Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Great Divide

I’m a mama’s boy. Always have been, always will be.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s not like my mom hand-feeds me chicken or anything. We just share a special bond, and no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I know that we are connected.

We used to talk on the phone every morning during my 30 minute commute, but then she saw another segment on Oprah or Good Morning America reiterating how unsafe it was to use your cell while you’re driving – hands-free device or not – and that was the end of that.

(By some miracle, my mother always seems to be tuned to whatever show is running a story about how damaging cell phones are, how harmful sitting closer than six feet from the TV can be, and how scientists have now discovered that every piece of food I’ve ever eaten is completely void of any nutritional value. Really, it’s like her remote control can sense when one of these pieces is going to air.)

Ever since, our daily communication has come via instant messaging. This is no small feat, mind you, given my mom’s lack of technological savvy. She’s not the most patient person when it comes to the computer, and it’s not uncommon to get called in from another room because the machine “isn’t working,” only to find out that she simply hasn’t given it enough time to load, and there are now nine Internet Explorer windows open.

To my surprise, though, she’s been able to IM without many issues, and we’ve gotten into a nice routine. We catch up while she checks her email, and she doesn’t have to worry about me veering off into a tree. So far, it’s worked out well.

But a few weeks ago, our session ended on a troubling note, even if she didn’t know it. We’d been chatting for about 20 minutes, and everything was going along fine. But as we were about to sign off, she typed three words that really caught me off guard:

We miss you.

This threw me for a loop, not because I couldn’t grasp the concept of my parents missing me, but because it touched something inside of me, something I suspect that had been bubbling for a while, and it took reading my mom’s words to bring it to the surface.

See, when I graduated college, I wanted to get as far away from my hometown of Houston as possible. To that end, I spent the subsequent years pin-balling around the country, trying to find my own little place in this world. I’d load up my car and drive off into the sunset, hopeful that this time I’d get it right.

Inevitably, though, I’d end up back on my parents’ door step, bruised and battered, wondering if things would ever work out for me. Each failure felt like a false start, pushing me back further and further, and thus being in Houston grew to be synonymous with my lack of progress and achievement.

So a few years ago, when the opportunity to move to Washington, D.C. presented itself, I jumped on it. Rationally, I recognized that this would be a major shift in my life. I knew that I was going to be in a different time zone from my family, and that I would no longer be able to have a standing lunch date with my father or eat Friday night dinner with my parents while watching Chris Hansen bust unsuspecting pedophiles.

But honestly, as cold as this sounds, I wasn’t really thinking about any of that. At the time, I’d been in Houston for four consecutive years, working an unfulfilling job, and I felt trapped and restless, and this was my way out. My focus was on me, on my life, and I had to do this for myself.

And in a lot of ways, my relocation has worked out well. I met a great girl within the first two months of getting here who I am still with today. I’ve had a number of wonderful roommates. I’ve successfully used public transportation (a completely foreign concept in Texas). I even got to spend four hours at the Maryland DMV trying to get my new driver’s license.

Plus, just being in the nation’s capital has been a cool experience. For the first time, I live somewhere that my friends want to visit. There’s an energy, a juice to the city that you only find in towns like New York and L.A. and Chicago. You can turn on the TV or a movie and recognize places where you had lunch or where you sat in traffic for an hour-and-a-half. You can go downtown and watch tourists walk around with their maps and fanny packs. And obviously, there’s history everywhere you turn. Just on my drive to and from work everyday, I can see the Capitol building, National Cathedral, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, the Kennedy Center, Watergate, and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. That never gets old.

But while people may pay a lot of money to come from all over and experience all of this, I’m beginning to wonder if I am not somehow paying an even higher price.

After all, my family has now become just an entry in my email inbox and a voice on the other end of the phone. Before I moved, I probably took the time I spent with them for granted. It was just so common, a part of my normal routine. We were close-knit, and it was what we did, and I never had to think about.

Now, if I want to see them, it’s so premeditated, so planned out. I can’t just get in my car and go if I get the urge. Airfare is outrageous, and I typically have to take a day or two off from work. And to get the most bang for my bucks, I have to strategically pick the weekends when everyone is around, while also trying to calculate what big occasions are coming up, so that my trips end up being evenly staggered throughout the year.

When I do actually get there, my visits go by so quickly. There are just barely enough hours in the weekend to see my extended family, hang out a little with my friends and eat at my must-eat barbecue restaurant. Before I know it, I’m back at the airport, hugging my parents while holding up traffic, as we try to figure out the next time we’re going to see each other.

I treasure these quick, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it reunions, but they are equal parts bitter and sweet. And it usually takes until I arrive at work the next day for all of the bitterness to fully subside.

Of course, I might need to toughen up a bit, because my mom recently told me she’s over my departure in about 15 minutes.

When you’re a little kid, life feels like it’s out “there,” like it’s all in front of you, and it seems as if what you’re going through and experiencing in the present tense almost doesn’t count, like it’s some sort of prelude or warm-up for the real thing.

But I’m 33 now, and life doesn’t always feel that way anymore. There are moments when I’m hit with that cold reality that my story is being written, that the scoreboard is on, and that time is continually dripping away whether I choose to acknowledge it or not.

And it’s in those moments when my mind can’t help drifting to my parents and the rest of my family. Sure, everyone is healthy and fit and active, but the adult in me now realizes that none of us will be here forever.

There’s an old saying that talks about living every day as if it’s your last. And in a world that demands that you have money and groceries and a plan for tomorrow, that’s as big of a challenge as there is.

When I do envision my final hours on earth, though, I picture doing certain things exclusively for myself, like playing a round of golf, preparing a list of who-killed-Kennedy questions for when I get to heaven, and backing up a juicy steak with a yellow cupcake covered in chocolate icing.

But I also see myself surrounded by everyone who is important to me, laughing and reminiscing and coming up with ways for my spirit to positively affect Texas Longhorn football games after I’m gone.

Given all of that, it would be nice if I could strike that balance before my time is almost up. It would be nice to have the perfect job in the perfect city with the people I love close by, but unfortunately, that’s not the case for me. The state of my union just isn’t aligned that way right now, and it leaves me torn and wrestling with what to do next. Do I stay? Do I go? I honestly don’t know, and I could really use some comfort and guidance.

For my sake, let’s hope my mom can get her computer turned on tomorrow morning.

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?