by Julia Kastner
A little crooked, always, when taking the picture one-handed. My right arm approaching the frame, smile lopsided where this city’s streets rearranged it, and this city’s dentists and surgeons rebuilt it. Face like the city, forever under construction and not always well-loved, but this city too smiles in the face of futures unknown. Over my left shoulder, an oxidizing metal sculpture at Eleanor Tinsley Park on Allen Parkway—backdrop for another photo, long ago—and a scrap of skyline. Not that it matters. This is not a famous skyline, but I capture the distinctive shape of 700 LA.
That’s bicycle-messenger shorthand for the Bank of America Center at 700 Louisiana Street, three triangular tiers of Napoleon red granite, quarried in Sweden and finished in Italy; specialists were brought here from Spain to install the arch. Construction wrapped up the year after I was born. Not that I knew any of that—Napoleon granite, nation of origin, birth year—when this picture was snapped. But I captured that shape, too, when I had the Houston skyline tattooed on my right ankle at age 18.
The sun is shining, naturally—something I took for granted until I moved away.
In another era, in an earlier time, I would not have had the tools, not the option, not the choice to make, to repudiate the place that made me. Father and mother aging. Hearth and home and husband, and we would have had babies. Not for me—daughter, wife, citizen—to choose to go.
I left to “find myself,” to meet the “other fish in the sea,” newfangled, feminist impulses. In another era, they might have chained me to a bed in a room with yellow wallpaper.
It was an arranged marriage, me to this place, but like they claimed and promised in another era, in an earlier time, we came to love one another. I realized after I left that I had done so to salvage my love, to retain and cradle this place, images of rusty sculpture and 700 LA. In another era, we would have ended in hate, as relationships do that outlive the impulses that made them. Now we are suspended in uncertain nostalgia. An extravagance of options comes with its own price: the cost of making choices.
I am myself here. Crooked frame, crooked smile, scrap of skyline, but so optimistic, ever growing, and still vague on plans but unexpectedly successful. A portrait as unplanned as its subject: purposeful, yes, as the Allen Brothers planting a stick in the mud in 1836, but not blueprinted. Built on dreams and shifting swamp, not a foundation, or even solid ground.
The boom has been going on so long through so many depressions that we begin to think our oily excess immortal, but the sun does go down, it does rain here, the hugging heat does fade in winter—sometimes, briefly—hurricanes much more regular than snow.
Julia Kastner is a book reviewer, bartender, dog lover, beer drinker, mountain biker, and native Texan. She’s an MFA candidate in the low-residency program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in You Are Here Stories and Word Riot. She lives in small-town central Texas, and her favorite color is green.
SLAG GLASS CITY · Volume 4 · February 2018
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