Los Angeles.

I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep

Standing on the edge of something much too deep

It’s funny how we feel so much but cannot say a word

We are screaming inside but can’t be heard

 And I will remember you

Will you remember me?

Don’t let your life pass you by

Weep not for the memories.

 

On an early morning in the summer of 1999, a yellow school bus pulled into the parking lot of Capital High School in Olympia, Washington. I sat near the back, resting my head against the seat, softly singing the lyrics to a bittersweet Sarah McLachlan song. My head was light – the result of a sleepless night spent in Seattle, celebrating the Class of ‘99 and our newly-earned diplomas – but my heart was heavy. Graduation meant that in less than two months, I’d be leaving home to attend college in Los Angeles, a city I’d visited only once and where I knew no one. The thought of chasing my Hollywood dreams thrilled me, but I was scared too, possessed of the vague but certain knowledge that soon, everything in my life was going to change.

I waited until it was safe. As soon as I was sure that the solar eclipse that had been making its way eastward across the United States had passed over Los Angeles, I got into my car. As I merged on to that familiar stretch of the 405 freeway, I thought about that eighteen-year-old girl, half a life away, who was only just beginning her story. How could she have known how it would all unfold?

My mother watched from the third-floor window of the Radisson Hotel as – sirens blaring, strobe lights pulsating – fire trucks charged down Figueroa Street. Turning to me, face drawn with concern, fear in her aquamarine eyes, she asked earnestly:

“Sar, are you sure you want to go to school here?”

I was sure. From the minute I set foot onto USC’s University Park Campus I knew that I belonged there. Its proximity to the infamous “South Central” neighborhood of Los Angeles, the seemingly never ending parade of emergency vehicles exiting the nearby fire station, the metal bars encasing every apartment and store window. . . none of those things deterred me. In fact, they only strengthened my resolve. A girl who split her childhood between Anchorage, Alaska and small towns in the Pacific Northwest should have been a fish out of water in such a gritty, urban place. But I wasn’t. I was home.

Nearly eighteen years later, that exact same feeling settled in my chest, but this time, in a different place. Walking along Sixth Avenue in New York’s West Village, my eyes found the Freedom Tower, a beacon of steel blue standing strong and stoic in the distance, and something that can best be described as hope swelled within me. Home, cried a familiar voice, sure and steady. I listened.

I checked in to the Surf and Sand Hotel just after two p.m., changed into a bikini, and headed straight for the beach. Later, sandy and sleepy, I sat beneath a large white umbrella, stared out at the Pacific, and wrote. After an early dinner of cheap tacos and expensive wine, I headed back to the beach and waded into the ocean just in time to watch a blazing sun sink below the horizon, spreading coral and tangerine across a tranquil sky. Once it was dark, I opened up two old notebooks that I’d brought along for the journey and re-read their contents. I barely recognized the person who had written them, and so, I carefully shredded their pages and deposited them into a hotel garbage can.

As I crawled beneath white sheets, a feeling of calm settled over me. What a difference from the last time I came here, I thought. It had been December of 2015, a few days after my thirty-fifth birthday, a few weeks after my grandfather died and I had returned to L.A. from a month-long stay in tiny Allyn, Washington to oversee his hospice care, only to find that the company I had worked at for eleven years had been sold, and I had a decision to make: relocate to Seattle and take a job with the new company, or stay in L.A. and face an uncertain future. I chose to stay in L.A. I chose to trust the steady, sure voice that told me I would be OK. I have never regretted that decision.

Eighteen years after moving to Los Angeles and making it my home, it is impossible to describe how it feels to leave it. When I arrived here in the late summer of 1999, I was a girl on the edge of becoming a woman. A girl who thought she knew so much, but who had no idea how innocent she truly was. I had never been in love. I had never traveled to the Eastern United States to sink my toes into an Atlantic beach, let alone crossed that vast ocean to visit (and live in) the continent on the other side. I didn’t know that terrorists could fly airplanes into tall buildings. I didn’t know what it would feel like to hold the hand of someone I loved as they died.

What would I tell that girl now, all these years later, as I prepare to once again begin my life anew? I would tell her a great many things, but mostly I would tell her that she is allowed to make her own choices. She is allowed to let two conflicting emotions reside in her body at the same time. She is allowed to love a place and leave it, and she is allowed to love people and leave them, too. She is allowed to be both brave and afraid, allowed to be both as fragile as a paper doll and the owner of the fiercest heart imaginable. She is allowed to write her own story, without knowing how it’s going to end.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I never could have imagined how much this city would change me, how much it would shape me, how much it would open up my life. Somewhere among the boulevards and the beaches, among the wannabes and the celebrities, I found myself. I made lifelong friends. And I grew up.

Moving here was the right thing. I knew it, and I did it. And now, eighteen years later – as hard as it may be – I also know that it is the right thing to leave.

Until next time, friends.

21 thoughts on “Los Angeles.

  1. Around that same time, in my early thirties, I made the decision to quit my job and enroll in a drafting course at our local community college, something entirely new and foreign to me and oh, so scary.

    My boss tried to talk me out of it, telling me he thought I was making a huge mistake. How I’d love to talk with him today! That was, hands-down THE best decision I’d ever made. Drafting wasn’t for me but I was surprised to discover an aptitude for mathematics and programming and I went on to Iowa State University to get my degree in MIS. Along the way I met the love of my life, my husband of 21 years and counting. I met wonderful new friends and became exposed to new ways of thinking and seeing the world. Best of all, I gained a lifetime of self-confidence.

    My new mantra is RSG, Baby. Reach. Stretch. GROW!

  2. I have moved across the world and across the country several times, following my heart’s voice, and without doubt (even if the times get tough sometimes), I regret none of my choices. Good luck! You sound courageous; you’ll be just fine : )

  3. Good Lord Sarah! Pack your little car full of Ruby’s Burgers and Gina’s Pizza’s. Don’t forget to click both heels together, and to select your perfect transcontinental traveling music.

    Sarah surely must be a great inspiration to the young adventurous hearts of those who are collage bound and ready to launch their own wonderful adventures. Two hands together fingers and thumbs curved and touching, mirrored.

    Heart. and Smiles, blue skies and explosive sunsets, wet nosed otters afloat…

    • Haha! Turns out I sold my little car (a Prius, I bet you’re not surprised) and took a great big airplane instead. Staying in the lovely beach house on Case Inlet that used to belong to my Grandfather for a couple weeks while I plan the move east. . . Thank you as always for your poetry and well wishes, friend!

  4. Sara, I love to read your blog…you write things that I can understand but not write and our journeys within and without are often so similar…much love and luck!

  5. Oops, pressed the send button too soon! I was going to say that your writing is always so profound and these words in particular resonated with me. Words I need to remember:

    “She is allowed to let two conflicting emotions reside in her body at the same time. She is allowed to love a place and leave it, and she is allowed to love people and leave them, too”

    When you know deep down that a decision is right, it’s definitely the right path — even if it’s scary. Wishing you courage and success in your new adventures. 🙂

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