“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
― Miriam Adeney
Two hours after I got off the plane in L.A., a dog bit me. It was late afternoon, and I was hungry. I dropped off my bags at my friend Jen’s apartment and went out in search of food. Minutes later, on a familiar stretch of Robertson Boulevard just a few blocks from where I used to live, a seemingly-friendly Chihuahua wagged its tail, then lunged at me as I walked past.
“Oh my god!” his owner screamed. “Did he just bite you?”
“Yes,” I answered, in disbelief. I was already light-headed from the early wake up call, the cross-country flight, and the lack of food, and as I looked first to her, and then to her smiling dog – still wagging its tail – the whole thing felt like a dream. “It didn’t hurt,” I reassured her. But as I looked down, I saw it: a gaping hole in the left leg of my favorite pair of yoga pants.
“Dammit,” I swore. “Your dog bit a hole in my pants.”
“Rocco!” she scolded him. “Bad dog!”
And then, to me: “I’m so sorry.”
On another day, I might have said, “It’s OK.” If I was less exhausted, less hungry, and if I hadn’t been standing in the hot sun, I might have chosen to take the high road. But I didn’t. Instead, I just stood there, glaring at her, waiting for her to offer to replace the pants her dog had ruined. She didn’t. She didn’t even really seem sorry, even though her mouth had formed those words. After a momentary standoff, I finally looked her in the eye, shook my head, and stomped away. And on a familiar street, in a neighborhood I used to call home, one thought began to play on a loop in my brain: You don’t live here anymore.
Two weeks before I flew to L.A., I sat in a chair in my doctor’s office as she inspected the incisions from my surgery. They were healing nicely, and she was pleased. “It’s like we were never even in there,” she said.
She told me the tests came back, and my cyst was benign. Additional tests, on cells they took from inside my body, also showed no signs of cancer. I had a clean bill of health. After months of uncertainty, I had been given the best possible news: I was going to be OK.
I should have been elated. And I was. Or at least, part of me was. But in the days that followed my doctor’s visit, I felt something else: depressed. Because now that the health scare that had been holding my life in limbo for the last several months was over, I no longer had an excuse to put off the future. The future was here, and it demanded an answer to the question so poignantly expressed by my favorite poet Mary Oliver: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The incident with the dog aside, my week in L.A. was wonderful. As I revisited favorite places and reconnected with old friends, I could almost believe I still lived there, that I had never even left. Almost. Despite the fact that some familiar restaurants and stores had closed, and new building developments were springing up everywhere, Los Angeles still felt mostly the same to me. There was the same soul-crushing traffic on the 405 freeway; the same impossibly tall palm trees; the same smog-shrouded view of the skyline as seen from the high perch of The Getty Center; the same soothing stretch of the Pacific Ocean bending north toward Malibu.
Los Angeles felt the same, and that sameness was comforting. But I felt different, in a way I couldn’t quite place. The feeling tugged at me all week, as I bounced around from lunches to dinner dates, from happy hours to beach walks. The drumbeat of You don’t live here anymore that echoed in my brain after the dog bite had faded, yet something still felt off, like a key that wouldn’t turn in a lock.
My week in L.A. culminated with an unplanned trip to Universal Studios. Jen worked on the lot, and after dinner, we stopped by her office on the way back to her apartment. Even at night, the place was a buzz of activity. I watched from the passenger seat of her convertible as crew members zipped by on golf carts, and a whole host of memories came flooding back. I remembered the first time I had been there, as a young actress working as an extra on a big movie, and how magical it all felt. Back then, the world stretched out in front of me, and anything and everything seemed possible.
We left her office and drove around the lot, cruising past darkened movie sets, pausing to snap a photo of the brownstones on New York Street. Then we headed for Laurel Canyon. As we wound up the mountain and I watched the city lights spreading out like a blanket of stars below us, a feeling I’d almost forgotten sparked within me: hope.
Driving through the hills above L.A., top down, wind in my hair, I suddenly remembered what it was like to hold dreams so tightly they made your heart swell. I remembered what it was like for a moment to take your breath away, to want to pause it forever. And I remembered what it was like to be certain, despite all evidence to the contrary, that everything was going to be OK.
I don’t live in Los Angeles any more. I left because I no longer felt the world stretching out in front of me there, no longer believed that anything and everything was possible. And I went to try to rediscover that sense of possibility in another place.
But as we drove home that night in L.A., I realized something: the place wasn’t the problem. The problem was me. I was the one who had decided that hope was too expensive, that happiness was too elusive. I was the one who had decided that believing in magic felt too vulnerable, and that the best way to protect myself was by holding my dreams at a distance.
I miss Los Angeles, but I have no regrets about leaving it. Because I don’t believe we are meant to stay in one place forever. We are meant to expand and explore and experience new things. And then, when – and if – we do return to the place that we left, we get to see ourselves anew, through the perspective that only time and distance can provide.
That was exactly what happened to me last week in California. I was reminded of who I am. I was reminded of who I want to be. And I was reminded that though hope is expensive and though happiness is elusive, they are also worth fighting for.
Until next time, friends.