Nine years ago, I drifted into Austin from Kentucky. In my head I thought it would be a two-year gig working as a designer in Texas. That had been my track record since leaving college. Two years, maybe three, in a spot before getting bored and looking for the next adventure. By that point, I’d lived in places I never dreamed of living — a historical home in a smallish Florida Gulf Coast town and a town home in the middle of Kentucky’s horse country.
I never really felt the urge of putting down roots. Instead, I loved meeting people, exploring a new location and seeing what was out there. An opportunity to live in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” that likes to keep it weird cropped up. I would be a fool to not try that as my next adventure.
So I sold my car, packed my stuff and moved to Austin, a blue dot in the middle of a red state.
Every move I had made involved moving to a new location far removed from any safety nets of social networks, familiar confines and Austin would be no different.
Right away, I was met with open arms. While my apartment wasn’t ready for move in (it was Labor Day weekend and a series of miscommunications meant I was homeless for three days), the design director for the Paragraph Factory had me come out and spend the weekend on his boat. The extent of my “friendship” with him at that point was a really great dinner at Z’Tejas for my interview. A weekend on the lake turned into a big brother-little brother (with me being the little brother) friendship. He introduced me to a ton of people that weekend (and then a ton more on several happy hour excursions). I remember fondly that at one point during the weekend him telling me that he wasn’t sure he should have exposed me to all those people, what with him being my indirect boss and all.
I’m glad he did.
By doing that, unbeknownst to either of us at the time, he planted the seed — a stranger taking someone in and exposing said stranger to a slice of his life. Still I assumed Austin would be a two, maybe three, year experiment.
After that weekend, I met my surrogate family: the AME for Design who would become like a mom to me at the different times, the hip sister (in all sense of the word) who would be my partner in crime until she married and had two wonderful daughter, the guy I would date for a short time before we both realized we were better off as friends and a host of other characters who would continue the proper fertilization and watering of that Labor Day seed.
A year later, I turned 30. That same guy who took me out on his boat went to dinner with me. We eventually ended up at a patio bar where, by way past closing time, we had gone from two people to dozens of people stopping by to drink, to laugh and to celebrate my birthday. I remember at the time looking around and thinking how fortunate I was. All these people came out to celebrate and have a good time, and it just so happened to be my birthday.
I had no idea.
A few months later, I met B. Eventually he would uproot his life and move in with me. We’ve had great days and not-so-great days, but he and I will celebrate eight years together in November and I can’t imagine having a life without him dead center in it.
At some point I met Bear and Bexar, who outside B would be closest friends, more like brothers. Bear, with his ability to find the good in just about anyone and his huge posse of friends, shared the Kansas State/growing up in Kansas connection. Bexar, a no-bullshit sorta guy who I’ve gone through hell and back with, would become very much my little brother.
Then there was the entire dysfunctional family: the Bears. I’m sure I met most of them through Bear, but I met a bunch more through B. Whether it was night out dancing and being a bunch of fools, a campout in the middle of nowhere or a Sunday breakfast, this rotating cast of friends are always up for fun and friendship. Hell, there’s even video proof now (thanks Jose!) of me being a white boy who dances, well, like a white boy.
Then there’s the women in my life, each one fabulous and oh-so-different. Whether it’s J’s quiet intellect (or raucous laughter), C’s ability to make me laugh (or be there in a time of need), N’s ability to make me want to act a fool, the way A and I seem to be going through similar growing pains at the Paragraph Factory (and lord, can she cook!), the LesBruins who are like my feisty little sisters always ready to make the Bears (and me) laugh, T who taught me so much in first few years (and I regret how difficult it has been to see her on something even close to a regular basis) and the list goes on (almost as much as that sentence did).
There’s the extended family that I picked up through B — his awesome mom, his amazing sister and his amazing dad who have added me into their family without flinching. A brother-in-law who always manages to get me into some sort of trouble when we hang out. The huge extended family that always offers a smile, a hug and a sense of belonging.
In nine years, I keep collecting new people into my life like some sort of strange friendship hoarder. My Halloween party that evolved into our New Year’s Eve party is great example of that. So many people pack our house from all walks of life. They mingle and mix like some strange jambalaya.
And yeah, back up. Re-read the beginning of that paragraph. Nine years. Somehow, that seed planted on a boat took root. Three homes in nine years, but I’ve stayed here in Austin. Longest I’ve stayed put since I moved out for college.
And the crazy thing was surprise dinner last night for my 38th birthday. B arranged this collection of people completely on the sly to show up in one spot to have dinner with me. I don’t get overwhelmed very often, but there I was all shocked, surprised and verklempt. It was a crazy version of This Is Your Life as each guest arrived. Folks who never had met one another, knew enough about each other to talk and laugh and enjoy an evening. While I’ve often joked that if one were to look at the mix in my Facebook feed and see how so many worlds collide, it’s another thing entirely to see a cross-section of those people in one physical space.
I took in the moment. I saw how friends old and new were laughing and talking. I saw a ton of sincere smiling. I saw each person’s connection to me and the threads forming connecting them to one another in realtime. I saw each person’s life and how much it had changed in the time I’ve known them. I noticed who I wished had been there, but understood why they weren’t.
In nine years, through so many good times and some real doozies of bad stuff, I had built up a family without meaning to. And like all families, it extends on a great deal. I come from a small family, but somehow I have managed to amass a Kennedy-sized family here in Austin.
B started the day with a gift for me. It was Daredevil wearing his original costume. For those who know me, they know I’m a comic geek. For those who know me best, they know I connect with Daredevil. B is no comic geek, yet he knew the costume. He knows Daredevil a little too well for his liking, I’m sure.
But what he doesn’t know, is that he gave me an even more awesome gift. He reminded me how honored I am to have such a group of friends and family.
So yeah, I’m now 38 and knocking on the door to 40. When I was younger, I had no concept of that. Hell, at 38 I still have no concept of 40. But every year brings me another layer of family, so I look forward to 40. I definitely look forward to the adventures yet to happen.
Thanks to everyone who sent a message (just look at that Facebook feed and see how crazy it is with folks from high school, Kansas, Florida, Kentucky and where y’all have ended up in life). Thanks to all of you who not only showed up, but kept a secret from this grizzled old journalist.
And thank you, B, for making it a weekend I’ll remember for a long, long time.