A Trip to Port Arthur

Today I drove to Port Arthur to have lunch with an old friend. Let it be known and well understood that I haven’t many old friends, and that that is by choice. I’ve changed a lot in my life. Changed location, changed my mind, changed my priorities, changed who I was. And I’ve left many people behind, burned a few bridges, turned a new page. And so, a friendship spanning over a decade is rare and special. Here is a young lady I’ve known since we were both very freshly minted adults with big dreams and ambitions, but also with a lot of growing and learning to do. It’s nice that we’ve cheered each other on on our journeys and are still in each other’s lives after a whole decade of travel, reading, painting, and other forms of self-discovery. So yes, it was a happy trip to Port Arthur, happy as the brightly colored tofu in our meal at Uyen’s, happy until it turned sad. Because after lunch, wearing half of my Uyen’s meal on my grackle shirt (It might take another decade for me to learn to eat noodles gracefully!), I wanted to drive around and see the water. And driving around Port Arthur, especially post-Harvey, is an emotionally charged proposition. Part industrial landscape, part streets with formerly beautiful houses and palm trees that have seen better days, my trajectory took me deep into a mine field of sadness. I thought of Janis and Mary Karr, but also of more contemporary outcast bohemian heroes I had the pleasure of befriending – though not for long. I thought of the loneliness of this place, of its beauty mixed with layers of darkness, similar to the air, heavy with jasmine scent and refinery fumes. I came across a beautiful mansion. I assumed it was abandoned, later found out it’s not. I drove back to Beaumont with the refineries for company. For a few hours I got immersed in work and forgot to feel sad. But then the man at Kroger brought it back to me. He was old and he stood perhaps too close to me as he loaded groceries into his cart. He was talking on his cellphone. “I’m still hung up,” he said, and I paused. There’s only one other person I’ve ever heard that phrase from. I thought it was an artifice, trying too hard, speaking in a way that nobody spoke in just to seem cool. But no, there are people around here who talk like this. It’s more than a different culture, I suppose. It might as well be a different galaxy. And sometimes galaxies collide. But they don’t always understand each other. And it’s nobody’s fault.

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