You can’t go home again, or so they say. I never really understood what that meant until I finally left mine, and I want to tell you why I’m never moving back. But before I begin, I need to clarify that this is in no way a hate letter to California. On the contrary, California has a huge place in my heart and always will. But for the sake of writing this, California could easily be any other place in the world that I happened to spend 26 years in, and I would probably still feel the same.
As much as I love California, it will always represent the part of my life that I needed to detach from. The home I needed to leave in order to turn into the person I am now. The person I never would have been able to become if I had stayed. The person that I am still working on.
Some people thrive at home, others need to escape it.
Even though home is a relative term and mine was unconventional and never quite permanent, it was still home. I felt comfortable and safe there, a feeling that is really hard to walk away from. And the day I left, I stood sobbing on the doorstep with my luggage waiting for the car that would take me away from it.
As soon as I fled I began straddling the lines of fear and excitement, doubt and freedom, adventure and uncertainty, until I was sprawled out on a version of my very own Twister mat. But all the bending was worth it when I was finally able to stand up straight. That’s when I stopped and looked at my surroundings, a completely different person than I was on that doorstep the day I left.
Just four short months after my heart-wrenching goodbye, I made it to my new home.
Now you don’t move somewhere like New York City from a place like Southern California without being constantly questioned about it. Complete strangers like to ask how I could leave that paradise, if I’ll ever move back, or more presumptuously insist that I will eventually.
But when you take the long way, like I did, to get where you are, the road back is almost unrecognizable. Even a place as familiar to me as California, has gotten lost somewhere in my consciousness, hiding in plain sight. Sure I can point to it on a map and steer a car in the right direction, but it stopped being home the minute I left.
If you’ve ever moved away from home, you probably already know the feeling you get the first time you go back. If you’ve never left home, allow me to try and explain it.
No matter what our home life is like (good or bad) it’s casually centered on a giant magnet with a force waiting patiently to pull us back in the second we step foot onto familiar soil. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been gone, or what our lives our like now.
The magnet is there and we can’t escape those people and places that know us (like really know us) the minute we get within a certain radius of that pull. For some people, that’s a positive feeling and they almost need that force every once in awhile to recharge with a sense of where they came from before heading back to their real lives.
For others, it’s a little more complicated.
Sometimes our former lives are filled with a lot of drama, some negativity and a complete and utter fear of never escaping. The first time I went back to California (about a year after I moved away), it was almost scary how easy I felt it would be to slip back into my old life. To go back to the mindless job, move back to the same city I went to High School in, fit right back into the familiar and comfortable life I was feeling trapped in.
It was an entire life I could see unfolding that I knew I didn’t want. And even the time away couldn’t weaken that force trying to attach me to it. Each time I go back I feel that same pull and it’s hard to separate, because there are people I love there and things I do miss about it. Beautiful beaches, mild temperatures all year long, In N Out.
When it comes to California, I could write a bunch of black and white reasons to stay or go, a pro/con list if you will about the joys of the golden coast, or the things about it I’m still reconciling with. The weather’s always perfect, blah blah, the traffic is always horrendous, blah blah. The truth is you can come up with those kinds of insignificantly detailed characteristics about any place you go.
I still wrestle with New York sometimes when I’m up to my ankles in slushy melting snow, or sweating uncontrollably in an underground train station, or shielding my nose from the stink of rotting bags of trash in the summer heat. But those are realities I can live with, because this place feels right to me.
Nowhere is perfect and there a lot of amazing cities in the world I’d love to live in. Cities that I’m sure are filled with habitants that also feel like they’re suffocating there. I’ve met New Yorkers who would throw down any amount of cab fare for a ride out of winter faster than you can ask for train directions.
But where you are doesn’t really matter.
What matters most is the person you are when you’re home, and that’s why I’m never moving back to California. Simply because I like the person I am so much better when I’m not there. I like the relationship I have with California and the people in it more when I’m not there.
I value California and the people I know there more now than I ever could have if I stayed. But mostly I value myself, my independence, and the courage I had to leave home. I value the new home I’ve made in New York because it was on my terms, not built on comfort, fear or obligation. Because home isn’t where I was born, or where I grew up, or where everyone knows everything about me. Home is wherever I decide I want to be right now.