on moving on
Last Wednesday marked the official one month-iversary for my arrival in San Jose. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but never found the motivation to start stringing together words. I’m not sure I’ve found it now, necessarily, but I am going to attempt. So we’ll see what comes out.
I think moving away from your hometown for the first time is some kind of rite of passage of adulthood. For most, it’s the first rite of passage–right alongside going to college or getting married. For me, I’ve done a lot of things backwards. And maybe I just won’t do some of those things at all.
I left Denver for a lot of reasons–most of which started bubbling up inside me when I lived with my ex in this tiny studio next to Cheesman Park. Denver, when I came back from LA and doing TFA in Houston, felt different somehow. In hindsight, I realize my Denver started dying that year. Or maybe what I needed from old Denver changed…and fell short…on my return home. In any case, the people felt different. The city had a different energy. And a whole lot of crap started happening. It also reignited a long held longing I had to go elsewhere and be more. It’s something I, undoubtedly, inherited from my father–the ultimate vagabond…except he had no ambition. I’m not sure where my ambition came from, but I suspect it comes from my Papa–my Mama’s father.
In any case…I needed more than what my life in Denver was–what it had been. And not that it was a bad life–it was just smaller than who I was–and filled with ghosts that inspired crippling grief at every corner of my beloved city. I found myself limited by a lot of things–a lot of myself doing the limiting.
But life had other plans for a good long while, and Denver kept me close. Semi-against my will. Part of me never ever wanted to leave, though, and that was very evident in the debacle that was our move.
I’m not going to even go there now–I may never. But it was painful and exhausting and breakdown inspiring. And I questioned every choice I made and wanted to bolt or die or burn it all to the ground at varying points those last two weeks. But at some point–it’s too late to say no–so you keep going and…eventually…you’re gone.
Had my mother been alive–had there been anyone to stay for–I would have planted myself somewhere in that city just because leaving was so fucking traumatic. Truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I don’t know how I feel about this place. I had been here before. A few times. I had this idea of what it was. And who I was in it. Who I could be in it. And so far, it’s a bit like the false gold prospectors found during the Rush. There’s a lot to be unsure about. A lot to process. A lot of deciding and being. And letting wash over me.
The first week, I told my friend–someone who loves me and knows me as well as you can know me–that I would be moving back home next year. But that I would try to make this year worth it. That I would give it a chance. He told me that’s how he felt about Denver when he first got there and now he never would leave.
That feeling dissipated quickly, though, and I felt the more rational side of myself take over.
You haven’t even been to the ocean, yet, Alma. Give it a chance.
I’m trying, and parts of me are warming. But parts of me are prickly. About small things, that then accumulate to big things. Mostly, though–this isn’t mine. These aren’t my people. I don’t belong here. I don’t deserve this–both good and bad. Everything here is so much more…difficult. And people here just aren’t nice. They’re entitled poseurs, and ironically, I’d rather be in LA.
Growing up dirt poor in a sleepy place everyone refers to as a cow town–where skiing and rooting for the Broncos is the ultimate everything–where school options are limited and, even if you find something decent, the job market is even more limited for someone creative and ambitious–I think all natives grew up with chips on their shoulders. I certainly did. I couldn’t be fully myself in Denver with the resources in front of me–unless I did it all myself. And growing up with nothing? I didn’t have the financial ability to do it all by myself. So, I needed to leave–flat out–to do what I wanted.
A lot of people asked me why I was moving to the Bay Area. Why not NYC or Boston or any number of cool places that would nurture people like me. Why move to the heart of privilege and entitlement?
Part of it was the fact that there was an opportunity there. I didn’t want to do this alone. I was unsure I’d follow through by myself. It was far easier to afford and much more realistic. But thinking about it–part of me needed to be in a legit big city. One with lots of problems and lots of diversity. I ached for my childhood home, but knew I could never go back to it. Living here was a way to embrace that, but also grow. But it also meant confronting an ugly side of myself–one that I kept stumbling into–one that limited my success and kept my dreams smaller than they could be. Bluntly, I have a big issue with rich, white, privileged people. And where better to face that part of myself than white boy geek paradise? I needed to get over that–to face the poverty I grew up with and the self-limiting bullshit. But also my own prejudice and rage about wealth and class. I really needed to confront it if I was ever going to be comfortable with the people I now call peers.
And that–my friends–is the hardest shit about here. While I hate that the tap water tastes like bleach, that there are spiders in the trees and my bathroom, that I have been sick non-stop since I got here–that 70 degrees feels like 100 to be for the first 10 minutes I’m outside–it’s the issue of class and race and gender than guts me about this place.
I have witnessed massive amounts of racism just on casual outings…which haven’t been many since I have no car and driving here is a nightmare. (Sharing didn’t happen). And it’s not subtle. It’s in your face–no shame whatsoever–awful, ugly racism from people who look perfectly normal. And because I’m white–they don’t edit. It’s every time I do anything here. Every time I go to a doctor or catch a ride to pay a bill. Every time. And homelessness is an ugly, sad thing here–not that it isn’t in Denver, too–but Denver sanitized it so much more. Property crime is a constant thing, too, and I am routinely reminded of the place I come from–both from the poverty I see the minute I leave my $3500/month apartment to the awesome Asian culture just steps away that I don’t experience enough because it’s too unsafe to walk by myself.
Just living in my apartment is a mass exercise in confronting my bullshit. Especially since I realized a lot of my first week’s instinct to bolt came from a feeling of–this is too nice. I don’t need all of this. But mostly–I don’t deserve this. This isn’t a place where someone like me lives. Because mostly, I felt more at home with the homeless people and their carts than the tech guys and their dogs in our community.
It doesn’t feel like mine. Most of this place doesn’t feel like mine.
I thought I’d miss autumn–and I do. (I fucking hate the sun). But truthfully, despite all the gentrification in my beautiful home city, there is a heart there that doesn’t exist here. I miss the pride people have to be from a place. I miss how most people say hello and try to help in Denver. I miss that most Denver peeps–even if they are assholes–at least know that it’s wrong to say certain things–even with strangers.
I’ve learned that so much of home to me has nothing to do with place. Though it is so important to me. I’m finding that who I’m with is what’s most important, and that this place is ugly to me because of it. Despite the beautiful flowers and the cute homes and the beaches–after you fight the traffic to get there.
It’s about common language and shared experience. The shorthand. The niceties. The room people give you to be you. I don’t feel those things here. I felt them in LA–in San Diego–the northwest. But as I was telling someone earlier–this is a place to visit–not a place to live.
But I do live here. I’m not sure for how long. I may change my mind. I may stay forever…who knows? But my feeling is that this will just be a stepping stone. A valuable one in the story of me–a place where I got over my issues of worth…but still not home. And home right now isn’t right either.
So, as I told my friend the first week I got here–I’m going to do my work here. I’m going to use this place to make bigger things happen. I’m going to set out on my adventures now that I have car access. And I’m going to seek out the gems I still can’t see through the nonsense. And maybe anywhere can be home, eventually.