“I hate California. I want to go to the east coast. I want to go where culture is, like New York, or Connecticut or New Hampshire.” – Lady Bird” – Carly Berke
Although I am not from Sacramento, Lady Bird’s residence of origin, nor am I even from Northern California itself, I could not have written a better line to encapsulate my senior year experience. I had pledged to flee Southern California at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I was convinced that I wanted to travel as far away from California as possible and immerse myself in “East Coast culture” (i.e. seasons, snowfall, preppy elitists). So I left. I came to Boston, Massachusetts, one of the furthest possible locations from Los Angeles I could have chosen, save Vermont or Maine.
I was convinced that leaving home would “save me”, and I would blossom into the New Englander (or, alternatively, New Yorker) that I was born to be.
Truthfully, I was really only under the impression (as so many angsty teenagers are) that my family was the bane of my existence, and I felt stifled. In hindsight, a lot of my adolescent experience was tainted by mental illness, which is a story for another time. But nonetheless, my relationship with my family was challenging, and as a result I was eager to send a message by moving so far away. Moreover, the relentless heat in Los Angeles irked me. I was growing increasingly appalled by the Youtube/Vine/Social Media Influencer community that was growing in the city, and I convinced myself that I would never fit in anywhere (disclaimer: this is B.S. There is a place in L.A. for everyone).
Thus when college came, I tried to start over on the other side of the country. At first, I loved it. I loved meeting kids who had grown up in Mass and Jersey and Connecticut and New York, and I loved watching the seasons change. I loved engaging in a “Dunkin vs. Starbucks” debate and I loved wearing heavy winter clothing. I liked that Boston was so incredibly detached from my life at home. I liked that I felt like I was living a double life, with my old life growing increasingly faint.
But then it started to get harder. During my second year, the cold weather affected me more than it had the year prior. I was having trouble connecting with some people and felt more lost than I had on the first day of freshman year. I had a career crisis and was forced to contemplate the fact that a career I thought I wanted my entire life was no longer a path I wanted to follow. This discomfort, loneliness, and unease manifested itself in a general resentment toward Boston and the East Coast, at least for a short period of time.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Boston, and I love the relative ease with which you can travel along the East Coast. I will be looking for jobs in New York and D.C. after graduation, and my heart still very much belongs out here.
But starting my sophomore year, every time I returned home to visit, it became increasingly harder to leave. I’ve grown much closer with my family, no doubt because of the proper treatment I’ve finally sought out for my mental health. But I learned to start appreciating little niches of home – like Malibu canyon, the miles of canyon road that I spent hours exploring in high school, or East Los Angeles, where I worked this summer and got to experience a diverse melting pot of Angeleno culture that I hadn’t been exposed to before. I developed a new appreciation for the community in which I had grown up, one I had previously scorned for its wealth and privilege.
Returning home for breaks and vacations quickly turned into what felt like an illustrious love affair, with me falling a little bit more in love each time I visited. Boston enabled me to finally hang up my tough-chick-home-rebel act and find comfort and solace in my family and my home community.
Two weeks ago, an ex-marine opened fire at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, killing 11. Borderline is about 15 minutes away from my house. I grew up playing softball in Thousand Oaks for my entire life. My brother performed in several shows at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center.
But before the implications of the shooting began to truly register, intense wildfires erupted across Northern and Southern California. Within hours, the fire was nearing my home and incinerating the neighborhoods of my friends and family. My parents lost power, and I was out of touch with them for four and a half hours. I didn’t know where they were or if they had evacuated.
Those ~48 hours are hazy. I crossed campus unaware of my surroundings and unable to be present in the moment. All I wanted was to be at home with my family and friends, even if my home was completely devastated. I longed for the company of someone from my community, anyone who could even remotely relate to what I was experiencing.
This past weekend, I visited my my brother in Baltimore to see him perform in the National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof, the show he first performed in as a kid that introduced him to theater and what would ultimately become his entire career. About a month and a half ago, we lost our Bubbie, who had been fighting a vicious battle against Alzheimer’s in the 3-4 years prior to her passing. We had grown up with her living right down the street, and she played an integral role in my childhood. She always fostered my brother’s love for theater and performing, and she supported us in every single endeavor. I felt her at the show with me.
Between the mass shooting, the fire, my grandmother’s passing, and my brother’s performance, I left Baltimore completely awash in intense emotion. I missed home more than I ever had before, and I was filled with an intense longing to return. I wanted to hold my parents tightly and take a walk through my neighborhood at twilight and drive along the coastline (which unfortunately will be incinerated when I return). For one of the first times since coming to college, I was truly, completely homesick.
How foolish I was to have scorned California. No one comes from a perfect home, nor a perfect childhood nor a perfect family, but I had found enough love at home to satisfy me for a lifetime. And it was only driving through Baltimore at twilight, the sky tinged with pink as night descended over the city, Ravens’ fans flooding the streets after a Sunday football victory, did I realize how immature I was to insist on leaving with such forcefulness. I might not live there anymore, and I might not be on a path that leads me back to Los Angeles, but I know I will always hold my home and my family very close to my heart. And for that, I am thankful.