I feel I stand in a desert with my hands outstretched,
and you are raining down upon me.
Sally told the stories about, well, all of us. Alternative settings are just like different languages telling a story from different perspectives; we hear different words and sounds, but at the end of the day, they mean the same thing. Some points in our lives we all encounter the same situations, and we would feel so much more related and attached to the characters in the stories.
On our drive to the Houston airport, I was watching the clock tick away ruthlessly, and soon you would depart. Our time was running out. We were forced to take on a speed that didn’t allow us to slow down a bit, and I felt like we were crushing into a hard wall of reality, with our eyes wide open, while holding hands.
Do you remember as Carol and Therese drove in the car on their way back to Dixon, watching landscapes change along the way, rains and suns, ups and downs, exactly like how life should be? We talked and talked, building a fancy castle with our lips and tongues, painting an imaginary future together with thousands of words. There was a dim light glowing in those conversations that we held onto, but other than that, I had no clue what would be lying ahead of us. All I knew was that our mind was determined for who we were at that very moment. Maybe that’s all it matters, and what made the whole thing precious.
I felt like a reel run in reverse, retracing our path back until it inevitably reached where we started. How could these eight days flee away so fast yet contained so much?
CHAPTER 1 – Houston
Houston was where we landed, finally had our feet on the ground together, after all those months parting from each other. The place we rented wasn’t called a hotel anyway, it itself was called an apartment. We had sort of a “bedroom”, a shower, a living room, and a kitchen. I brought a few of my favorite CDs and put them on the bookshelf, and I stuffed the refrigerator with chowder soup, cesar salad, shrimp cocktail, and ginger ale. Large or tiny, don’t you think the kitchen is always the key element to turn a place home?
We went back to zero, and learned everything about each other again. We stayed up and cuddled up on the coach, until today became yesterday, and there could never be enough talking, of knowing for all the trivial and the profound. All felt adventurous and brand new, in this immense land.
CHAPTER 2 – San Antonio
San Antonio would be our first stop, if we don’t count Houston, which we didn’t. After two nights in Houston, we packed the leftovers, loaded the car, and then we hit the road to head to San Antonio. The highways in Houston areas usually have more than five lanes with plenty of car dealers along the roadside that fly huge American flags. Driving under those streaming flags always gave me an additional sense of speed which I fell in love with. It felt like an escape to me. Now looking back at it, I think we were. But together. Does this make it another term now? Elope, perhaps? Soon, the outline of downtown Houston in my rear-view mirror blurred, roads shrunk, horizons showed, greens appeared, winds howled, and phone signals weakened. We were going into the center of Texas, the heart of Texas. It was getting more original, and more welcoming.
On the streets of downtown San Antonio, there were colorful crowds everywhere and all the cheerful margaritas on the River Walk. We joined these delighted parades with jumbo iced tea in our hands, sunglasses on, and stepped on a cruise to hear about the architectures and history of this very town. How early Texans survived, and even thrived, to get through the battle against Mexico and established Republic of Texas. I had been on their cruises for so many times now, but all the corny jokes with Texas humor told by the tour guide still made me giggle.
As the sky turned into a soft mix of purple and orange, we got off the cruise and bumped into a music festival that surprisingly Maroon 5 was in! This was not in our plans, but you know, whenever I am with you, good things happen. We excitedly dived ourselves into the crowd; even though we could only be watching the big screen from outside of the field, that was good enough. They came on, and we sang every word along each song of theirs, and swayed away into the night.
That night, we stayed in a wood cabin. Decent hotels with good rates are hard to find whenever there is a large event in town. The cabin was not bad in overall, and we had to stay in a motel (room doors facing the outside parking lot) that represents the classic side of America at least for one time anyway. In the cabin, there was a small living room area at the entrance, the sink was in the hallway instead of in the bathroom, and there wasn’t any complimentary water boiler, hair dryer, not even tooth brush. There wasn’t any food available in the neighborhood other than Taco Bell after 8PM. The air was dry, but the room smelled damp.
It was early in the spring, still a little chilly, and we turned out the lights and curled up in bed. As Sally said, the soft, rhythmic breathing was the final siren’s song, and we succumbed to the pure blissful pleasure of it. This is the most intimate thing to do: falling asleep together.
CHAPTER 3 – Austin
We woke up early, but did not leave the room until past the noontime. It was heating outside, and the air drained our skins and lungs, making it hard to breathe. We first stopped at Wholefoods, one of my favorite supermarkets, to try out local olives and to buy some organic chicken noodle soup.
Austin was still beautiful, yet aloof. It isolates itself from the rest of Texas, in a proud way. In here, nobody cares about you or criticizes you because they only have time for themselves. Sometimes I even wonder if they dress up only to appreciate themselves in the mirrors. I was looking at the campus which is so fancy in many ways and thought that once I was part of it, too. But apparently, we didn’t treat each other nicely. In the end, I left. Ever since then I had grown so much, and I don’t hate you or blame on you anymore. But why did the girl stood on Guadalupe look so lonely? She held her dog and tried to talk to possibly everyone. She even tried to walk us to the pho restaurant when we asked if she had any recommendations? Now I’m about to move away from this Lone Star State, I feel like I was taking a final tour, a quiet one, with a different pair of eyes now, to examine what I remember from the old days. The monsters that used to be vigorous and threatening to me had become mere displays in museum. I don’t know when I will come back, or if I will ever come back. It’s time to end all the good and bad.
In my opinion, the rest of Austin is much nicer than the campus, although the campus takes up most of the space and population. The clouds lifted and the sun blazed in the afternoon, and I wanted to participate in some interactive activities with you. Something that we do with our hands, with our voice, and with our curiosity. So, we decided to go kayak.
It was fun seeing you getting nervous, but of course on the premise that I was sure you were in no real danger. I was right, five minutes after we went out into the water, you forgot all your fears and were excited to explore further. We used our peddles to move on, and to turn, and even paused in the middle of this wide river to enjoy the breezes and ripples.
We probably had the nicest dinner here in Austin for this whole trip. Maybe it was the best meal since we had met. We went to The Guild, where serves raw oysters and fancy cocktails. I always feel somehow awkward to go in a white-cultured restaurant. Most of the times I don’t feel like I fit in, but with you, I don’t think it bothered me as much as it used to do. In this restaurant, we learned that we both love to sit at the bar, watching the bartender, who happened to be the most friendly kind of southern girl with a pair of mooney eyes, elegantly burned the sages before putting them on the rim of our drinks.
It was a date. It was definitely a date. And hear me smile as I say that to you.
CHAPTER 4 – Killeen
It was a last-minute stop. We decided to stay out for another night because I was too tired to drive home after the dinner at Cheddar’s, one of my favorite restaurants with a much fair price, yet you could find the best honey croissant and spinach dip in the whole world.
We wanted to find another “Sleep Inn” which we had fallen in love with back in Austin, but the nearest one was 60 miles away, in a town named Killeen. I’d never been to this town before. In Texas, there are thousands of anonymous towns that I have never been to and will never be to. But for Killeen, I would forever inscribe this one into my heart because we saw the most beautiful stars on Earth we could possibly find that night. We had to route through a four-digit rural highway, which had no lights but only the yellow road divider reflectors flicked by under our headlights, and plus a few mailboxes on the roadside belong to those who live deep in the woods and ranches. I felt as if we were the night intruders as we turned in one of the dark and tiny country lanes, shut off the headlight and engine, peeking at Big Dipper and Orion that hung in front of our eyes. No one noticed us. Not even these stars. I never knew stars could shine that bright.
And stars only get brighter in memory as time passes.
CHAPTER 5 – Plano
Plano is where I live, and where my family lives. Do I call it home? Well, once I refused to do so, but throughout the time, I started to accept the idea that maybe a short stay doesn’t hurt (I told myself so even it might seem endless at the moment), and being apart from my parents doesn’t prove me as a grownup. For those dreams once I had which to fly high and far away, I laid them down here with me, watching them fade away by my side. Gradually, it reshaped my perception and forced me to calm down. Now I do see it as home.
So, first, on the road, and then, home. We had so many dreams that we look forward to coming true even for just temporarily. What is it like? What is like to be out during the day, and to anticipate the sweet return home again?
I took you to the shopping centers and markets, my favorite restaurants, liquor depots, bookstores, and parks. All these places seem ordinary, and indeed they are no more than a simple slice of domestic life, but taking you around meant so much more than just that. For me, the gesture was very private and mentally nude. It required trust. I don’t think I had to voice it out and you already knew that these places gave me a mixed feeling of imprisonment, yet at the same time comforts and security. I often drove around alone, sitting in the parking lots just to stare at this town under its enormous sky, so vast, so empty, and wondered if I would ever make a way out. Plano shares my ugliest scars, tears, loneliness, inferiority, the plainest version of myself, and thousands of words that I wrote down here to accompany myself. Plano sheltered me and trapped me worlds away from everything else.
I acted like a little child, earnestly showing you all the little precious things such as the Harry Potter displays at the nearest Barnes and Noble, and the strange flavors for ice cream that I know would make you wow, and I’d be so proud of myself. I wouldn’t dare to hope this before and now it made me feel head over heels for this idea: you are here with me. I had to constantly check reality in my head, and it was heaven, being together in these places.
We were singing, and crying, and altogether, on the way heading to the Airport. I tried so hard to take everything in and resolved to memorize every detail that my hands trembled as I held onto the steering wheel, but the sound of your voice was soothing to me. Even though we were trying to promise the future over and over, at the same time, deep down there I knew we both felt so unsure, unsettling. I didn’t know how any of the things we said could actually happen, and couldn’t even imagine in what ways they could ever happen. Everything was going back to where it was…
Are they really?
Do you remember the letter I wrote to you, before I took off from Taipei last October? We thought it was the letter that redirected our paths to cross again, but the true reason is, I let my vulnerability show. I let you see my pains. I let you see how I still hoped for the dream that was nearly impossible to achieve back in that time, and wasn’t that what made you come to the realization that you actually wanted this, too? Now, this was the second time that we had to end it, to tear apart. Will you remember my tears, that clearly tells leaving wasn’t that easy for me? I don’t want to play cool anymore. And it is alright not to be a tough person after all, not to be calm, not to be carefree.
Sometimes love comes easy. And yes it is, as it should be. We are just very unfortunate, and fortunate, to be born to fight to treat ourselves right. We thought you came for a visit, but actually you came to tell me what a big difference you could bring, and suddenly, all the loneliness that I always thought I could cope suddenly seemed intolerable. Is now that time for my turn to do something as well? There are still all the uncertainties out there, but that’s the real journey, which starts as this visit ends.
“For the character of Therese, she starts out her life living vicariously through the writings of others. As we see her growth as a person, she becomes the writer of her own story, and her own story and real experiences become so much better than fiction. It is the difference in being a driver versus being a passenger, being an author versus being a reader. Steering your own destiny rather than letting the expectations of others and the culture set a course for your life.” ── Sally