere, access to a different and more appealing type of sophistication.

And, lest I don’t forget, this is not all about me.  My wife, too, no doubt has “place” attachments.  She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area; she shared my years, and then some, in Chicago and grew to love the city…but not the cold, snow, and ice.  She has spent decades in Texas, too, and has had most of the same experiences I have had over the last 40 years or so.  So she probably has some of the same feelings I have about attachments (though she is a far more private and introverted person than I).  But she, too, wants to escape the climate, especially.  Even if I weren’t able to comfortably break the shackles to Texas, I would do it because it’s what she wants, too.

All of this leads, inexorably, to the fundamental truth about attachments to place: they are, more than anything, attachments to people.  It’s the people who share the place who matter, not the place itself.  Even the people in Texas…including those who I do not like, admire, or otherwise value…contribute to my sense of Texas as a place.  They help get water to the roots.  But the most important person to me, regardless of place, is my wife.  As long as I’m in a place with her, that’s the best place to be.  That attachment will be vital to my ability to acknowledge my attachment to Texas and move on.

It’s odd, this rather unexpected realization that I have such a remarkably deep attachment to Texas, a place I’ve often criticized and have so frequently wished to leave.  The word “conflicted” is so apropos to the way I feel right now.  But, on the other hand, I am excited to be readying for a completely new adventure, an opportunity to strengthen that already rock-solid bond with my favorite “attachment.”

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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