Austin greatest hits

One of the first pictures of me as a new Austin resident in 2009

One of the first pictures of me as a new Austin resident in 2009

I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom Airport three years ago with little more than a duffel bag. I had packed my bed, a dresser, a chair, books, and some kitchen stuff into one of those Door to Door pods, which the company would store for a monthly fee until I could raise the $1,200 to have it shipped. I wasn’t destitute. My sister and her boyfriend were here, and they had a cute little rental with an extra room where I could crash for a while.

I had quit a perfectly good job at a magazine in Boulder, confident that I could find some kind of work. I applied for every office job I was even remotely qualified for. I dropped off resumes at shops, bars, and restaurants. I signed up with temp agencies. Every day, I would wake up on an air mattress on a hard linoleum floor, and I would look at that duffel bag with the same few outfits and travel-size toiletries. I would force myself to open my computer and troll Craigslist, or I would get on the bus and ride around, wondering if I had made a horrible mistake. A month later, on my 34th birthday, I was still unemployed and my savings were dwindling. The big joke was that I was older than Jesus, so my sister got me this cake:

Cara, older than Jesus

The day before my birthday, I wrote a song called “All I want for my birthday is a job”

I finally got a holiday cashier job at Bookpeople, followed by a steady temp job at the University. I was not at all sure if the work would last, but I was so anxious to get my own place and stop mooching off my sister that I told a little white lie about being permanently employed and rented a studio apartment in West Campus. I was 34 years old and surrounded by college kids. I still couldn’t afford to have my stuff sent from the pod people, so I moved the air mattress and my duffel bag to my new apartment. After paying the deposit and first month’s rent, I had $5. I walked past all the frat houses and sororities to the 7-11 on Guadalupe St. and bought myself a bar of soap and a Lone Star tallboy. My journal entries from this time say things like, “If you’re struggling to lose that last ten pounds, try destitute poverty.”

I spent a lot of time alone, riding the bus, walking through the greenbelt, sitting by the lake. I was smoking a lot of cigarettes too. My apartment had a small porch where I would sit and listen to music, and smoke American Spirits, reflecting on how I had gotten there and fantasizing about the person I wanted to be. The truth was that, even though I had lived a full life up until that point—I had friends, family, a college degree; I’d had a career and I had been in a longterm relationship and was nearly married—I realized that I was still terrified of the world. I was terrified of failure, of embarrassing myself, of getting lost, of danger. I was a wreck, but I was determined to face my fears.

I identified three things that I had always wanted to do, but had been too afraid. The first was yoga. The second was to have a bicycle as my main form of transportation. And the third was putting my bike on the front of a city bus.

About six months later, I had been hired on full time at the University. I moved into a mother-in-law cottage tucked behind another house, where I lived for most of my time here in Austin. It was my favorite place I have ever lived. My mom came down and helped me repaint and decorate. I finally gathered the money to have my furniture shipped. My first thought when I opened my pod was, “I waited almost an entire year for this? What IS ALL THIS USELESS SHIT?!”

But when I unpacked all my dishes and books,and put everything on shelves, and laid down that night in my own bed for the first time in nearly a year, I felt incredibly lucky.

my cottagemy cottage2

Then one day I loaded my bike onto the number 3 bus to a yoga class way down on the south side of town. After the class, I strapped my yoga mat to the back of my bike and rode the six or seven miles home, over busy overpasses and through the quiet residential neighborhoods behind South Congress, down the massive hill at Dawson Road, past the Long Center and through the park, over the pedestrian bridge on Lady Bird Lake, across Sixth St., down Rio Grande, and all the way to 34th Street to my sweet little cottage, and I knew I had accomplished something.

I have less than one week left in Austin now. I am flying out next Sunday with a duffel bag, leaving most of my things in a storage space down on Riverside. Friday was my last day of work, so in the next six days, I hope to reflect upon and blog about the places and experiences that have touched me over the last three years. I plan to write about my favorite restaurants and hangouts and such, but it is the friends I have made here that I will miss the most. Thank you, Austin. You have given me more than you will ever know.

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