Ten years later, there we were. Somewhere between 100 and 200 members of the Bellaire High School class of 2003 had gathered in a dive bar near the Southwest Freeway, overtaking the regular customers. Red and white banners staked our claim and announced our continued school spirit. Camera flashes kept going off. The entire night was dedicated to mingling and catching up, drinking and sharing stories, shouting to be heard over the other voices and music.

Like true best friends, the two of us stuck together for much of the night, trying to spend time with each other, while also wandering around and reacquainting with our old peers. Despite people’s newly acquired beards, changes in fashion, or extra pounds gained here and there, everyone still felt vaguely familiar. It made us wonder: Were we mostly the same too?

A sense of curiosity had us talking to everyone we passed, whether we recognized them or not. Former boyfriends, dance team buddies, tag-along spouses, and even one lovely girl who remembered us far better than we remembered her. Like a choreographed dance, the crowd kept splitting into pairs and small groups, then swirling around and dividing again. In each new configuration, we laughed over fond memories, reminisced about old teachers, and marveled at all the things that had fallen between the cracks, waiting until that night to be unearthed again.

Once or twice we were ignored by people who we approached or waved to, which was puzzling more than offensive. It seemed to go against the whole spirit of a class reunion. But it didn’t matter — such petty matters were left behind in high school — and only showed us who our friends really were, both then and now.

Overall, the reunion was enjoyable in an inessential way, like eating a slice of cake. It tastes good in the moment, but you don’t need it. It doesn’t nurture or fulfill you in any way. On the one hand, it didn’t really matter how our classmates had turned out. They had been absent from our lives for a long time, and as soon as we walked out the door, they would disappear again, with no impact on us one way or another. But on the other hand, it was nice to look around the room and think, “Hey, we did all right.” As a group, we’ve experienced such interesting things over the past decade — like working on Wall Street, studying volcanoes for NASA, becoming parents, chasing and living our dreams.

At the end of the night, we felt a sort of collective pride — and honestly, a sense of reassurance. We had all survived, and maybe even thrived, in these first ten years after high school. That meant we were probably in good shape to do the same or better in the decades to come.


Kristan

While there was no snow or sleigh bells, my holiday was otherwise fairly traditional. I flew home to Houston and was greeted with lots of hugs from my parents — as well as lots of kisses from mosquitoes.

That first weekend, we battled the crowds to do our last-minute shopping. Funny enough, nowadays my parents and I tend to buy our own presents and then wrap them as a surprise to everyone else. It may sound weird, but we enjoy it. Makes Santa’s life easier too.

After Christmas, my half-sister came to visit with her granddaughter, and we showed them a few of Houston’s highlights: Moody Gardens, Kemah Boardwalk, NASA’s Space Center, the Galleria and the Waterwall. We also drove around nice neighborhoods to look at their sparkling holiday lights. Though I had done it all before, it was fun to see my hometown through a newcomer’s eyes.

For me, the new experience was babysitting my cousin’s daughter for 3 nights. She’s now 5 years old, which is a fun but exhausting age. We colored Hello Kitty activity books, read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and watched My Little Pony. I gave her a bath and brushed her teeth. She ate the ham and eggs out of my kolache. I felt like I was playing Mom for a few days, and it was… illuminating.

Now it’s 2013, and I’m back home, back to my regularly scheduled life, back to work. I don’t have any specific resolutions, but I would like to continue applying a few themes across all areas of my life: (1) Don’t try to do/have it all; (2) Don’t worry about what people think; (3) Keep It Simple, Stupid; (4) Push yourself; (5) Be more assertive/decisive; and (6) Don’t aim for perfection, just keep getting better.

Angie

My parents and I always celebrate Thanksgiving in a big way — lots of friends and a massive feast — but for whatever reason, we don’t do any of the December holidays. So after a wonderful extended stay at home in November, I decided to do something different this winter: Freeze my butt off in Canada. At –10°F to be precise!

Why give up the balmy Texas climate for arctic Canadian weather? I wanted to learn how to ski. Also, as a child I had visited Banff National Park, a World Heritage Site notorious for its scenic beauty, in the summer. Now I wanted to witness firsthand its breathtaking views in the winter.

I was not disappointed. I spent a couple days touring the towns and then three full days skiing the popular sites: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay. Each day as I arrived on the slopes, with an instructor leading the way, I ooo-ed and ahh-ed – even falling once because I was so captivated by the view.

Needless to say, I fell quite a few more times trying to complete a green (“easy”) run on the second day. Although I picked up the basic skiing techniques quickly, gravity sometimes won. Nevertheless, I slowly but surely conquered the mountain, turning and braking my way down the steep inclines. By the third day, I felt confident on the slopes, and eager to return for more someday.

After my skiing adventures, I spent New Year’s Eve in Seattle with one of my best friends, eating and exploring the city. We even toured the old city underground and then watched the fireworks shoot off around the Space Needle.

On January 1st, I flew back to New York City, with sore legs and a clearer mind, ready for change in 2013.


On my most recent trip home to Houston, my parents and I went to Clear Lake for an evening sail on our boat. The weather was good, the waters calm. After a busy day, we were looking forward to the relaxing rhythm of the waves and the fresh, salty air.

Unfortunately, when we got to the marina, we found several inches of water inside the cabin. Somehow our sailboat had partially flooded! So instead of a leisurely night enjoying the surf and the breeze, we spent two hours with a plastic bucket and a leaky pump, bailing out the stale and murky water.

By the time we finished, we had mosquito bites on our ankles, our clothes were spattered with dirt, and our skin was covered in a fine layer of seawater and sweat. Anyone in their right mind would have been miserable. And yet, my parents and I smiled and joked as we headed to the bathrooms to clean up.

Upon reflection, I realized that in a weird way, I actually enjoyed that night of gross, sweaty work. Because my parents and I were spending time together. Because I was helpful to them.

As an only child, I’ve always had a close relationship with my parents. But now that I live so far away, I see just how much we did as a family, and how hard it is to do that kind of stuff now. Thanks to technology, my parents are never more than a phone call or an email away, but it’s not the same as hopping in the car for ice cream at Dairy Queen, or going to see a movie on a whim, or just hanging out at home with the TV on, all of us sitting in our “reserved seats” on the couch. Things that I used to take for granted. Things that aren’t so easy anymore.

Whenever I visit home, my mom asks if I want to do anything, and my dad asks if I want to go anywhere. Favorite restaurants, new museum exhibits, the beach at Galveston, even Austin or San Antonio. I know they just want me to have fun, but I always tell them not to go to any trouble. They can’t understand why.

That night, after our decidedly not-relaxing evening on the boat, we put our swimsuits on, rinsed off, and then hopped into the community pool at the marina. Beneath a dark sky filled with stars, we floated on our backs and kicked our legs. We sat on the deck chairs and ate cherries. We talked and laughed and talked some more.

I guess that’s the real reason that night didn’t feel miserable to me. That’s why we don’t need to go anywhere or do anything special. Because we’re together, spending time as a family again. And that’s enough.


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it’s the one tradition my family keeps. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a holiday centered around food?

Every Thanksgiving since as far as I can remember, my family has dinner with my best friend Jen’s family. Our parents have known each other since college, so we grew up hand-in-hand. Sometimes the menu changes, sometimes more families join in, and goodness knows we all age, but every year it’s a full meal and lots of laughter.

A few years ago, Kristan and I added our own tradition to Thanksgiving. The two of us would return to Houston and run — or more realistically walk — the Turkey Trot, an early morning 10K race benefitting Sheltering Arms.  Then we’d rush back home to shower, and in the afternoon we’d volunteer at the Superfeast in downtown Houston.  Later in the evening, we would go to our respective family dinners.

Last year, Kristan changed our tradition. She understandably wanted to spend time with her boyfriend Andy and his family. At first I was disappointed, but I still had my other traditions. I knew I’d get to spend time with Jen, gorging on stuffing and pumpkin pie.  I could deal with a little change.

Little did I know, that little change was just the beginning…

For years and years my Thanksgiving traditions were the same, and this year I was looking forward to another rambunctious gathering. However, in October I abruptly uprooted my entire life in Texas to start a new job in New York City.  Given the quick timing, I found myself unable to return home for Thanksgiving.

At first I didn’t think too much of it, but as the holiday approached, I started to realize how incredibly homesick I was. Friends and coworkers talked about their plans for family gatherings and delicious menus, and I secretly envied them. Luckily though, a few New Yorkers reached out and helped me plan a new Thanksgiving for myself.

Just between us Texans, I want you to know that despite their reputation, New Yorkers are very sweet. From an Italian father with a great love of tea, to a sweet couple I met at IKEA, to my boss who I admire greatly, I have gotten to know an amazing number of very nice, very open people. In fact, after just one meeting, the IKEA couple invited me to join them for their Thanksgiving lunch.

Everyone says that when traditions end, you start a new one. But I’m not looking to start a new tradition, I am just looking to start my adventures, because who knows how next year will change. This year I am spending Thanksgiving with three different families, which also means three big meals and, of course, an overabundance of laughter. Next year, who knows?

And yes I am still a bit homesick, but I also realize that now I have many homes welcoming me. So I give thanks for all the good in my life, I look forward to returning to Houston for Christmas, and I wish all you dear readers a very happy holiday season.


Angie

Between the sweltering heat and sticky humidity, you would think it was still summer. As I walked to class on my first day as a graduate student, mosquitoes swarmed my bare legs, viscously biting to survive. Survive just as I had that summer.

Rather than joining the workforce after college graduation, I chose to continue my education, much to the surprise of my parents, who assumed that I’d be well on my way to a high-paid executive position with some Fortune 500 Company. Instead, I found an internship in New York City that would engage my mind and my time until school started in the fall.

But that wasn’t the only thing that surprised them. I had also gotten out of a three-year relationship with someone I considered my best friend, and losing him felt like losing a part of myself. Essentially, I bid my parents adieu and left for New York boyfriend-less and confused, but full of hope.

I still have trouble sometimes with this transition from being a “we” to an “I.” There are times I feel lost, uncertain and unable to contain my emotions. There are also times I find myself wondering more about what he is doing than what I have just learned in class. But I’ve realized that there will be moments like these, and eventually I will learn to move past them.

This learning process began in the summer, in New York, where working through my pain and my pride, I found myself enjoying life. At first, every day felt like a constant reminder of what I no longer had. The Whitney Museum hosted a blinding “Summer of Love” exhibit featuring the psychedelic colors of 1967 and photographs of John Lennon. The company where I interned held its “Summer of Love” outing in a roof-top loft littered with a few souls brave enough to wear the complimentary tie-dyed T-shirts. Even the W Hotel, which I passed daily on my walk to work, illuminated the fluorescent words “Summer of Wuv” on the lobby floor. Everywhere I went, the phrase followed.

But beyond my “Wuv”-ly reminders, I found new adventures, cuisines and people. I spent my free time tracing Richard Serra’s sinuous bronze sculptures at the MoMA, outfitting myself with fashionable confections at Bloomingdale’s private sale, daydreaming as I overlooked the night skyline from the Empire State Building, and representing my burnt orange Texas pride at a Yankees game. Life was different, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Returning home to Texas, summer faded into memory. Although the exposure to a different place and lifestyle was an incredible experience, it left me even more uncertain about what I want to do with my life. But I’m reminded of a curly-haired aspiring actress I met on a ferry who said she wished that when she was my age, someone had told her, “It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do now.”
It’s okay. I’m okay.

The end of a relationship is never easy. The start of a new life chapter is also a difficult journey. But we all should know, there are plenty of opportunities to discover yourself. To trust yourself.

Summer of Love or not, I am Angie, and that’s okay.

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