Thursday, July 8, 2010

Joedy got back from California on Sunday, and as we drove home from the airport he told us about all the friends he'd seen. I'm sure it was partly due to the relief of having him back, feeling the tension inside me ease: as he described so-and-so and the familiar places he'd been, I started to cry.

"I just miss my friends," I said, sniffling over the steering wheel. Lula heard the self-pity in my voice and chimed in: "Yeah, well, I miss my friends too, but I'm not crying." I laughed--it's hard to maintain pathos while being chastened by a six-year-old--and we were all happy for a while, until we got to Polvo's, our pre-fireworks restaurant of choice, and Lula's own face started getting a sad, faraway look.

"What's the matter, Lula? Are you tired?" we asked.

"No," she said, looking even sadder. "It's just...when do you think I'm going to see Liam again?"

Liam. While we lived in Ventura last year, Lula became very close to the little boy, Liam, who lived next door. Both kids were the same age, came from half-French families, and adored each other; after a weekend of nonstop togetherness, which invariably included bad behavior, hurt feelings, and forced reconciliations, they wanted nothing more than to spend the night in the same bed, where they could look into each other's eyes and giggle.

Leaving California for Costa Rica was almost as hard from a Liam perspective as any other: while Joedy and I knew we'd miss our family and friends and all the places that had come to feel like home during our 13-year life there, we knew we could keep in touch and visit again. But watching Lula say goodbye to Liam, knowing how much she loved being with him, was wrenching: we promised to call regularly, but we knew that even if we did (we didn't) it wouldn't be the same, for her, as living next door.

Joedy visited Liam and his family while he was in California, and it was his recounting of the visit, over chips and salsa at Polvo's, that pushed Lula into her sad state. Before we knew it her face crumpled and her chest started to heave; sensing something serious, I picked her up and carried her outside to the quiet street. Sitting on a curb together, she cried and cried into my shoulder, and when she asked, "Do you think Liam cries about me like this? Do you think I'll ever see him again?" I felt terrible. All of a sudden I thought we'd been horribly wrong to leave California, to give up the good things we had there; this past year had obviously been much harder for Lula than we'd thought. It was true: she hadn't made any close, solid friends, and we hadn't even kept up contact with Liam's family. It'd been cruel of us to take her away from her best friend and all the other people in California who knew and loved her.

Over the next few days Joedy and I talked about moving back. We listed the pros and cons of Austin and Santa Barbara, and for a while, despite the insanely high cost of real estate in Santa Barbara, it seemed like the better choice: Joedy would be close to his work, we could see all our friends, we'd have the mountains and the ocean.

Although the idea of living happily ever after in Santa Barbara was nice, I couldn't ignore an unpleasant feeling that grew inside me and that felt a lot like depression: moving again would mean, well, moving again, and after the last year of turbulence I still want stability--no adventure, thank you very much, for a nice long time. We--Joedy and I, and our families, too--have invested a lot, emotionally and financially, in our settling down here, and I wondered what would it mean to walk away from those investments. Would moving back to California be worth all the stress, the upheaval, the rupturing of yet more new ties? Aside from those things and more practical matters--we'd have to find a new school for Lula, we'd have to figure out new health insurance, blah blah blah, thinking about it all made me want to shoot myself--there was the fact that...

I like Austin. I really freaking like Austin. I like so much about it: the trees, the cold weather in the winter, the thunderstorms, the proximity to Joedy's family, the rivers, streams, and pools, the trailer eateries, the tattoos, the funkiness, the skyscrapers, the music, the walking paths, the friendly attitude towards dogs, the coolness, the lack of pretension. Often when I'm out running errands, I'll see something neat and think "My GOD, I love this place!" When I'm with Joedy and the kids, when we're driving down South Congress, say, towards Town Lake, I can't help saying it out loud: "I loooovvve...."

Lula, who's heard it too many times, cuts me off with an exasperated sigh: "Oh god," she says, "not again. Please don't say that thing AGAIN." To make her happy, I complete the sentence with "cockroaches" or "Diablo's stinky breath," but everyone knows what I mean.

So, does this mean we're staying in Austin? Heck no! We don't know. We'll stick it out a year (paying one-third of the rent we'd be paying in Santa Barbara) and see what happens with Joedy's work, with Lula's friendships. She'll be starting first grade in a month, and I think we'll have more success finding good friends for her this year. We called Liam a couple times recently, and Lula was thrilled--THRILLED--to hear his voice and to learn he tells everyone his best friend is in Texas. The more we stay here the more comfortable we'll get, I think, and with the money left over from our cheap rent we could, maybe, take some trips to visit the family and friends we miss. So for now, I'm just going to settle back and enjoy being here--it's not at all a bad place to be.

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