It’s hard to believe we were in Texas just a few weeks ago. Lu and I flew there after visiting California to spend a few days with my friend Kate and her family.
Having spent my entire life living in New York, the most astonishing thing about Texas was the wide openness of it; I’d never seen so much space between things. That goes for the housing developments, highway connections, and grocery store aisles. Everything is separated from everything else by flat expanses of dirt or slices of cobalt sky.
We got there in the evening, exhausted but wired from another full day of complimentary diet cokes (me), and licking decrepit and polio-harboring airplane safety manuals (Lucy). I teared up when I saw them walk towards us at baggage claim; Kate in her hippie skirt with scraggly legs, exuding comfort, always embodying the tenderness of a kid with a permanently skinned knee. Her beautiful daughter wore a princess dress. She held Lu’s hand as we navigated to their car.
That night I was spent. Lu wailed, refusing to sleep. I paced desperately, finally handing her off. Kate took her outside, wove through the housing development singing to her, the thick charcoal of a nowhere Texas night pierced through by front porch halogens. She wanted to take care of both of us, and I let her.
Kate is a force. I both admire and fear her intensity, and honestly believe she can do anything. We lived together a long time ago, but the wind blew us in different directions (or rather, the wind didn’t blow me at all- I stayed put, while she lived in a glorified chicken coop in Guatemala and delivered babies or on a Native American reservation in New Mexico where the only wifi in town was at a fried chicken joint).The truest thing I can say about her is that she tends toward the least obvious, most resistant path from A to B; nothing with her has ever been easy. But in that space she thrives, and it fuels a staggering wealth of creativity.
On day two of Texas, we decided to make the hour-long drive to Dallas and the Texas State Fair, which, in addition to food offerings designed to prompt cardiac arrest, promised a life-sized diorama made from thousands of pounds of real butter. Of course, we couldn’t just go to the fair, because this was Kate. First we had to research and print coupons, put the ten cans of corn she had in her house in a bag, and drive to the store for more cans of corn. Kate had read that tickets only cost five bucks if you brought enough canned corn.
State fair parking consisted of a series of private lots, which got cheaper as you got farther from the fairs entrance. We chose the farthest possible lot, underneath the George H. W. Bush highway. Kate pulled in, directed by a parking attendant, and hopped out to let her husband back the car into the designated spot.
“So you’re the parking expert?” I quipped at Mike, as he reversed the car gently into both his wife and the parking attendant, squishing their legs against the front of another car. Kate let out a scream. (Isn’t there an old dad joke about running your wife over?)
Everyone was fine, but the litigious parking attendant made a big show of doubling over and limping around like she’d been bitten during a zombie apocalypse. Kate yelled at Mike, I sat in the car with the kids, ambulances came, then a firetruck, then a couple of squad cars. Mike stared at the dirt, Kate crossed her arms, the parker dragged a leg around, the cops assessed, and eventually we were free to go. We got ourselves together, got our corn together, and waded through the Texas heat toward the fair.
I can’t say I’ve ever been more confused by an event. There was a giant warehouse containing some kind of car show, except the cars were all unimpressive, practical mom cars. There was another warehouse filled with sample beds you could lie on to test the mattresses, presumably so you could buy one, or maybe you just liked laying on a sweaty, lightly dirt-caked pad. There were guys selling $30 shoe polish, who tricked me into getting my sneakers rubbed. There was a long wall of 5 inch shelves, stuffed from floor to ceiling with blue ribbon canned goods, which from far away looked like a very disconcerting medical experiment.
Of course, there was food, all of which was deep fried: oreos, bacon, lobster tail, cake, pepperoni pizza, jumbalaya (how do you fry that?), candy bars, peanut butter sandwiches, pickles, chicken, butter. Everyone in Texas drinks Dr. Pepper (so I did).
We got back to Kate’s that night without further incident, with stomach aches, worn and dusty. The next day, my last one there, we did little more than build towers out of giant pink legos and knock them down, eat macaroni and cheese and tomatoes.
Mid-morning we went for a long walk through the development. Kate’s daughter rode her bike and collected acorns. I pushed Lu’s stroller, and Kate told me about her life there.
I still can’t quite understand how an artsy, liberal, former high school state champion slam poet moves to the middle of cattle country and thrives, not survives. She’s always been an expert at showing up somewhere, digging her feet into the dirt, and saying, “This is where I am now, and you can’t move me.”
She told me that she chooses to be happy, to try and let the bad stuff wash over her. She surrounds herself with strong women who love and support her (even if they’re also card-carrying NRA members, at least they’ve got her back, right?). She practices being present for her life.
I can’t tell you how far she’s come. It might take her five hours, twelve cans of corn, getting hit with a car by her husband, and a long walk through a very long line of mattresses to get to the top of the ferris wheel, but when she gets up there, she knows how to take in the view.
Lu and I left early the next morning. I forgot to take a photo of the sign a mile past the edge of her development: