In the summer of 1998 I was home on break from Longwood College and although I had a part-time job at the Dahlgren Food Lion waiting for me if I wanted it, after three summers I’d had enough and opted not to go back there. I never did go to work that summer, but I discovered the joys of internet discussion boards and was quickly made a moderator at the Jedi Council Forums at TheForce.net, at the time the leading Star Wars fansite.
In my time at TF.N I made several friends, many of whom I am still in touch with today (Joel, Jason, and especially Mahesh, I salute you, my good fellows!). I also met two young ladies, one a girl from Wisconsin (screen name Hathor) of whom I have spoken in the past, and the other, a somewhat cold, officious redhead who went by the handle Octavya. Hathor was a bit young for me but I was interested in Octavya (Traci in real life), and struck up a friendship with her. We talked often and for long hours, and I let her know I was interested. She did not discourage me, and only encouraged me in measured amounts, but my first relationship, the one from college, had ended some months ago and I was ready to try again. Since my college girlfriend had refused to watch Empire Strikes Back if anything bad happened to Harrison Ford (true story), I thought a geeky girl who shared my interests was definitely the way to go. But Traci was very career-minded and I have never found motivation in anything other than creative pursuits, so we were an ill match. That did not, however, discourage me much.
Now, Traci was from Michigan but her sister Penny (Elf) and Penny’s fiance, Joe (Staldar), were living in Houston, Texas, and were to be married there in May of 1999, the weekend “The Phantom Menace” came out. Traci may not have encouraged me a lot, but her sister thought I had a shot and not only encouraged me, but invited me to her wedding, where Traci was to be Maiden of Honor, and she thought if I flew out there, we’d find out if there were any sparks. Spoilers: there weren’t.
I spent a weekend in Houston in 1999 hanging out with people who were a little too upper-class for me, or for whom I was a little too middle-class, and after I came home the only thing I could think of was the Garth Brooks song, “Friends in Low Places.” I should probably add that this was during arguably the darkest period of my life thus far, the period between 1997 and 2006, which is oddly framed by the death of my maternal grandfather Walter Rex at the one end, and the death of my maternal grandmother, Florence Rex, at the other. In between this period I had two failed relationships and one failed attempt, quit two jobs, and discovered I had no idea how to adult or how to life.
I never quite fit in with Traci and her family. I wasn’t in a good mental state — I’d been working at AKA Printing & Mailing for two months or so, and was already gaining weight on top of my college weight, so I was fat, socially awkward, and had little in common with the people I was visiting apart from a love of Stars, both Wars and Trek. Traci and I had a little time to hang out – she took me out to the beach at the Gulf of Mexico, we walked around a little and then drove back. We talked less in person than we ever had online. She was cold and quiet and I was shy and nervous, and it never really came together. I remember even trying to initiate innocuous physical contact freaked her right the hell out. I flew all the way out there only to find out once and for all that she wasn’t interested. I remember feeling like I’d wasted my time, and my money, and it was like I had gatecrashed Penny and Joe’s wedding even though Pen had invited me. Blame it all on my roots.
When I left Houston, I knew I’d never see Traci again and that she likely wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore. Fortunately I didn’t grieve long. My first night home, when I signed onto instant messenger, Hathor from Wisconsin told me she’d missed me while I was gone, and had been worried about me, and thought she was falling in love with me. Nobody had ever said those words to me before. I was twenty-two.
So, that’s why I hate Texas, and especially Houston. My associations with the place are negative ones, of not fitting in, of feeling like I shouldn’t have been there, of learning I’d been strung along for a year. But I wouldn’t wish a hurricane on anyone, nor the kind of damage and catastrophic flooding they have been suffering. Destroying the city could not erase the emotional turmoil of that decade. No, Houston, you hot, damp, rashy crotch of a place, please survive.
And to Elf, Staldar, and Octavya, wherever you are these days — I truly hope you all are safe.