5 Things About Home
I was at a party for the 4th of July and, like normal people who are good at small talk do, a woman there asked me where I was from. It’s a question that’s fraught for a lot of people but for some reason we’ve all decided that’s just a thing you ask. Because it’s supposed to tell you something profound, I guess, about the person you’re talking to. Or give you some common ground.
She asked me and I told her I grew up in Colorado, because I did, but I haven’t actually lived there for 14 years now, which seems like an impossibly long time. I haven’t even been to visit in more than 5 years.
It’s a nice place to be from in social situations because people always have nice things to say about Colorado. Usually they say they’ve always wanted to visit or they have a friend that moved there or they hear it’s so beautiful and I just nod and smile.
This woman, who meant well, exclaimed “Why’d you leave?!”
I was taken aback.
It never occurred to me not to leave.
1. Why I Left
I grew up (ages 5 to 17) in Boulder, Colorado. It’s home to a well-regarded public university and many people that I went to high school with attended that university or others in neighboring cities. I applied to CU as an absolute last resort, but never wanted to go there. I wanted to live in a city. As long as I can remember I wanted to live in a big city and Boulder is decidedly not that.
If you haven’t been to Colorado, the important thing to remember is that there is no air there. Elite athletes train in Boulder and around the state because when you exercise with less oxygen, you actually develop more hemoglobin and can perform more efficiently.
There was no air left for me in Colorado, either. I had built up all the tolerances to the real world that I was going to be able to in that beautiful, sheltered town and I had to leave as fast as possible.
When I left, my parents were splitting up, my brother was living in California, my few friends were scattering. There was nothing for me to hold onto in Colorado so I left. And came to L.A.
2. Why I’ve Stayed
I moved in L.A. in August of 2002. I have never lived anywhere else since there. I have lived in 8 different apartments with 3 different boyfriends (and a number of roommates) and one dog. I’ve lived through my bachelor’s degree, my parents officially getting divorced, both getting remarried (and one divorced for a second time), my brother and his wife having a baby. A lot of shitty jobs and some not as shitty ones. Really really lonely days, deep depression and self-harm. And days so full of love and friendship my whole past gets blurry and I can’t believe where I once was. But I’ve never left.
And I don’t really know why.
I didn’t move here with a passion, with an open, heart-on-my-sleeve dream and the determination to pursue it, like so many people do. I moved here with a secret: that I wanted to be a writer and a second secret that was much closer to the surface: that I didn’t think I was good enough. So when I think about why I never left I tell myself it’s because even though it was a secret, I did move here for a reason and this is the only place that it makes sense to be as I keep digging towards my secret and trying to be vulnerable and trying to try.
L.A. is my home. People like to roll their eyes and talk about the fakery of the people here and yes, there are plenty of insufferable people here but there are also, more importantly, people with something to prove. People who are not content to coast through life without laying bare their own secrets, without creating and inspiring others. Sometimes it manifests in ways I find profoundly annoying, but even then I try to respect it.
You’ll hear people describe small towns as sleepy and I always pictured that as meaning people go to bed early, when the sun is still up. But what it really is in so many cases is more of sleepwalking through life from home to the office and back home and back again.
And that’s not to say that going to work, having a family, retiring with a healthy 401(k) is somehow a less valid option. I’m just not comfortable with that as the entirety of my story. And I meet very few people here who are. And I think that’s why I haven’t left.
The second question that people ask after I tell them where I’m from is either (1) Do you ski? (Answer: absofuckinglutely not) or (2) Do you still have family there? (Also no).
No one in my family lives in Colorado. No one from my family still lives in the home where I spent my childhood. I don’t know who lives there now. I don’t know what my dad did with all the shit in my bedroom when he sold the house but I think it’s in a storage unit somewhere. Or a landfill.
But because it lives on in my memory as the place where so many critical moments happened, as long as that building stands it will have some degree of emotional power over me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for kids who move a lot. If there are buildings across the country or the world that all have varying degrees of nostalgia attached. Or if those memories attach to something more mobile — a watch or a lamp or a book. I only remember that house and I think about it all the time.
A house is not a home, but it still has a strange pull. It’s strange to think about never going inside again. And to think about how I don’t have that physical anchor, even here in L.A. where I still feel very at home.
No one in my family lives in Los Angeles and over the 14 years I’ve been here I can count on one hand the number of times they have been to visit me. My mother, father, and brother all live in different cities, and we don’t talk as much as we probably should. I often wonder, if they had stayed in Colorado, would our relationships be different? If my dad still lived in the house where we grew up and my brother and his family moved into a neighborhood downtown. Would Boulder still be my home then? Or would it just be more convenient at holidays? None of the cities where my family live are my home, even though they are there. I am always a stranger in a strange land. Welcomed and loved, but perpetually out of place.
4. What it Smells Like
The things that I get most nostalgic about are smells. I had a yoga teacher recently who would go around at the end of class and put drops of lavender oil in your hand. It reminded me of home. An art co-op on Pearl Street always smelled like that.
One day I finally told my teacher about that nostalgia and learned that she had actually attended CU. She was in school when I was still living there. So it all comes full circle in a way.
I also remember what it smells like in the morning, in the mountains. I was never big on camping (and am still not) but I went to a few summer camps and on forcible hikes and it smells so otherworldly in the mornings, as the sun is coming up. It smells cold and damp and green and even sleepy. I didn’t think I appreciated it at the time. But I remember it well, so maybe I wasn’t as shitty a kid as I think.
L.A. has given me some memorable smells, too. But most of those memories aren’t good. But I like the flowers and that I can find the same floral scents I would smell in the spring, or in my grandparent’s backyard in Florida if I just happen to turn down the right street in Los Feliz. I don’t know why I put this part in here, but it’s true.
5. How Much Does Home Cost?
Just because L.A. is my home does not mean I will be here forever. Nick Campbell and I frequently talk about the possibility of moving. But it’s never because we feel disconnected from the city or disappointed in it. It’s only because it’s expensive as hell. We do okay in our jobs. Pretty well compared to the national average. But it’s fucking expensive here and some days it’s just depressingly difficult to justify that enormous rent check that we write every month. I thought by now it would feel okay. I thought as I continued to grind through different levels of a respectable ‘career’ that things would be comfortable, but it seems as though they just keep getting more expensive.
We don’t have any plans to leave. We don’t particularly want to leave. But we do talk about it. (Or, I talk about it and he reminds me how much we love our neighborhood and our restaurants and our lives here).
It makes me sad and excited to think about the possibility of moving somewhere else. But even if we ever move (maybe we won’t) I’ll still think of L.A. as home. You can have more than one.