Having looked forward to spending the end of the year with our friends and families in Europe, we were crushed when we had to cancel the whole trip an hour before we were supposed to leave for the airport. Covid had thwarted our plans again. But then again, planning travel to multiple countries over Christmas is never a good idea. Lesson learnt.
So we decided to do what our family does best: a road trip. Leaving cats and dog in the hands of the already booked-then cancelled-then rebooked pet sitters, we forced the teenagers into the car and set off to this most remote of all National Parks.
And let’s be honest, we couldn’t possibly have left Texas without a visit to Big Bend.
I love road trips. I’ve become a terrible traveller those last few years, developing huge anxiety about packing, flying, airports, taxi rides to and from airports, pretty much anything to do with having to get to a place at a certain time, lots of people, queues, etc. etc. So getting into a car and driving along straight wide and mostly empty roads sounds absolutely marvellous to me. I also love the fact that I can just let my thoughts meander without getting distracted by chores or other demands. I get car sick when I read a book or look at a screen, so – if it’s not me driving – all I can do is look out of the window and muse. It’s like that giant jumble in my head finally stops running in circles and rearranges itself, like a puzzle, with the pieces falling gently into place. I have ideas for my podcast, think about colours for my bedroom wall, plot outfit ideas from the clothes I have in my wardrobe, plan holidays for the post-Corona time, start writing short stories in my head, and generally feel extremely calm and creative – the opposite to my usual state of mind.
We arrived at our beautiful little home for a few days, the Windmill House in Alpine, TX, an absolutely cosy gem of a place in the middle of nowhere, close enough to venture out to Big Bend one day, and Marfa, the next. We love a National Park, and Big Bend did not disappoint, a perfect mix of colourful desert vegetation, craggy alpine peaks and stunning views across the Rio Grande to Mexico.
Marfa, on the other hand, was easily one of the weirdest places I’ve been to in my life, an odd assortment of run-down or abandoned shacks, hidden coffee shops, quirky art galleries and a general end-of-the-world vibe. Driving out to Prada, Marfa, a permanent art installation along US 90, through this incredibly desolate desert landscape, I got serious “get me out of here” feelings. Which, come to think of it, I’ve had since moving to Texas, almost six years ago.
I wonder what it is about this part of the world that makes me feel that way. I totally fell in love with Austin, which I never expected, but more in an exhausting love/hate sort of way. This city with its lush greenery, hilly landscape, cute little neighbourhoods, romantic swimming holes and creeks and hiking trails everywhere certainly doesn’t make you feel caged in, but maybe it’s the sense that everywhere around it is deepest, darkest Texas, and it takes a day’s drive to get to another state that has always made me feel trapped. I got so used to that feeling that I only notice it now when I come back to Texas from another place. It’s a feeling I’ve never had in any of the other places I’ve lived in, and part of the reason why I know I need to leave. I’ve done and enjoyed all the things you can do in and around Austin, and now it’s time to move on.
So yes, we’ve come to the end of our Texas chapter, or I should say some of us have. Four become three for our family’s next chapter, as our oldest is staying here in Austin, enjoying her independence, her music and her friends, not interested to be uprooted again. Of course this means we can come and visit and stuff our faces with tacos whenever we want to, which is a good feeling. Although I am ready to leave, I know I will miss this weird and wonderful city fiercely. Yes, I tried leaving Austin before, and made a pretty big mess of it, but I’m glad I came back to give it another go. Not necessarily because I think it was the right decision for me or my family – the last three years in Austin have definitely been the hardest of my life so far, and the memories aren’t all good. But I’m glad because I think I’ve done the most growing as a person during this time, and some of that absolutely needed to happen. Feeling out of place, and yet also strongly connected to the place I live in all at the same time, will always be part of who I am, and has nothing to do with the place itself. My brain just works in weird ways, and I don’t think that’ll ever change.
Does it mean I’m ready for our new place? I don’t know. Probably not. But it’s one of those things you can never know, and all I can say is that I’m ready for a new adventure. I only hope that New Jersey, our new home for the next few years, is ready for us bunch of international misfits!