When we first met, I hated you. You were dripping wet, soggy, disgusting, a pathetic little excuse of a town. You were littered with strip clubs, tattoo parlors, and taco stands. I didn’t know what to make of you. I hated your flat, dusty landscape and your humid August skies. I hated your hailstones, your bicycle lanes, and your greasy fast food joints. I still don’t understand how most of you is still in business, what with the endless stretch of parking lots and high-rise garages that blanket the downtown area.
But I have to admit that when we met, I was in love with someone else. I had been in love with her for years, you understand, and it was nearly impossible for me to let go. And based on first impressions alone, she was winning. Los Angeles wore her midnight blue, sparkling evening gown and welcomed my red-eye flight home. She was dangerous and dirty, but she challenged me and helped me grow. She was everything I needed until I met you.
You proved to be worth far more than I could have possibly imagined. Slowly, so slowly that I almost didn’t notice, you seeped under my skin and rode the pipelines in my veins. For the past three years, you have been more than just my home. Waco, you were my first apartment and the first piece of furniture I ever bought. I wrote the check for my paint chipped, dusty, 1940’s bed with shaky hands, and moved into the first home that I could call all my own. You were the twenty-foot wall-to-ceiling windows in my bedroom and the rusty old pipes that hung above my head.
You were my lover when mine abandoned me. I was falling out of love and you were there in the moonlight, calling me back to bed. I never slept as well as I did when I moved back home to you. You were the bathtub fort that I built to watch Fight Club in when I thought I’d never fall in love again. I was wrong. I was falling in love with you. You were the kiss outside of the bar, the first story I ever published, the first friends I ever made. You were the late night rounds of Shiner with people I know I’ll never see again. You were my first job. My first unpaid, over-worked, un-organized job, the one that I never want to quit. Waco, you’re the place I come home to when Austin kicks me out and Dallas doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter if I drive north or south on I-35, I always have to come back to you.
You’re countless nights spent looking at the stars. Walking along the dam, sitting on the rooftop of my favorite coffeehouse, scaling the sides of buildings and waiting for the sun to come up. You’re a concert at Beatnix in the summer time, and a Cowboy coffee from Common Grounds when it gets cold. Waco, you’re Baylor, but you’re also downtown. You’re David Koresh, but you’re also Cafe Homestead. You’re the lights on top of the Alico building, better than the North Star when I get lost. You’re the derelict, the vagrant, the homeless, but you’re the downtown Farmer’s Market, too. You’re proof that life can grow and sustain even when the people here seem dead.
When I first began the process of moving, I felt alone, because I thought that I was leaving behind a set of friends in LA. I thought that I would have to make a new set of friends here that would ultimately just forget about me too, as soon as I was gone. I realized that none of this is true. I’m not leaving behind any people, I’m leaving behind a city that I have fallen in love with. Waco, you are my favorite roommates, and the crazy ones too. You’re my gay best friend who loves science fiction and Cupp’s cheeseburgers. You’re my big sister, with wild hair and funny stories. You’re the barista at the coffee shop, the cashier at my favorite place to get a grilled cheese. You’re my managing editor and every photographer and writer I’ve ever worked with. You’re the girl who makes me laugh when we’re putting away hundreds of boxes of non-profit shoes at my crappy day job. You’re even the punk who stole my bike and my digital camera.
Waco, you are the outside of a bar and the inside of a swimming pool in August. You’re the concerts that I went to last year instead of studying for finals. You’re the red hair dye washing down the sink from my roommate’s hair. You’re the nose ring I couldn’t keep, the tattoo I was too scared to get. You’re the yoga class I couldn’t find and had to teach myself. You’re the empty zoo on Dia del Oso, you’re the movie theatre on a Wednesday afternoon.
Dear Waco, I am terrified of leaving you. Dear Waco, I miss you already. Who will comfort me with sweet potato fries and sweet tea when I’m lonely? Los Angeles is beautiful, but she isn’t you. She knows me and she loves me, but she hasn’t seen me in years. Waco, I don’t know how to love her anymore. Right now, I only want to be with you. I want to stay in this dinky little town forever, wrapped up in the stars and the rivers and the sunrises and the parking lots.
Waco, I’ll never forget you. I’ll never let go of the people you brought me or the things that you’ve shown me. With any luck, you’ll grow and change and forget about me, but I won’t ever be able to do that. Not yet. Not while the taste of purple margaritas is still on my tongue, not when I still know the map of Valley Mills like the back of my hand.
Hey there, Los Angeles. I’m coming home.