Earlier this holiday Mark came with me to Lubbock, Texas. I went to school there. In a past life I had family there, up the dusty roads north of town. My son’s middle name he shares with a West Texas cotton farmer, who used to stare outside for hours looking at rain clouds, wondering if hail would ruin a year’s crop. I used to sit beside him, next to his old bony shoulders, looking at his aged and wrinkled hands, listening to his stories.
There is nothing like cotton blooms, fields neatly groomed and filled with the bursts of white flowers for miles. And when the cotton forms the bolls burst open like they are aching for escape. You want to run down the rows and squeeze them and pluck them like candy because they are, in their own way, beautiful.
We were there in December, which means the strippers ripped off the cotton and there were simply sticks poking up from the dirt, just rows and rows of toothpicks and miles of brown. It was devastatingly ugly – I had forgotten how much so. Dry and barren with rows of houses in neat little rows. There was brick as far as the eye could see. Dull beige brick storefronts with signs like “mountain hideaway” and “50th street caboose.” There are no mountains but there are an abundance of railway trains, chugging and puffing their way past these dusty fields, the miles of land, the grid work of towns amidst a backdrop of sky. And strangely it was also lovely, in my mind’s nostalgic eye, this place I lived for so long.
Part of me wanted to ignore all of this as part of my past. After all, I have forged a new trail with new stories. I have a lover and life partner and future husband whom is both affirming and life-giving. I love that he is from Pennsylvania, that he has stories of his own filled with snow and fall leaves and beautiful schools like movie sets – stories that I’ll never be a part of. We have forged a trail together that is both together and separate, families that will slowly blend but maintain their own individual identities.
But we went back for a day. We ate fried cheese at Spanky’s and drove past all the stores and places I used to frequent. An old bar was torn down, others added. We wove around the campus with its large Spanish-style architecture and I showed him the steps where our choir sang carols during holidays and where I trudged to history class. “Look! There’s the library that looks like a radiator. Here is the dormitory where I spent so many nights.”
He was so patient. He nodded at all the things. He asked what I did on Saturday nights and what it was like to live in this place. We drove and drove, ziz-zagging across the town. It felt strange to be back there, to re-visit the memories and my past. But in a way it was wonderful, to expose this part of me to him.
This New Years, I’m putting cotton bolls in my table decorations, as a tribute to the past that forms us, that creates texture in us, and yet doesn’t define us. It’s good to take time to focus on the past in a meaningful way, not a waste of emotional energy but a targeted reflection of what you’ve been through, and what helps bake you into the person you are.
We returned to Austin, where our life is now. Where our love now blooms. I’m cooking filet and we are gathering around the table tonight, as my love language goes. I’ve decorated it in all white, for a winter that hasn’t quite reached us since it’s hovering around 60 degrees. But we shall dine and drink and laugh, with the cotton buried in the breaths of babies and in the living and this life that we are building together.
There is so much blooming around us, bursting and then stripping, gathering and harvesting. But alas the beauty of a new season, a new year, an opportunity to repeat the cycle. Let this year be a beautiful one, blossoming with love.