And yet I find, as the day rolls closer and my attention is rooted ever more strongly on the impending date, that I am thinking not of the future, but of the past. I am reminded of a line from Tolkien, where one of the younger hobbits says to Frodo that they knew he was leaving because he was constantly murmuring to himself, wondering if he would ever see this valley or that hill again; I am constantly murmuring to myself, wondering if I will ever see this friend or that loved one again, or this hill or that neighborhood, etc.
Trhurler one castigated me (no, really. he castigated me many times. but only once which is relevant to this conversation) for looking back, at what has been lost, rather than forward at what was gained. (The context was my annual post about the great war; I wondered at the mentality of anyone who could look at that tragedy and see gain rather than loss). He was wrong; for me, there is a time for both. For me, this is a time to reflect back; the excitement and the looking forward will begin soon enough. (Probably, in all honesty, after we bid farewell to J-’s parents and step on to the plane). I know this because, in a way, I’ve done this before: I packed up all my stuff and flew out into the abyss, unsure if I would come back.
It was easier then; I had fewer ties, a shallower network, less keeping me rooted in one spot. (In the event, I really only came back to go to a wedding, and then found the task of inserting myself back into my social network to be painful; everyone’s life had gone on, and I’d fallen out of it, and it didn’t seem to matter, and it felt like nobody really cared all that much that I was back. This was in part a reflection of the shallowness of my network, and my reaction to it was a reflection of the fact that I needed their love more than I loved them, a problem I don’t think I have today … but I would be dishonest if I were to deny that the memory of that lay behind part of my fear of coming back in five years). The weeks before that departure were terrifying, once everything was in motion but I still had the power to shout “stop” and halt the wheels of progress in their tracks; and then, once I no longer had that power, the excitement and the freedom were exhilirating.
Everybody should, I think, walk out of their lives for a time and choose whether to return or not; it is a great lesson both in overcoming fear and in allowing yourself to understand why you are where you are, and why you need to be there.
I moved to California in 1983. It is impossible for me to remember, really, what my expectations were, and how I thought of California, what it represented for me and what my dreams were. I was nine; and even if I weren’t, the preceding two years were gone from my memory.
I do know that I came to loathe southern California - specifically, the San Gabriel Valley. I loathed it for its sprawl, the fact that really one couldn’t go anywhere interesting without a car, that the city went on for hours in every direction. I loathed it for the smog, and the fact that you couldn’t see the mountains that were less than two miles away on most days because of the smog. And I loathed it for what seemed to me to be a particularly stifling conservative social culture that I longed to escape from. (One of the astonishing things about rediscovering high school classmates via FB, eighteen years later, was to realize how much I misread that, and how many of the people I knew then are died-in-the-wool liberals now, something I would never have predicted at the time). And I loathed it because I never really felt at home there; I was an outsider from the beginning, my middle school years were particularly bad for that, and I never really got over it, and never really felt close to my friends in high school. Like most nerds, really.
I moved to Santa Cruz in 1991. I ended up spending thirteen years there; I loved it from the moment I set foot in the town to the moment I left (even though, in retrospect, I should have left years before I did). I went to school for five years; I was a regular stoner for close to a decade. I nearly got kicked out of college because I was busy playing the social game that I’d never played in high school. I found politics classes frustrating because I cared intensely about politics and it felt like my classmates didn’t; I was also, to be honest, still full of the arrogant self-importance that had poisoned me during high school, and it almost certainly prevented me from being able to make friends among that group. I got sucked into geek culture, spent years in tech support, became a computer programmer. I tried e, and in the whirlwind of joy from that, got past my irrational unreasonable fear, accepted myself as a gay man, and came out to my friends. It was a safe, nurturing place, and it reinforced the hippie ethos i’ve always had.
In many ways, despite having not moved there until 1991, I feel like I grew up in Santa Cruz; in many ways, it was there that I became an adult able to function in a world with other people, as opposed to a bright but incompetent child.
And yet, well before I left, I had outgrown it; what had been freeing had become confining. I think, perhaps, it is often thus: the place which is a protected safe haven for growth into adulthood can, if you are not careful, become a comfortable cage which inhibits growth.
I moved to the bay area in 2004. I no longer had anything really tying me to Santa Cruz. My closest friends had long since moved on; my boyfriend was not there and would never move there; my job - a job I had loved, once, before that love turned into the most bitter hatred I could imagine - had gone away, and I was (mostly) thrilled. (Angry about the circumstances, an anger which would take some time before it burned out, but otherwise thrilled - I would have quit if I hadn’t been laid off). I moved in with my boyfriend, and this had rocky moments (we’re very different people, and no matter how much in love you are, it still takes time to get used to the fact that you’re now living with someone whose cleanliness, sleeping habits, noise tolerance, etc, are all very different from yours).
My life in the bay area has been very different from my life in santa cruz; i know more people, i drive, i went to law school. For a number of years, we’ve had regular gatherings of large numbers of people at our house (something I never managed in santa cruz). And, over time, I’ve realized that I have been as happy here as I was in santa cruz - sure, i miss the ocean, and the fog hanging in the trees, and the redwoods, and many of the restaurants I had loved, and the people I was close to, and even the people I wasn’t as close to as I thought I was but still enjoyed having around. I will never stop loving those people, I think; but almost all of them have drifted away as their life has diverged from mine, and that’s ok. Once, it wouldn’t have been; but one of the lessons of the last decade has been that it is.
I don’t know what to expect in nine days when I land in New York; I cannot imagine my new life, not really, and probably won’t be able to for months. But I have very little fear. There’s some fear - low-level worry that I won’t be able to build a new tribe, low-level worry that I won’t be able to meet the expectations of my coworkers as I carry out the same job from a different place and with different constraints, low-level worry that I will not be able to make the jump into legal practice. But these are background noise; I have to deliberately seek them out to notice them. I think it will be fun, to be in a new city with my husband, and to help him adjust to being back in school, and to experience together a new world, and to build a new tribe over time.
But I also know that, just as I miss things from Santa Cruz, I will miss things. I will miss the view of the bay from my cube. I will miss the fog rolling in over the mountains, and the wind, and the sun reflecting off the bay. I will miss golden gate park, and the daily interactions with the coworkers I am close to. I will most of all miss my friends; and I suspect that, while I will never stop loving them, over time our paths will diverge just as have my paths and the paths of those I love from Santa Cruz.
Such is life; the only certain things are death and change, and in some ways the great power of the spirit of humanity is our ability to look change in the face and embrace it with hope and joy. A (with reason) well-respected political leader recently asserted from beyond the grave that optimism is better than pessimism, and that hope is better than fear, and I agree with him. So, while I will not deny that the feeling strongest in me today is a feeling of loss, of sorrow at the prospect of walking away by choice from the people and places I love, I have great optimism and hope for what I am walking towards; I just haven’t pivoted my eye to it yet.
A weekend ago, Saturday night, after leaving the music festival, on a cold and clear moonlit night, I walked out to the beach, and walked along it for some time, pausing at last to sit on a large piece of driftwood and listen to the waves and stare into the darkness. The pacific ocean has a piece of my soul (as do the redwood forests in santa cruz, which I bade farewell as part of my long walk on the day before the bar exam), and I wanted to say goodbye. I sat there at least half an hour, until my bones were cold and I was starting to shiver through my two shirts and sweatshirt. There can be beaches, and ocean, in new york, but I don’t expect it to be the same, and so I lingered, holding one last breath of pacific air, until I could do no more.
There are many things I wanted to do here that I never got around to doing; tomorrow was always an option until it wasn’t. (For example, I really wanted to walk across the Dumbarton and back, and that looks impossible now, at least in this lifetime, and in some other lifetime it won’t be important in the same way). Likewise, there were many people I wanted to get to know better than I did, but never found the time for. I would not say I have regrets - time in the last four years has been the most precious of commodities - but, perhaps, a yearning for things unfinished.
But the time for those is past; it is time to close the door on this life, and to move on to the next. I have eight more days for saying farewell, and I will use them; but I wish to reserve that time for the joy of being with the people I love, rather than wishes that something past had been different. And then, once those eight days are past, it is time to turn from yesterday to tomorrow, and face the joy and excitement of a new life.
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