“It is the nature of grace to fill the places that have been empty.”
I knew summer was over before I dipped my toes in the saltwater. The normally cloudy Case Inlet was unusually clear, a sign of a fresh current of (cold) water coursing through the bay. Goosebumps formed on my arms. “Don’t chicken out,” I chided myself. “This is your last chance until next summer.”
The thought of all the people for whom “next summer” never came flashed through my mind, and with an urgency suddenly more powerful than my fear, I flung myself into the sea. The shock of icy water traveled quickly up my body and stabbed at my insides, but it didn’t matter, I was in. “Hi Mom,” I murmured, looking up at the familiar snow-capped peak of Mt. Rainier. “I miss you.”
Later, cover up and shorts layered over my swimsuit, I sat on the deck of my aunt and uncle’s house, stared out at the inlet, and thought about everything and nothing. It was my last day at the beach and my uncle had plenty of questions, most of them involving the future.
“How long are you planning to stay in New York?” he asked me over dinner that night. My reply was noncommittal, as I still had plenty of questions about the future myself. “As long as it makes sense,” I told him. “There are a lot of things I want to do there.”
It’s hard for me to believe it has already been a year since last September, when I left that same stretch of rocky beach in the Pacific Northwest to move east and reinvent my life. These last twelve months have passed quickly, even though at times – mostly during the cold, dark winter – they seemed to move at a torturous pace. When I made the initial decision to relocate, everything fell into place so quickly that I foolishly believed everything that followed would be easy, too.
I was wrong. I came to New York with a long list of things I wanted to do, see and be, and one year later, I feel as though I’ve accomplished very few of them. I applied for numerous fellowships, residencies and jobs, and have been rejected – so far – by all of them. I’ve hit roadblocks, struggled with seasonal depression, and felt like a failure more times than I care to admit. I’ve been sick, sad, and have experienced a resurgence of grief I thought I’d healed from. Countless times, I fought the urge to give up, give in, and go home.
But there’s a sticking point: I’m not sure where “home” is any more. The place I lived longer than anywhere – Los Angeles – is filled with people I love and years of life-altering experiences. I left because I was bored, creatively stagnant, and desperate for a change. That rocky Pacific Northwest beach? It will always be a safe harbor and an anchor, but it’s also a repository for more painful family memories than I can count. In other words: not the best place to begin the next chapter of my life.
And then there’s something else. Something bigger. Something I promised myself somewhere over the course of the last six rollercoaster years that began with my mother’s sudden death: I would no longer do the safe and easy thing. I would make choices based in hope rather than in fear. I wouldn’t go back and try to recreate the past, I would move forward and forge a present that was entirely new.
I’ve tried my best to do that. It’s no accident I left my family’s beach cabin and moved to New York one week before the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. I didn’t want to spend that anniversary in the same place where my mom and uncle grew up, the same place where I’d spent every childhood summer, the same place where we boarded my grandfather’s tiny tin boat, went out to sea, and scattered my mother’s ashes. I didn’t want to mark the passage of another year feeling like a prisoner to the past. I wanted to spend it starting over – whatever that looked like – on the opposite coast.
A few weeks ago, in early September, I spent the day with one of my mother’s closest friends. As we caught up over lunch, we talked about my mom, our memories, and what had happened in the year since I’d moved. The conversation turned to the memoir I’m working on. “Is it about your Mom?” she asked. I nodded. The next part was – and is – hard for me to admit. “It’s about what you do when the person you love the most is the same person you’re terrified of becoming.”
To my surprise, she didn’t seem horrified. She seemed to understand.
I’ve been in New York for a year. It still feels less like home than it does some exotic, foreign land I’m learning to navigate. But you know what? I like it. I like the fact that it’s full of strivers who get knocked down and continue to get up again. I like the fact that I’ve been challenged here in ways I never was in L.A., and that my failures have forced me to think outside of the box, get creative, and try things I otherwise wouldn’t. I like the fact that it’s a tough town, but one where it still feels like possibility waits on every street corner.
There’s no way to know where I’ll be this time next year. Any attempt to lasso the future is a pointless exercise. For now, it’s enough to be here, living moment to moment, doing all I can for as long as I can, making choices based in hope rather than in fear.
Until next time, friends.