I moved to Los Angeles with one suitcase and three boxes in transit via FedEx from New York City. When they showed up at the door of my new home, a one-story bungalow in the back of an apartment complex in Echo Park, I lay on top of them and wrapped my arms around the soft cardboard, bulging and rounded by its journey. I had tracked their progress online and watched them travel through Keasby, New Jersey; Memphis, Tennessee; Paducha, Kentucky; and Bloomington, California. I resisted calling FedEx when I saw they remained in Paducha for one extra day (were they too heavy?).
I sliced open the layers of tape I had carefully secured three days prior while sitting on the floor of an empty apartment on East 22nd street. I touched the stressed tape and thought how my hands had been in the same place only a few days ago, during a time in my life that could now be known as before The Move to LA. Out spilled the contents of the boxes: clothes, handbags, shoes and one Keurig Single Cup coffee maker. Only then did it really hit me that I moved across the country with what I thought were all my closest and most valuable possessions, which actually turned out to be only clothes and a coffee maker.
I quickly walked to the kitchen, which consisted of a sink, fridge and cabinets along one side of the living room, and plugged in my Keurig. Instantly, I felt better—a smidge settled—and wondered if I should’ve brought more appliances to contribute. If toasters and blenders and microwaves would abate the new unease that moving gifted me, this could be okay.
* * *
My boyfriend Stephen and I had been dating long distance for six months and I certainly didn’t know him well enough to move across the country and into his house. Two years my senior and also a native of Manhattan, he had lived in Berlin for a number of years and had just arrived in LA six months before I did (yes, right when we started dating). Although a part of me had fantasized about leaving New York in a romantic, mid-twenties style bid to experience life elsewhere, I also knew myself well enough to understand that my character doesn’t lend well to major and non-major life-changing decisions (it took me two weeks to mentally adjust to my commute switching from the E train to the 6 train). However, to recognize the cliché, there was something different in what Stephen and I had, so much so that the decision to move came easily, as if I had just decided to buy tickets to a movie. His casual approach to the whole ordeal rubbed off, and his insistence that I move in with him instead of getting my own apartment made my decision that much easier. The shocked reaction from friends and family was surprising to me, considering that I had surrounded myself in a bubble of nonchalance. When I had to quit my job, end my lease, and deal with the very real logistics that moving across the country requires, the realization that I was leaving hit harder and harder, providing ample foundation for a burgeoning anxiety to wind through my body like a thick green vine.
* * *
He calmly watched me walk around the small, two-bedroom home while he explained that he had rented it with me in mind. As I touched counters and walls, I noticed the dry, early September heat, thick enough to taste. The swaying trees blew a gentle breeze through the house and I noticed red bougainvillea trying to creep in through the screens on all the high windows, peering in as if they, too, were curious what would happen next. There weren’t any car horns or screeching brakes to drown out the conversation we were both afraid to have: Did this really just happen? What was I going to do here? Who else did I have here (just in case)? These are all questions I had asked myself before, in various contexts, throughout my early twenties. They felt weighted now, heavier and more authentic.
I sat on a small ottoman and opened his computer. He stood over my shoulder and asked what I was doing. Did I want to go get something to eat? Did I want to take a walk? Instead of responding, I Googled a map of Los Angeles and input my new address, which was marked with an upside-down red teardrop holding the letter A. I zoomed out and watched the city grow while the A occupied less and less space. I identified with the A, growing smaller as my surroundings swelled. I pointed to places on the map, asking Stephen how I would get to each one, quizzing him. Forcing him to make it easy for me. How do I get to West Hollywood? Or Santa Monica? How far are we from Downtown? I didn’t yet have a car, but felt an urgent desire to know my way around. Which road should I take west? How long would the drive to Hollywood be? Do I have to get on the 101? Can I just take Sunset? (Avoiding highways made everything sound easier). He dutifully continued to answer my questions, even after I looked out the window and started to cry; the palm trees of Elysian Park blurred through my tears.
Later that night I lay close to Stephen, my eyes heavy from a purposefully few-too-many glasses of wine. In my head, I ran through the errands I needed to do the next day. Things I believed would bring me closer to this oblivion I had heard about, the oblivion that transplants eventually reached, each at their own pace, leaving behind those wanderers who couldn’t keep up. I desperately wanted to be there: the place where I didn’t notice the red bougainvillea, the sunshine, the dry weather, or the vines climbing both around me and within me. Being in that place would mean being settled. I needed to build a closet, get a car. Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow will be better.
Two and a half years later, I still don’t really know my way around. We’ve moved houses once, been employed and unemployed. We’ve married and adopted a dog. We own rugs and window treatments, I can tell you what day the trash is collected, and our animal removal technician’s name is Pete. But, the palm trees strike me as much as they did when I first arrived. I’m fascinated with the vines in our small backyard and how they twist around the trellis and bloom purple flowers in March. And when the sky turns pink, it settles down around the nearby blue mountains and I always stop what I’m doing to look. I might never join the others in their grounding immunity, but if missing the beauty means never adjusting, I’d rather be left to wander.