One of my online writing students posed the question, “Why do we make some of the decisions we make?” She was recounting her early years when she made the decision to go to college across the state, and then moved out-of-state for a job. Her point was that her decision had long-term ramifications in terms of her relationship with her family of origin. In other words, she only saw them two or three times a year rather than having a close, connected relationship over the years with them.
This made me think about Ray and me and our choice to move to California. Of course, this primarily affected my relationship with my brother, George and his wife Sandra, who still lived close to us in Texas, as well as with my mother. I was in my early 40’s when we moved here after living near or in the town where my mother lived for over 15 years. George lived only 25 miles away, which made him my closest sibling in distance. So, why did I choose to leave them in favor of a life in Los Angeles, particularly at that late date?
The truth is that up until the time Ray and I moved, we travelled constantly in our work. We were the primary vendors for antique decor for the Chili’s chain of restaurants and at that time, Chili’s was building up to 50 restaurants a year filled with antiques and collectible. Ray and I and our girls travelled to New England three times a year to buy antiques for one month for each trip and we also often headed down to Laredo to buy on the Texas/Mexico border. Also, when we were in our little Texas town, we were busy getting those antiques and collectibles ready to take to the Chili’s distribution center in Dallas. In other words, our lives were full, busy and often centered somewhere else. But then, after 650 restaurants, Chili’s had saturated the market. Also, they soon decided they wanted to modernize their design to bring in a new and different look. So, fifteen years down the line, our lives shifted from being gone to being home and suddenly, Ray and I felt caged in and not very happy. Enter the opportunity to move to LA and help my brother Jim in his medical practice. The fact that Jim was HIV positive and would need help in the future (this was 1994) was also a motivator.
That decision brought a rash of changes, as you might expect. Our kids went from a rural school to an urban one; we went from a town to a major city. We certainly didn’t feel caged in any longer. Ray and I both felt instantly that LA was “home,” and we would both say today that move was an excellent one for us. However, it did have its drawbacks: being far from my mother and my brother, George and his wife, Sandra.
In retrospect, I am deeply appreciative that my mother was so gracious about our decision to move. Not that it came easy, but she let us go and didn’t invite too much guilt along the way. (Okay, some, but that was quickly talked about and dissipated.) My brother, George, was more vocal about our decision. “Why do you have to go?” he asked. I had to tell him that I wasn’t quite sure why, but I knew this was the right choice. He understood, but I knew he was disappointed that our time was going to be limited. Sandra seemed to understand.
Had I known my brother George and Sandra would die long before their time, and that my mother would also die sooner than I would have thought, would I have made a different choice? Perhaps. Well, actually, yes, I would have. But the truth is that I didn’t know and I made the best choice I knew to make at the time given the circumstances.
I am happy we have had the experiences that came with that move, which included a meaningful time with my brother Jim as he was dying. We have also made many dear friends here in Southern CA and our children have had some wonderful opportunities they may not have ever had back home. We also have had a lot of fun.
Alas, I guess we all do the best we can and hope it will be all right in the end. My relationship with my mother, my brother and my sister-in-law stayed strong all the way until their deaths. I could argue that I certainly never took them for granted.
So, my student’s question does bring some serious questions to mind, some of them without clear answers. Still, they are worth asking just as an exercise in clear-headedness. Hopefully, not as a way to second-guess what now can never be changed. I don’t think my mother, George or Sandra would be happy if they thought I was doing that. “Live in the present,” they would all say and that’s good advice.
I am happy that I’m so happy. I guess that is answer enough.