The first time I considered moving to California was in 1995. I was a college sophomore and I secretly applied to USC’s film school as a transfer student and I got in. Back then, I lived in a suite with five roommates and I remember holding the acceptance and financial aid packets in my hands as doors slammed, blow dryers flared, and friends hatched evening plans.
At nineteen, the only time I left New York was the summer before college where I took a three-day, cross-country Greyhound trip to visit a pen-pal in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles might as well have been another country. It didn’t have the frenzy and smoke of the City. The throngs of people packed on subway platforms, lines winding down the block for bagels, gyros, burgers, donuts, and coffees sold out of street carts. It didn’t have the heat of Fordham Road with Spanish music blaring out of open windows and men hocking flimsy dresses for a dollar. The history of Little Italy and old men playing cards in social clubs and bakeries that sold the creamiest cannolis among other things behind the curtain.
New York was the only home I’d ever known and the idea of abandoning it was thrilling and terrifying. For a few weeks, I convinced myself and my friends that I would board a plane. I would make movies. I would forever bask in 72 and sunny. Until the weeks passed and the acceptance packet got lost amongst the papers, notebooks, and folders and frenzy that was midterms.
I never made it to Calfornia, graduating two years later on an expansive lawn in the Bronx.
But California hovered, it was the nosy neighbor refusing to leave. I considered packing up in 2002, 2005, 2010. And if you asked me why I didn’t move — I would’ve given you a litany of good reasons, sensible reasons, but if I’m being honest I would’ve told you I was afraid.
New York was my home, my shelter, my history until my estranged mother died in 2015 and I felt smothered by all the history. For someone who’d been stalling on moving for two decades, it shocked me how fast I planned and made the move. I get whiplash just thinking about it.
Sometimes, I wonder if I had known what was to come, would I have traveled across the country? What if I could have seen the multiple breakdowns, the depression, the fervent need to snuff my own life out, the long-time friends lost because of my illness, but mostly distance, which does not make the heart grow fonder so quit buying into that fiction, the second book that was better than the first, but it was a book five people read, losing an agent, losing my relationship with my pop — the loses were incalculable.
Like my mother, I was built to endure the deepest cuts, the cruelest hurts, but this? The years nearly broke me beyond repair and recognition.
And the times when I did return to New York, it felt like a cold stranger. Once left, you can’t return. Language became foreign to me. I couldn’t sit on the subway without feeling sick. Stores shuttered and full streets were replaced by new, whitewashed finery. Where did that go? I kept asking myself. It was as if all the lights in the City flickered and flared out. And there was only the kind of darkness you had to feel your way through. Step over the broken glass and bodies and stillborn babies and like that.
Where does everyone go when they say they have to go?
I arrived in Los Angeles in August of 2015 with so much possibility and by October of 2019, I barely left my house. At that moment, I had an idea for a new adventure. A way I had to keep leaving the houses in which I lived, a means to explore my adopted home beyond the confines of the spaces I occupied. For a year, I’d be peripatetic, living in the mountains, in the desert, in the wilderness, and by the sea.
And the adventures I had! A white Christmas hike in the mountains, scaling rocks in the backwoods of Joshua Tree Park, breaking bread with strangers and new friends. A booming consultancy. Health and sanity on lock. Then, the virus hit and ruined everything.
While I’m privileged to be housed, healthy, and safe, I could see myself receding. Becoming untethered. Talking to friends felt like a Herculean act and I canceled all the monthly calls and catch-ups I’d worked so hard to schedule because I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even turn on the computer and conceive of facing people without bursting into tears. I folded myself in. Locked all the doors, drew the blinds.
If you asked me nine months ago if I had the capacity to return to the dark country I swore I’d never revisit I would have laughed — ha, ha, ha! Watch me cackle in the past tense!
In this not quite dark, it occurred to me the great tragedy of my life, the reason I keep losing people is my inability to love or trust. I’ve loved so hard and down to then be habitually abandoned. I trusted so acutely to then be betrayed time and time again. I’d hand over my still-beating heart to see it squelched, pulpy parts stomped down on the ground. What remains are streaks of red tears.
Even on this small, silly platform, I’ve met hate-readers and nearly drowned from the duplicity. People who clap like seals to then pen mocking stories about the things it takes me so hard to write. In the grand scheme of things, these people are meaningless, but it’s just another knife wheedling. Another reminder there’s nowhere safe and kind.
While this is a heartbreaking way to live, I admit, it’s one that doesn’t bind me to people. I can leave and know I won’t be missed or thought of moments after my departure. I used to live by the axiom: don’t run away from something, run to something. But what if nothing exists in the space between prepositions?
Next week, I move to a tiny guesthouse in Ojai, which I’m not particularly jazzed about because I didn’t want to go to Ojai and I didn’t want to live in a guesthouse, but it’s clean, quiet, cheap and not too far from Los Angeles.
It’s there where I’ll wrap up three major client projects and consider my journey out of the country. Leaving now is impossible considering no country will have Americans because we’re disturbingly and tragically focused on individualism at the expense of the collective. We can’t even contain a sickness. We can’t even put on a fucking mask without trashing a Trader Joe’s. People cry they can’t breathe while black people literally cannot breathe, but I’m not here to talk politics or my disgust with America. More like, I no longer want to live in a place that doesn’t feel like home to me.
I don’t want a repeat of California — two decades of cross-country deliberation. I want to move fast and furious. Get my cat chipped and veterinarian approved. Find a country that won’t require me to have $50,000 in savings to roll up. Buy a ticket. Board a plane. Leave all of this behind. Torch the land. Start anew.