In 35 years, I’ve lived in two countries, nine states, twelve cities/towns, and have had twenty-three addresses if I’m counting correctly.
No, I’m not military. Yes, my dad was military but that wasn’t why we moved.
I’ve traveled across most of the continental United States, and it’s easier for me to tell you which states I haven’t been to rather than the ones I have. My early life was spent traveling and performing, an opportunity most people think is spectacular and glamorous but it generally involved sleeping in the car at rest areas and more anxiety than any child should have. So I hate to burst your bubble, but no.
I have been to many places and have had an opportunity to be familiar with a lot of different cultures, which was always the most enjoyable part of my early life.
When my husband and I decided to move from The South back to the Mason-Dixon line proper, I was ready to settle down. (To be fair, I’ve been ready to settle down for the past 10 years, it just never ended up happening.) In January, we started looking at houses to buy, and were quickly horrified by what our budget would get us when it came to single family homes in the area. But we did settle on a nice town-home style condo, and signed papers authorizing a mortgage company to scrutinize our every move for six months while the place was being built.
But in the first week of March this year, we sat at home during yet another snowstorm. As always happens with me when it comes to big life decisions, a switch was flipped that was never going to be switched back.
My husband is in the tech industry, having jumped from the constant struggle and stress of classical music to the stability and innovation of programming/design. Of course, he has said for the past two years that being in the San Francisco Bay Area would grant him so many more opportunities for career development. Even before that, he had interest in some cities on the West Coast, and I was having none of it. The one and only time I had any say in his career as a musician (despite the popular belief that I’ve made all his decisions for him — geez, just because I speak my opinions for everyone to hear doesn’t mean he doesn’t have stronger ones that simply aren’t aired out to the general public!) was when he wanted to audition for an orchestra in Oregon. While I would never tell him “You can’t do such-and-such,” I did refuse to consider it as a possibility for myself. Since we were already sharing a life and home together, he decided to not risk losing me and did not pursue that particular opportunity.
So when we were already married and he switched careers, his desire to go out to California to seek employment has been repeatedly shot down by me.
I’m not a West Coast person. I have nothing against the West Coast, it was just generally always seen as this gigantic blob of weird, earthquake-y, laid-back mess I wanted nothing to do with. I still think of myself as a New York type of girl, even though I haven’t lived there in over ten years. I’m an East Coast person, despite having been born and raised in Texas. I like the mentality here. I like that people are rude because they are too busy to give a shit about you. I like that there are seasons, and that there is intense culture, with the museums and the neuroses fueling creative types into public tirades and performance art involving bodily fluids. This level of ambition, drive, and expectation of success appeals to me and I find comfort in it. There is routine here, with everyone waking up earlier than the sun, huffing it out at the gym before racing to be the first one on the train for their long, two-hour commute into the city to their job in politics, government, higher education, or medical science. They come home at the end of a long day to these suburbs, eat dinner, watch the news, and go to bed early to begin all over again.
It’s comforting to me because I grew up with it. My father was born in 1928 and had the same work ethic in D.C. that he had on the dairy farm in Wisconsin during his childhood. Of course this was the perfect area for him to live in, because it made sense to his brain and he fit in so well with the rigidity. My mother loves it because this is her home, and when you have lived somewhere consistently for decades, why would you want to go anywhere else?
And that’s why I have to leave before that happens to me. Because I am not my parents. I have deep respect for them both, but I am an entirely different species. I do not like mornings. I hate mornings. I hate anyone who ever gets up in the mornings. I hate anyone who is alive in the mornings. I hate routine. I smash routine to smithereens because I can. I hate schedules and can never get any work done within one because my GOD there’s a time limit, what the hell am I going to do with a time limit? My brain wars with itself, having liberal and equal doses of logic from my father and creativity from my mother, causing incessant cranial implosions of frustration. Give me a quiet day with no schedule, no time limit, and I will produce some extraordinary work that most people take weeks to parallel. But put me on a schedule and I cannot accomplish a damned thing. The logic side of me demands the structure of the freedom my creative side would asphyxiate without.
After growing up in Texas, snow became a rare and precious commodity that has been treasured since moving at the age of eleven to areas offering regular dumps from the sky. While I was madly in love with our last location (South Carolina), I found that I sorely missed the cold snap in the air when autumn arrives, the trees turning vivid shades of orange and yellow (colors I otherwise hate), and that unmistakable smell of home when the holidays roll around.
So we moved back, hoping to forge a family and be closer to the ones from which we originated. It was all such a romantic idea that it hurts the heart to even think about it. Everything about the idea was quaint and perfect — two things no one could ever use to describe either of us.
We came back in January last year, and froze to death until June. Then we boiled until September. Then we went back to freezing. I spent this past winter pressed up against my space heater, drying my skin into indoor snowflakes, causing miserable cracks and rashes. Nothing helped me stay warm. My husband was similarly miserable. We both suffer from seasonal affective disorder and are only now beginning to feel more like ourselves as spring has slightly warmed things back up. I hibernated from October through March, refusing to go anywhere unless absolutely necessary because goddamnit, it was too freaking COLD.
It was easily the twelfth big snowstorm that first week of March a couple of months ago when I joked that maybe my husband’s idea of moving to California wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Then suddenly, it wasn’t a joke. Just like that, a switch flipped in my brain, and I started to wonder why I have been so averse to this idea for so long.
Truly, I lumped everything out there into one big smoggy Los Angeles bump that surely will some day fall into the ocean. I have a long-time blogging friend who lives right in the heart of San Francisco, tells the most wonderful stories of his life there, and it never registered in my brain that it was its own beautiful place with no affiliation what-so-ever with the cesspool of L.A. My apologies to anyone from Los Angeles reading this taking offense, but then again, I have no idea why you would be reading this to begin with so screw you.
Oregon and Washington seemed like nice ideas to scope out some time — in fact, I fantasized about moving to Seattle when I moved back to the States from Australia, but took one look at the rent prices and skipped that idea — but it was all that big lump out there. Out There. The West Coast.
Then I looked out at the disgusting dirty, icy, snowy, freezing cold and wondered, “What’s out there beyond this crap?”
Personally, I’ve never enjoyed going past, oh, the Mid-West. I’ve never lived past the line going from Texas to Minnesota, so why bother? I went to L.A. a few times as a child and again as an adult, hating everything about it every time. So why would I be interested in going back, particularly to live?
And how could I move again? Why would I want to? I’m tired. I’m old. I want to settle down. Or do I? I thought this was the end of the line, and I would get all set up the same way my parents did and live in small-town splendor quite happily for the rest of my days.
But oh em GEE, it suddenly hit me how not me that is.
I was apprehensive about dealing with all the happy people out there. No, really. I don’t like that. I’m a morose person with dark humor. Too much sunshine gives me the creeps. I’ve been mistaken as Goth for decades simply because I have dark hair (with some help since turning 30), skin fairer than anyone actually living should have, and a tendency to wear a lot of black just because I am a no-nonsense person. I don’t even know what a real Goth is, but I’m not that. But I am a bit too serious, a bit too ridiculous, a bit too neurotic. The idea of being out there with all those laid-back, happy people just wigged me the hell out.
Maybe it was the impending commitment of buying that condo that did it. I mean, you can get a divorce but good luck ever getting out of a mortgage.
Then the fear of earthquakes was overwhelming. There’s no warning when they hit. You have time to hide from a tornado, and you can always just get out of the way of a hurricane. Even a volcano you can run like hell and be out of the path of destruction. But an earthquake? One second you’re lounging on your patio petting your cat, the next your cat is eating your dead face from under a pile of concrete.
But I looked around the beloved place I consider my hometown. I was not born here, but I grew here (I refuse to say “grow up” because duh). I love the old row houses downtown, and the quiet charm of the people, the beauty of the blossoming trees in the spring, the timeless glow every winter holiday. I looked around and saw it through my husband’s eyes, the man who has selflessly agreed to support us both while I work reduced hours in order to spend more time writing. I looked at it through my adult eyes and saw that as much as I feel absolute love for the people here I have known for decades, I do not have one friend here who I can call when I need someone to talk to. That is not just because of moving around so much only to return to the place where I heal and regroup, but because I am not part of this. If anyone my age is still having children in this area, it is because they are having their sixth or seventh child. I don’t know anyone experiencing the heartbreak of infertility, the rawness of creative chaos, the confusion of abandoning a forced career to restart something else to feed my soul. I know people here support whatever I choose to do, but I also know that no one can understand it.
I saw the limitations of my husband’s career, the walls he will continue to run into as he tries to develop an entirely new art and career for himself in an area uninterested in the artistic side of technological innovation.
The bald truth of it is that I realized we aren’t needed here. There is no niche for us to fill because it has no place here. And the fact is that it’s perfectly all right for that to be the case, and for us to embrace that and move on to where we are needed.
So I started investigating this California business. San Francisco seems like a pretty amazing place, I have to admit. There’s no way of knowing if that’s where we will end up, but it’s a starting point to begin looking into other options.
It has been suggested to me that my restlessness in moving around so much is a result of something unresolved inside my soul, and when I find out what that is, I will stay wherever I am because I won’t be looking for something.
But I disagree. My husband and I are both people who love to evolve. We love to constantly learn new things, to explore, to take up new interests, and to embrace change. I think we’ve found ourselves by not feeling guilty about this driving need to roam and seek out new experiences. Maybe it’s not a symptom of being broken so much as a nod to our intelligence. While certainly some of my moving around has been driven by my desire to find something, sometimes all I’m looking for is something to stimulate my senses.
I love to live life as much as I can so that I have more to write about. Though I don’t know where life is going to take me next, I do know I’m ready for a new adventure. And I can’t wait to tell more of the story.