We left Austin on the Monday after the conference ended, heading for Houston. We stopped at a restaurant Rhae recommended and had a good southern meal (hamburgers with fried food) and kitsch for days as eye candy. Trust Rhae for a food solid. Next we hit the outlet mall across the highway for some quick replentishment.
The drive to Houston was about 3 hours and uneventful, which is exactly what one wants out of a 3 hour drive.
Sooooo, in Houston, I have relatives I had not seen in about 20 years, and had not been in contact with for about 7. My mother’s brother, and his wife Nan raised their two girls in Houston. The oldest daughter, Susie, went to Rice and worked at NASA. Betsy is a medical writer working for a prominent heart specialist and runs a theater company in her spare time.
A google search as I prepared for the trip revealed that my uncle had passed away, and that my cousin Susie had died. She was 3 years younger than I. The notice made no mention of how she died, and it was pretty shocking. She was married and had two boys, who I met on a trip that Jeff and I took to Houston in the late 90s. (Note: After Jeff died, I had 7 different addresses in 5 years, so was very difficult to find. They did attempt to find me.)
I had trepidations about re-establishing contact. I have had no contact with any relatives for many years, and that has been working really well for me. Would re-connecting with them be a horrible mistake? But these were the only relatives I have that I consider sane, smart and interesting, so it might turn out ok. On the drive down, I thought about how my life might have been different if I had lived in the same town as them growing up. Going to Aunt Nan’s house for a dose of sanity and advice. I had one aunt in Denver who was uncomfortable around kids and didn’t interact with us except on holidays, and another aunt in California who I only met twice in my life, so the whole “it takes a village” thing was not happening in my life. But if I had lived closer — been able to see what a sane family looked like. Not that they don’t have their family stuff, but they are very grounded in reality.
The BF bowed out of the reunion dinner, which was totally ok. I met my aunt Nan and cousin Besty at a cool restaurant/bar close to our AirBnB. Foodies for decades, I knew the food would be good if nothing else. I felt surprisingly comfortable with them. We talked about general things at first, wanting to just reestablish contact.
Then we talked about how Susie passed away — very suddenly from an aneurism. A complete shock to her whole family. She left behind two sons, Ian and Reed, and Derek, the husband she met in college. I found out how my mother passed away two years ago. After threatening suicide for years. The first time I heard about it was on Mother’s Day my freshman year of college. A week before finals. She casually mentioned at the end of a 1/2 hour conversation (back when long distance was expensive), that if she were to kill herself, I should not take it personally. I was shocked and horrified and tried to make her promise to do nothing without calling me, which she refused. I called by brother, who said he knew, but there was nothing we could do. “We should tell Dad!” I said, thinking he would want to know so he could help her. (This was before I realized that he was a pathological narcissist who would of course not care if it didn’t involve him personally). “He already knows,” said my brother. I was horrified, felt helpless, botched a few finals. When I went home for the summer, everything seemed normal and she wouldn’t talk about it. Ten years later, when I got engaged to my husband, I called a therapist friend worried that the news would trigger her suicide. “I don’t think she’s ready to give that up yet,” my friend said. “She’s gotten too much milage out of it.” As the years went by, she would reference possible suicide, showing me the folders in her drawer dedicated to everything we would need to know when she died — what magazine subscriptions she had, the phone number for the newspaper. And yet, thirty years later, she submitted to two rounds of cancer rather then pulling the trigger she held over my head for so long. I had quit talking to her before Jeff died, and did not contact her afterwards because I couldn’t stand the thought of someone being happy that my love had left my life.
We ordered yummy foods and talked about my writing, Betsy’s theater company, and then Derek showed up. He’s a reserved, quiet guy, but his hug was strong and welcoming.
The next day, I spent the afternoon with Nan & Betsy outside the park’s cafe, enjoying the warm sunshine, looking out over a lake and talked more about family, what was and what could have been. Nan is a semi-retired statistician, spending most of her career working with the first doctor to implant an artificial heart, then with his successor. Best works as a technical writer in the same office, and complained that no one in the office knows what she does. “All I know is you keep the doctor happy, so I guess I’ll give you a a raise,” said her boss. Doesn’t bode well for job stability, we agreed. Most of my career was spent in places where people did not really understand what I did, so I could relate.
We had dinner, joined by Derek and Ian, who has recently graduated Rice with a computer science degree and is wondering what to do with his life. I dumped a lot of extremely useful knowledge on him 🙂 and we ate an excellent meal of Asian fusion food prepared by a chef from Peru.
Houston is a very sophisticated city in a very … complicated state. I don’t deal well with heat and humidity (both in copious abundance here) so it’s unlikely I’d move here, I enjoyed listening to them extol the virtues of their city. Betsy told me an interesting story — during the Civil Rights era when cities like Detroit erupted into violence, Houston was a bastion of calm. The reason? OPEC told the leaders of Houston that they had better keep a lid on the violence. Because Houston’s economy was based on oil, they called in the leaders in the black community — preachers mostly, and had actual conversations with them about what the city could do. A combination of city services came out of those meetings — after school programs for kids, literacy initiatives, respect for the community in general. No riots. Why this lesson wasn’t transmitted to other communities is a shame.
After dinner we went to The Chocolate Bar for delicious dessert treats accompanied by a duo playing live music, then took this selfie of happy relatives. I left feeling connected in a way I have not felt for years. Although I have no interest in moving to Houston, it’s likely I’ll be back to visit and meet Reed (who was finishing up his year at Texas Tech).