Ten years ago began one of the best, if not the most inspiring, years of my life thus far. 2002 still conjures up such a mess of emotions and memory, almost all wonderful. It began interestingly enough. A few days into the new year I flew to Cáceres, Spain to begin a semester long study abroad program at la Universidad de Extremadura. I will always have endless memories of Spain, but things did not start out as planned.
As with any year, I began 2002 cleaning up the mistakes, missteps, and crises of 2001. At 21, it all involved the men in my life at the time. It also involved my semester long study abroad program in Quito, Ecuador and the aftermath of September 11, 2001. What’s important to note here is not the assortment of men in my life or specific details of what happened in my life as a result of 9/11 but the simple fact that I was emotionally drained from another banner year in my life: 2001.
Throughout my first few weeks in Spain, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I just needed space to figure out what I wanted out of life. Ten years later and I am still trying to figure out the details. Fortunately it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Spain and my classes, especially my class in art history. I spent every long weekend of the program traveling to new destinations in Spain and eventually Portugal. I visited Madrid, Sevilla, Málaga and la Costa del Sol, Toledo, Salamanca, Ronda, Granada, Barcelona, and Lisboa. I’m grateful for the foresight of the professors of the program. If it hadn’t been for the long weekends, I would not have had the opportunity to truly explore Spain. It inspired me in countless ways to visit every week the very works we studied in class. Somewhere along the way I began to truly enjoy myself and flourished. Little did I know then that the best was yet to come.
One of my last days in Cáceres a package arrived at my front door holding the key to yet more adventure. It contained the agreement for my position as a co-op with Applied Materials in Austin, Texas. I had planned the entire experience nearly two years before as an undergraduate business student at Michigan State. At that time I was determined to land an internship at the end of my sophomore year. I did. In fact, I ended up landing an internship with IBM throughout the summer of 2001. Applied Materials also wanted me as a co-op that year. By that time I knew that I wanted to spend an entire year abroad. I simply asked the hiring manager at Applied Materials if I could work as a co-op the following year. He said yes. After spending a summer in Rochester, Minnesota working for IBM, completing a semester long study abroad program in Quito, Ecuador, completing another semester in Cáceres, Spain, I was about to spend six months living and working in Austin, Texas.
In fact, I only had a month to prepare for my new job in Austin after arriving home from Spain. I arrived in Michigan the first week in May and my first day of work in Austin was slated for mid-June. I couldn’t wait. As eager as I was to get back to MSU to complete my degree, I knew that working for Applied Materials was an experience I couldn’t pass up. I’d finally get a true taste of life after college; it would not be just another summer job. I wouldn’t return to Michigan State until January 2003 after traveling the globe for 18 months.
How do I even begin to describe my six months in Austin, Texas? I truly fell in love. I fell in love with the city itself and Texas as a whole. In fact, I fell in love with the very idea of Texas. Texas truly is like a whole other country. In fact, I later drove across a good share of it on my way home from Austin, heartbroken.
The strange thing is that the entire experience didn’t start out well at all. I loved working for Applied, but wasn’t happy with the apartment I sublet. After only being in Austin for a month and a half, I found myself in a bad car accident on my way to work, my car totaled and my big toe broken. At 21, I was lucky to be alive. As I adjusted to the leg splint and put things back together, something amazing happened.
When I first arrived in Austin I befriended a new coworker who happened to be going through the two week orientation training session with me. She and I became fast friends. She became bound and determined to fix me up with one of her old coworkers at Motorola. Andy. Over those first weeks in Austin, my friend told me a lot about him, but he never seemed to be home. In fact, I wouldn’t get to meet him for nearly a month due to his trip to Perú. I almost forgot about him by the time a blind date was arranged.
Looking back, what a strange set of circumstances under which I met Andy. We met just as I was literally getting back on my feet after the accident. Instead of a leg splint that took up half of my leg, I finally had a walking cast. Andy suggested that we go to Flipnotics to check out a local act. Here’s the thing about Flipnotics: it is a two-story building with a trendy shop taking up the entire first floor with a bar taking up the second. In order for us to check out the band and hang out at the bar, I had to walk up a large flight of stairs in a walking cast. Andy appeared mortified. I didn’t care; I was embarrassed myself. There was no way I was going to let a silly situation ruin my night.
We spent the night drinking beer, talking about all we had in common, which was a lot, and enjoying the act Andy hoped to book on his radio show, ATX Live. To this day Andy is one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met. By day an engineer, by night a DJ at a co-op radio station. At the time he still hosted ATX live; he later became president of the co-op radio station. It was through him that I began to enjoy myself in Austin.
We never had a romantic relationship, but we did become very good friends. He soon introduced me to his manager and friend Cheryl. She became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. If I saw her today I have no doubt we could just start up again right where we left off. Not many men can introduce you to a new good friend; Andy did. That’s the thing about Andy and Cheryl: they got me. We spent hours checking out new bands, solo artists, etc. We attended the very first Austin City Limits festival together. Cheryl and I were there when Andy’s RK surgery to correct his vision went terribly wrong. After he recovered his sight, we threw him a “dressed to be seen”/Halloween/late birthday party at his house that became legendary among us. After all of my years of not fitting in high school and being mostly a loner in a college, I finally had a great group of friends that I truly loved.
After the accident I had to move almost immediately. It turned out that my sublet was only through the summer. I panicked. Fortunately, through Applied Materials internal classifieds system, I found a great place to live. Karen became another great friend in Austin. She had just built her home before the stock market plummeted and wanted to test out the idea of a renter. We became fast friends, bonding over Beatles music. I loved living in her house. It felt as though I was living with one of my favorite aunts for three months, and I enjoyed every minute of it. As my return to Michigan loomed, we hosted a combination goodbye/birthday/Christmas party for me. I did not want to go home.
I’ll never forget leaving Austin on that foggy morning in mid-December. I cried. I had never felt my life come so completely together as it did in Austin. I wanted to stay, but I felt that I had to go back to MSU to complete my degree. I always planned to return. I still miss the people, the music, and the fun. It didn’t quite work out that way I planned. Despite my best intention and efforts, I never did get a job in Austin after graduation.
I’m not sure why I am looking back to 2002 now other than to say that it is time to move on. I loved my life in Austin. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to recreate that deep sense of happiness in Bay City. I need to figure out what I need to be truly happy and go after it. Life is too damn short to be miserable. There will always be a part of me that will treasure all of those experiences I had in 2001 and 2002. There are days when I just look in the mirror and wonder what happened to the girl who risked everything for adventure.
Songwriters: David Kent, Kirsti Manna
She left without leavin’ a number
Said she needed to clear her mind
He figured she’d gone back to Austin
‘Cause she talked about it all the time
It was almost a year before she called him up
Three rings and an answering machine is what she got
If you’re callin’ ’bout the car I sold it
If this is Tuesday night, I’m bowling
If you’ve got somethin’ to sell
You’re wastin’ your time, I’m not buyin’
If it’s anybody else, wait for the tone, you know what to do
And P.S. if this is Austin, I still love you
The telephone fell to the counter
She heard but she couldn’t believe
What kind of man would hang on that long
What kind of love that must be
She waited three days and then she tried again
She didn’t know what she’d say but she heard three rings and then
If it’s Friday night I’m at the ballgame
And first thing Saturday, if it don’t rain
I’m headed out to the lake
And I’ll be gone all weekend long
But I’ll call you back when I get home on Sunday afternoon
And P.S. if this is Austin, I still love you
Well, this time she left her number
But not another word
Then she waited by the phone on Sunday evenin’
And this is what he heard
If you’re callin’ ’bout my heart
It’s still yours
I should’ve listened to it a little more
Then it wouldn’t have taken me so long to know where I belong
And by the way, boy, this is no machine you’re talkin’ to
Can’t you tell, this is Austin and I still love you
I still love you.