There was some concern in my Mom’s eyes as we sat down to enjoy a short stack at Bob Evan’s. I had announced my plans to pursue a history major on the drive into town from the Kenyon College campus. I was 19 years old and by the time I was 22 I realized too late that my Mom had every reason for concern. As graduation approached, I had no career path, no family business to step into, no corporate internship for the summer, no service work planned for Teach for America, no backpacking trip set with friends, no grad schools to apply for, and certainly had no LSAT prep courses to research. Sorry Uncle David, Esquire. I was starting to understand that concern in my Mom’s eyes. Shit.
With absolutely no clue what I had spent the past 4 years of college preparing for or what my Mom had worked so hard to pay for, I completely and totally panicked. “I’m going to work towards getting my state teaching certification in California and teach elementary school,” I told friends and family. Guys like Kindergarten teachers, I thought and I won’t seem totally vapid to my friends and family. I wanted to give back to humanity in the way my parents had. My dad was a school principal, language and special education teacher and my mom was a social worker and nursing home ombudsman. They both set impressive examples with their lives of service and I admired it so much, but deep down inside I did not aspire to it. I loved movies and TV more than I cared about shaping the youth of America. I would have been happy braiding Kirsten Dunst’s hair* or washing Tobey Maguire’s car* as long as I was in in Los Angeles. I could discuss Wem Wender’s Wings of Desire auf Deutsch and I had a map of WWII Germany clearly imprinted on my brain but the only real direction I had in mind at the time of my college graduation was westward.
I grew up in the Midwest in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. I spent 18 years on the same street with the same neighbors. I went to the same private all girls school with the same 52 girls from kindergarten through senior year. I chose to attend college an hour away and I came home frequently for lunch and a movie with my Mom. I loved home and the comfort it provided but moving to LA seemed like a challenge to distract from the fact that I had absolutely no direction in life. I spent a few weeks at home after graduation packing up my car and with the Norah Jones album Come Away with Me on constant repeat I drove across the country with my boyfriend and decided to make a life for myself in LA. And a quick travel tip… if you find yourself driving through Grand Island, Nebraska this truck stop has a life size replica of the Predator and a great slice of blueberry pie.
After 3 days on the road, I drove into Los Angeles on the 10 West at dusk. I had arrived and in those first weeks, everything felt like an accomplishment. I remember requesting a high five from my roommate when I drove from my apartment to the Bed Bath and Beyond on Olympic Blvd by myself.
My college boyfriend (the one that I drove cross country with) dumped me at the end of the summer and moved to Barcelona to find himself. Yes, I was upset, hurt, and permanently encased like a sausage in this one pair of green sweat pants but I wasn’t afraid to be alone and this was a first for me. The constant white noise from the nearby 10 freeway or a helicopter circling overhead made those first nights alone in LA less quiet and lonely. LA drew me outward. Free chocolate samples at See’s candies, a bucket of frozen yogurt from The Big Chill, tamales at El Chollo, some people watching on the Third Street Promenade, or a late movie at Century City, LA took me in and even though I had no ties to the city other than my rental off of Pico Blvd, I felt compelled to stay. I spent the next three months living in LA entirely by myself and it was the most isolating and exciting time in my life so far. My Mom came to visit me in the fall of that first year and got me a dog at the now defunct Pet Love at the Beverly Center. I named her Satine because I was obsessed with Moulin Rouge at the time. I got a job in retail, made some friends, started a passionate relationship with California avocados, and generally settled in to Southern California life. My best friend from Columbus even moved to LA, became a talent manager, and remains the closest member of my LA extended family to this day. My quest felt complete but I was resting on my laurels far too soon.
My Mom died suddenly in early 2005. I was at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd and Beverly Glenn when my sister gave me the news. I think about it every time I drive through that light. It was the worst day of my life. I hastily packed a suitcase, entrusted my dog in the care of my roommate, and went home to Ohio for the last time. For the first time in my life, Columbus didn’t feel like home anymore. After the funeral, I felt drawn to return to LA. I had hollowed out a small albeit insignificant spot for myself in this city and I was proud but I regretted making that life so far from my Mom and on her dollar to boot. I wouldn’t have lasted a year here on my hourly wage from Anthropologie. She made it possible for me to stay so far away because I said it was what I wanted despite her own struggles. I wanted to make our separation for the last three years of her life have some sort of purpose or meaning. As difficult as I know it was for her to support my move thousands of miles away, I know she wouldn’t want me to give up on making a life for myself in LA. I am still working on the whole “making her proud” part.
After a few weeks of combing through childhood memories with my sister and starting the gut wrenching process of cleaning out the house we grew up in, I answered LA’s siren song and flew home after 2 gut wrenching weeks. My sister returned to college and eventually moved to Brooklyn Heights, NY. We live on two opposite sides of the country but the loss of our Mother has bound us closer together.
When the flight landed at LAX I had a burger at Island’s, kissed my dog, and as I turned on to Westwood Blvd I whispered “Home.”
*insert 2002 reference