From My Houston

I am from Houston, and my Houston is from me. You, too, are from somewhere. Perhaps a city. Your expectations, your experiences, your memories — you lived your city as you gave it life. And your city contains multitudes, stories incomprehensible and unexplainable to anyone else. Your city is shaped by your life. That’s what makes it yours.

My Houston feels familiar. The never-ending freeway expansions, the scorching humidity, the fiery sunsets painting endless azure skies. My Houston holds a special place in my soul, the same place occupied by an old friend separated by distance but linked by the intimacy of years spent drifting into each other’s thoughts.

I moved to Houston in 2004 and lived there for twelve years. From that first breath of suffocating humidity, my Houston grew until I stopped thinking of Seoul or Indiana as home. In college, ten minutes from my house, I spent four years sharing my Houston with skeptical Californians, New Yorkers, international students from far more glamorous cities.

And then came a steamy July day when I packed my possessions into an aging duffel bag to start a job in San Francisco, a city seven by seven square miles small. In SF, I take a subway to work, pay ten dollars for mediocre pho, and wear more sweaters than I ever thought possible. At first, only the traffic felt familiar.

I visited Houston last weekend. Scores of alumni come back for Beer Bike — familiar faces, old acquaintances, good friends I haven’t seen in months. For a brief time, Houston was filled with voices that I hadn’t realized I would be so comforted to hear.

That Saturday, I ate Korean food with my best friend, an annual Beer Bike tradition that we somehow maintained a year after graduating. He drove me home, an inversion of the countless drives I’d taken him on over the years. We talked about our looming futures — mine nebulous, his equally uncertain but for an urge to move closer to his home in Virginia. Next year, perhaps. But for now, he remains in my Houston, a city he knows I love, knows I will come back to before he leaves.

“I’ll see you soon,” he said when we parted. I hope that’s true.

The next night, I sat with a treasured friend along Buffalo Bayou looking at the Houston skyline set against the blue-grey evening sky. She is moving away this summer, and it struck me that this would likely be our last time in Houston together. The last of these balmy spring nights punctuated by long, comfortable silences, nights I can never return to in the same way I can never return to the Houston I knew as a high school student, the Houston I grew to love in college, the Houston I miss furiously on lonely walks to my San Francisco apartment.

Soon, others will leave Houston and not come back. My Houston, the Houston with my two wonderful friends, the Houston I just came back from — this Houston too will be of a place and a time that will never return. The ephemerality of formless memories can be precious, beautiful; the ephemerality of my Houston is aching, torturous. In memory, my Houston will live an eternal ghost-life.

And one day, when my favorite coffeeshops have closed, when my friends have left, and when they finally fix the damn roads, I will be driving down 59 towards the 610 exit that they will never expand. Distracted by the all-consuming responsibilities of adult life and the ever-rapid, inexorable passage of time, I will have grown increasingly distant from the memories of my Houston.

I will pass a building rising from the interminable flatness, and I will see what used to be a restaurant I went to with a friend — perhaps it was you. It was a decent meal, a pleasant but nondescript dinner long since faded from the fabric of conscious recollection but etched unforgettably into the periphery of my past, my old Houston.

On that drive, I will seek not the specificity of recall but the hazy cloud of reminiscence. I will barely remember the food, and I won’t recall exactly what we talked about at dinner. But I will remember that we enjoyed ourselves. And I will be always grateful that we went, that we shared that fleeting moment in a special city, that although I remember it as my Houston, it’s really you who makes this place worth remembering.

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