Desperate Settlers

By Gina Easley

By Tracy Sutton Schorn

Love will make you do crazy things. Like move to Texas.

If you find yourself moving to Texas, a state the color of dead grass, because you fell in love with a trial lawyer who sweet-talked you seventeen hundred miles from a peaceful existence on the East Coast—don’t blame Texas. Blame New Orleans. Jazzfest in particular and too many rum hurricanes, and the seductive powers of Solomon Burke singing “Cry to Me.” Because in New Orleans, you will meet your fate. You’ll forget that you’re forty-two and single and more likely to be hit by lightening than remarry. In New Orleans everything is possible. Resurrection from hurricanes. Second lines. Dancing on coffins. Love in middle age.

Do not be seduced. Do not think impossible things like, “I could learn to love Texas,” because God will test you. He will send you that man, the one you didn’t think existed. Who is quirky, kind and brave. Who sued a sexual harasser once and demanded his shoes. Because they were flashy, snakeskin shoes, and if that creep could be humiliated by leaving mediation in socks, his victim would feel like she really won something.

He asked, but he didn’t get the shoes. You love him for the asking.

So because of this story, and the sweet talk, and the sex, you move to Texas. God calls your bluff. You remarry.

It happens. I live in Texas.

I’m not alone. One thousand sixty people move to Texas every day, more than any other state. They say it’s for the jobs, but I’m convinced that they are lured here by sweet-talking Texans. One day you could be driving south on 1-35 with a U-Haul. Don’t be cocky.

You think you’ve got more sense than to live in a state with one hundred days of 100-degree weather? Think again. The streets of Austin are clogged with hopeful new settlers.

I love my husband and I cannot imagine my life without him. And yet every day I wonder how I wound up in Texas. I’ve concluded it’s a test from God. He wants to know how bad do I want itthis life, this good man.

Bad enough to give up lilacs, tulips, rhubarb, peonies, quick train rides to New York, art museums, Longwood Gardens, temperate weather, twenty-five years of collected woolens, overcoats, socks, snowballs, wood-burning fireplaces, the color green, autumn leaves, maple syrup… Would I give up water, God wants to know?

Because there is no water in Texas. They think they have water—they have no idea what water is. I grew up in Michigan, the Great Lakes state. We know from water. I moved to Texas from Pennsylvania. I had a house on the Susquehanna River and the five feet of water in my basement once to prove it. I know what rivers are. I know what lakes look like. This trickle of ankle-deep, piss-warm murk they call a “river” is what we non-Texans refer to as a “dry creek.”

I get panicky without water. I feel like I’m going to die, like one of those cartoon characters crawling across a desert. I wonder why more people aren’t stockpiling provisions. Frankly, I wonder why more people aren’t driving north on 1-35 out of this place. Perhaps I’m jaded—I moved here during a historic drought. My husband said, “Texas has droughts. This is normal.”

And then the forest fires started.

But that was three years ago. It’s rained a couple times since then. But when it rains in Texas, it rains all at once. Ten-inches-in-an-hour kind of rain. Deluges. Floods. The hard-baked soil can’t absorb it, so it washes down the streets and gullies. People get swept away. Drought, floods, oppressive heat: the weather wants to kill you in Texas—and it often succeeds.

It makes me wonder why on earth anyone settled this place, including Native Americans. You had to have been desperate. All the good land everywhere else must’ve been taken. Texas was what was left over—a scrubby wasteland the Anglos had to fight Mexico for, although I can’t imagine why. Shedding blood at the Alamo for the privilege of owning millions of acres of useless mesquite? WTF?

Like I said, desperate people. Free-thinking Germans, poor second cousins of landowners out East, eternal optimists. I guess they looked at whatever was chasing them, and figured they’d take their chances with the weather.

Who needs peonies, they probably said to themselves, when I can farm on hundreds of acres of withered grass? I’ll never have to knit another sweater as long as I live! Pretty soon their kid was saying to them, “Eat the jalapenos, Mom,” like that was a normal thing. Like pain was a flavor.

Somehow those settlers learned to love Texas. They didn’t just survive. They overcompensated with a colossal regard for the place. Texans adore Texas. Perhaps they’ve never been to other states, I thought. They have nothing to compare it to? It is, after all, a very large state. You couldn’t blame a person for driving eight hours in any direction and giving up. Damn, we’re still in Texas.

I don’t get it. Delaware doesn’t suffer this kind of conceitedness. Minnesota (certainly a state that matches Texas with weather that wants to kill you) doesn’t brag about how great it is. Minnesotans are far too self-effacing for that. Texas thinks it’s badass? I’m from Detroit. People from Detroit—we don’t talk about it. We just live with the contradictions. It’s like still loving a junkie who’s flunked his sixth round of rehab.

My husband loves Texas. He named his son after Willie Nelson. He drives a quad-cab Ford diesel pick-up truck. He wears pearl-snap Western shirts with no sense of hipster irony whatsoever. It just kills him that I don’t love Texas the way he loves Texas.

But I love him. I especially love the way he killed the five-foot long rat snake that slithered under our front door and curled up on the living room rug one day. He escorted the snake to the porch and then hacked it with a garden hoe. The snake did not improve my opinion of Texas. Nor did my mother-in-law’s nonchalance one-upping us when she related how a rat snake once fell on her from on top of the pantry. “They’re harmless,” she said, as if falling Texas rat snakes were as benign as cherry blossoms.

“People love Texas,” my husband admonishes. And judging by the Austin traffic, I know he’s right. I know I’m a freak for missing freezing rain and snow days. And I know in the grand scheme of things, the majority of people would rather have endless summer than lilac bushes. People move to Texas for the opportunity. The places I love—the woods of northern Michigan, tiny villages on the Susquehanna River, verdant green patches of New England—there’s not much opportunity there. It’s pretty, but as they say, you can’t eat the view.

My husband was once married to a woman who cheated on him for two decades before he found out and divorced her. I was briefly married to a man who was also a serial cheater with a double life. It was my second marriage. I thought I was done with love and commitment. There was a time in both of our lives where we thought these experiences would kill us. They didn’t kill us. They made us appreciate opportunity, the kind of opportunity that shows up in front of a four-hundred-pound soul singer in a purple suit crooning “Cry to Me.” That gets drunk in New Orleans and sweet-talked to Texas.

If I’m honest about Texas, I know I belong here. Because I’m a desperate sort of settler, too.

God asked, “How bad do you want it?”

I answered, “I guess I’ll take my chances with the weather.”


TRACY SCHORN is a journalist and runs the blog

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