Growing up, I always felt like a fish out of water.
I couldn’t wait to flee the country of my birth…Texas.
Yes, I know Texas isn’t a country.
But in feels like its own country. Maybe because of its size. Or its history. (It was its own country for awhile: the Republic of Texas, from 1836–1845. That independent spirit remains, albeit subtle, after all these years.)
But feeling like it was its own country wasn’t the real reason I wanted to get out.
I just always felt like I was not in my natural habitat. Nothing against it, but Houston, the city of my birth, is very large and flat. Everyone drives everywhere. When I was growing up there, there was no real center to the city, no downtown destination (then) that you could drive to and feel the life of the city the way you can in many major cities.
I felt so…alone. Millions of people lived in the city, but I could never get a sense of where they all were. I’d only see some of them passing by in their cars. Everyone seemed to be going off to places, but where were all the places? There were tons of restaurants and stores and cars and buildings and neighborhoods, but I couldn’t feel where all those people were. I can recall that feeling in my body to this day. It’s an empty-dread-panic that rises from my belly and settles into my chest, squeezing my heart. It makes me want to cry, and my breathing starts to feel pinched off. It literally made me want to run screaming into the streets, looking for, I don’t know what. Some kind of connection. Some kind of belonging?
Yes, I could go to a mall and find a lot of those people. Maybe that is part of the reason that as a child I loved to go to the Galleria, which was a big deal when I was growing up. It had a huge skating rink in it’s center (It was just the Galleria then — has since expanded.) There I could feel some of the people. Unfortunately, being a mall, it was a rather empty-feeling kind of community. I mean, the whole premise revolves around commerce. But it was something.
Sure, I had family and friends. I had some communities. I went to my best friend’s church youth group for awhile. Throughout school, I was in choir and that was a major source of connection. I participated in clubs and such. I eventually was part of a wonderful group of friends in high school and we made our own community, our own clique.
But even with those connections and communities, I still always just did not feel at home. I literally felt anxious and uncomfortable. Now, there are many reasons for that having to do with other givens of my life. But I am talking at a pure animal level.
Whatever animal I am, my natural habitat is not Texas.
When I was 16, I accompanied my parents to NYC for a big business trip. It was December, and we stayed in a swanky hotel right on Central Park South. And it snowed while we were there. My room overlooked the snow-laden beauty of Central Park, and I will never forget looking out of my window and seeing that winter wonderland. We rode the elevator down one morning with Dudley Moore! I saw five Broadway shows, which forever changed my life.
I was smitten and giddy with the flush of first love. NYC stole my heart the way it does for so many of us. I could feel the people. There was life everywhere. I could stand in the center of the life and know I was there.
Its glittery grime, its sights and sounds, the faces — the diversity! — and the raw urban-ness of it just got under my skin. I just could not stare enough at all the people, their varying energies and manners and expressions. You could argue that because I am an actor, an artist, I was destined to love a place like NYC. But it was more than that.
I was home. I could breathe easy for the first time in my life. I felt like a fish put back into its tank. I was with my people. I was where I was supposed to be. And as quickly as I could manage to, I moved to NYC. And NYC is where I have since stayed.
Today, I enjoy Texas. I appreciate Texas. I like to visit there. Many people I love are there. I see its beauty and its gifts.
But I always come home to NYC.