I've oftentimes noticed that nostalgia-drenched discussions about the past seem to center around the phrase "has it really been that long?" People, generally, fondly and clearly remember past events in their lives, and the perception that "time flies" in many cases creates a sense of astonishment that so many years have passed since an important event in their lives has occurred.
In this one personal case, however, the opposite seems to be true: today marked the fifth anniversary of Lori's and my return to Houston, and it really seems like it's been a lot longer than five years.
A bit of background: Lori began undergraduate studies at the University of Houston in the summer of 1991, very shortly after she graduated from Alief Elsik High School. I graduated from Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts at the same time, but did not begin my undergraduate education at UH until the fall of 1991. Lori suspended her college education when she moved to Arizona in 1992; she did not resume classes at UH until after she and I finally met (oh, the magic of Internet Relay Chat!) in the summer of 1996 and returned to Houston. I graduated from UH with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in December of 1996 and was subsequently accepted to the Community and Regional Planning graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin. Lori wanted to join me, so she successfully transfered to UT, and the two of us moved to Austin in August of 1997. She and I both finished our courses at UT in May of 1999 (she would eventually receive a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, me a Masters of Science in Community and Regional Planning). After graduation, we moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (I was offered a job at the City of Denton's planning department) and spent the next three years of our lives, from the summer of 1999 through the spring of 2002, there. Lori enrolled in the graduate business program at the University of North Texas; she earned her MBA in December of 2001.
After graduation, Lori began looking for jobs in the DFW area. She had no success; the twin events of the dot-com bust and 9/11 were particularly devastating to the Dallas/Fort Worth economy, and as the spring of 2002 progressed we decided that maybe it was time to look for jobs in Houston, which appeared to be more fertile employment territory (at the time, of course, we did not know about the impending collapse of Enron, which would eventually decimate Houston's economy).
By the spring of 2002, I also began to feel as if it were time to move on. I did not dislike my job at the City of Denton by any means. But after dealing with three years' worth of zoning changes, plat reviews, clueless councilmembers and P&Z commissioners, pushy developers and NIMBY-esque residential whiners who "moved to Denton because they wanted to live in a small town" (only to realize, after the fact, that thousands of others were making the exact same choices that they were and, in the process, causing Denton's population to grow at an exponential rate), I realized that the time for change had simply come. So, over the Memorial Day weekend of 2002, we evacuated our duplex, loaded our worldly possessions onto a U-Haul truck, and made the journey back to Houston.
In retrospect, who knows what might have happened had the economic situation up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area been different? If Lori had found a decent job shortly after graduation, it's possible that we might still be living up there today.
But she didn't, and we decided it was time to move back to Houston.
Was it really only five years ago? It all seems so distant now.
To be fair, a lot important events have happened within those five years which probably makes the span of time seem a lot longer than it actually is. For starters, Lori and I (finally) got married and had a child. We've lived in four different places over those five years: with my parents for the first several months after we moved back, at Lori's deceased great aunt's house in Sagemont for about nine months in 2003, at an apartment in Midtown for about a year and a half after that and, since we closed on it in December 2004, our house here in University Oaks for the past two and a half years. We've also done a lot of traveling over this time period: Lori and I spent three weeks in Europe shortly after we moved, and I've since traveled to Japan and the United Arab Emirates (thrice!). Last fall we took a cruise to Mexico and Belize. I've worked at two separate full-time jobs since we moved back; Lori is on her third.
Meanwhile, it's interesting to take note of all the things that have changed in our former home since we moved. The staff at the City of Denton's planning department has completely turned over since I worked there; while there still might be a couple of people in building inspections and code enforcement who have been there long enough to remember me, no employee in the planning department has been there long enough to remember when I worked there. A man who had served on Denton's Planning and Zoning Commission while I worked there is now the city's mayor. The once-desolate area along Loop 288 between Interstate 35E and East McKinney is now lined with big-box retailers and strip centers, a considerable amount of new student housing has popped up around the UNT campus, and new residential developments around the periphery have boosted the city's population well past the 100,000 mark. Parts of the city that was both my employer and my home five years ago are essentially unrecognizable today. From the perspective of a rapidly-growing city, five years is, indeed, a long time.
But perhaps this aspect of today's anniversary is most important: five years ago, we moved back to Houston with the intention of staying here for the long term, if not for the rest of our lives. In spite of the negative opinion that an amazingly large number of people across the nation have about Houston (most of whom, I suspect, have never spent any appreciable amount of time in this city), Lori and I love this city. Not only is it a dynamic, diverse, prosperous and comfortable place to live, but it truly is home. This is where we were both born and raised, after all, and it certainly doesn't hurt that both of our families live here (indeed, that was one of the reasons we wanted to move back - it's amazing how important proximity to family became to us after 9/11) and have provided invaluable assistance to us as we raise Kirby.
Looking back, and knowing now what I simply could not have known then, it really seems like it's been a rather "long," yet certainly productive, five years. Nobody can predict the future, and five years ago - as Lori and I finished packing and moved out of Denton - neither of us could have anticipated that we'd end up where we are today: successfully married, with a nice (if not old) house in my affluent childhood neighborhood, with a healthy and wonderful - if not hyperactive - 2.5-year-old boy, and with two rather successful jobs. It's funny how things work out.
Indeed, it's been five years. Five long, happy, years. I have no regrets.