Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Monuments...and a Dawning Realization

I spent the first 23 years of my life living in Texas. At some point during my childhood, my parents took me on a trip to Houston so that I could see both The San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas. I was probably 10 years old or younger, and the memory has certainly faded over time.

Having lived in Northern Virginia for the last several months, I have had the opportunity to see The Washington Monument dozens of times. As it was the fresher of the two monuments in my mind's eye, I had grown comfortable in thinking that Washington was superior to San Jacinto.

That illusion was shattered today.

Standing at 570-feet tall and topped with a 34-foot tall star that represents the Lone Star Republic, The San Jacinto Monument dwarfs its 555-foot 5 1/8-inch tall counterpart in the District of Columbia.

Both monuments are accompanied by a reflecting pool. Here in Houston, the pool is 1,800 feet long by 200 feet wide, with a depth of 4-6 feet. Back in DC, the pool is 2,029 feet long by 167 feet wide, with a depth of 1.5-2.5 feet.

The intricate details found within the exterior architecture speak for themselves.

How is it possible that my memory was filled with visions of a San Jacinto Monument that was identical to the Washington Monument, but smaller and less maintained?

When I graduated from Texas A&M University in 2003, I vacated the state as fast as humanly possible. Despite having lived there my entire life, I desperately, needed to leave. I hadn't travelled much as a child and felt stifled as a result. Having spent two summers studying in Europe and working in Orlando, I realized that there was an entire world out there to explore. And I set out to do just that.

Since then, I have only returned to Texas twice. The first time was to spend New Year's Eve 2008 with our friend Patrick here in Houston before making a quick stop to see my parents in Temple. The second time was for my uncle's funeral exactly one year later.

My parents have typically enjoyed visiting me in Orlando, and I have worked this to my advantage. If they come visit me once a year, that means I can selfishly use my vacation time to explore other parts of the world. That gravy train has ended for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that my parents are afraid of flying. My new globetrotting life is not conducive to them taking a road trip in their mobile home. Which they sold anyway. So that's strike one and two, all rolled into one. Strike three being that my father has recently sold his business, which he had been running since I was in Kindergarten. What kind of son would I be if I continued to expect them to visit me, when it will be much more practical for me to start returning the favor?

I saw my parents yesterday, but only for a few short hours. They made the 3+ hour drive from Temple to Houston to spend the day with me. I treated them to lunch at Wings 'n More, which I remembered fondly from my days at Texas A&M. Watching me pay the bill hurt my father's pride. In fact, he asked if I was trying to hurt his feelings.

My parents, above all else, have always been great providers. We weren't wealthy, but we were comfortable. My father was a successful small business owner, and I was an only child. As a result, I lived a childhood, and young adulthood, without want. I had more toys than you could shake a stick at. I was among the first to own a Nintendo...and its subsequent iterations. When I played high school football, they took out large advertisements in the game programs. College? Paid for. Cars? Ditto.

Financially speaking, I couldn't ask for better parents. But I grew up in Texas. Texas folk like to stay put. And, unless you're lucky, they don't tend to understand homosexuality. This lead to two distinct problems. 1) We didn't travel much, which only served to fuel my desire to explore the world, and 2) They didn't take to my being gay very well.

I wasn't disowned. I wasn't cut off financially. I wasn't loved any less. They just didn't understand. They still don't. It's possible they never will. We argue about it from time to time, and usually it's me that begins to fan the flames.

But you know what? When TJ and I applied for our mortgage, they helped with the down payment. They day we moved in, they sent "Welcome Home" flowers. Later, on a visit to Orlando, they gave us matching rocking chairs so we could sit on the porch together. Any time they see TJ, they show him just as much respect as they would if he were my wife. Sometimes I think they even like him more than they like me. Not a horrible problem to have, I suppose.

I guess that's all I can ask for. They aren't perfect. Neither am I. We fight like cats and dogs, but at the end of the day, I know that they love me. And I hope that they know that I love them in return. In my late teens/early twenties I had the misfortune of mistaking a potential lack of understanding on their part as justification for premature rebellion on mine. I wasn't a troubled youth. I didn't act out. I was just an Honors Student....with a bad attitude. And it certainly affected our relationship.

It must be hard for them. Whatever my reasons for doing so, I have effectively moved farther and farther away from them over the past seven years. Even though Guadalajara will be closer than either Orlando or DC, ease of travel is diminished. On some level, they must feel abandoned. On some level, I feel that I have abandoned them.

But life is meant to be lived, and it's up to the individual to determine how best to live that life.
My hope is that they realize that they raised a man that is happy with his life. Someone that has found another person to love. Someone that is able to explore the world just as he always wanted to do. Someone that is beginning to understand the importance of going home once in a while. Someone who now realizes that, whether it be your relationship with your parents or a faded memory of a local monument, maybe the past isn't as bleak as you remember it.

So, no, dad, I wasn't trying to hurt your feelings. I was simply trying to show how grateful I am for everything.


  1. Hey, Aaron -
    Since I only just discovered your blog a week ago, I am still catching up on the history (reading in no particular order at all, of course). But I was surprised this didn't have comments and thought perhaps it needed some.

    First, you're absolutely right about the monument in Texas looking more interesting and I am really impressed you captured and/or cropped the shots the way you have...very nice photographing. Does it also have an over-crowded elevator to take you to the top in it?

    Second, I am the youngest of 5, but I totally relate to the not moving away from family thing. The one year I lived in Vermont during Christmas, my mother took pictures of everyone opening every gift so that I would have a visual record of the event. She is crying in every photo of herself, of course.

    All 4 of my siblings and our mom live within 10 miles of each other and always have - for the last 52 years (that's my oldest sister's age!). My partner, Adam, and I decided to go to his mom's for Thanksgiving this year, but he's from New York. We ended up bringing my mom with us so that we could still be together (which is a hysterical series of events I'll have to tell you sometime).

    Well, you can imagine how much fun Des Moines, Iowa is...probably as much as Temple,TX. I can't wait to get out of here. At the same time, mom isn't getting any younger and, as the "baby," I've always had a stronger connection to her.

    That said, I know my mom (and, I'm sure your parents too) would be proud to say "my son is working for the embassy in..." to friends, even if it means they see us less. Do your parents Skype? I set my mom up with high-speed internet on my old Mac and I've decided I will train her on using Skype before I go anywhere.

  2. Thanks for noticing my awesomeness as a nonprofessional photographer. I was quite proud of these photos, primarily because they required little-to-no cropping. I had remembered taking the one shot in DC, and just visualized its twin while in Houston...and yes, it DOES have a tiny, scary elevator!

    As for Skype, during this same visit with my parents we spent a lovely hour mooching internet in a Starbucks parking lot in an effort to teach my parents how to Skype. In the end, it's easier for me to just call them. Fortunately, we have an unlimited calling plan to the US, so it ain't so bad.

    And finally, thanks for drawing attention to this post in general. It did have a disappointing lack of comments (though I do find that most people comment on Facebook links to my postings), but I was quite pleased with this one at the time. This is the type of post I prefer, and sadly I haven't really posted one like it lately. Maybe I'm due for another.