It was July 2011 when I decided that I never wanted to make the drive back to Texas from California again.
I was sobbing, driving back from San Diego - from volunteering at an off-site event during San Diego Comic-Con where I’d met and spent an incredible weekend with so many people that finally understood me. That celebrated my passions, rather than put them down. That weekend I made friends that I still have to this day, and I felt so authentically myself for the first time that I knew I had to do whatever I could to make that person real.
I felt that disconnect of having to leave so acutely that it was literally that drive into the desert, weeping for that loss, when I finally decided it was time to move back.
It was time to make California my home.
(My poor best friend in the front seat, trying to sleep, listening to this breakdown and letting me go through it).
I finally had a goal and something to work towards, after years of feeling adrift. I’d felt like a failure, moving back in 2008, and only able to get and maintain retail jobs until 2010. 2010 I started waiting tables, and making more money than I’d ever made before, even feeling like I was finally in a job that I liked to do and was good at. I loved talking to people, helping them feel comfortable, and enjoy their time. That job allowed me to make necessary repairs to my first car, and then put a down payment on my very first new car. And then of course it all came crashing down in the spring.
I had just been fired from a job that had given me that acceptance until betraying me, due to what I know now was no fault of my own - after one of my managers sexually assaulted me. After the event, when I had been shamed and frozen out - hours cut and given the worst serving sections. Three months of torture. When I didn’t quit as a result, they decided to fire me themselves. My life was in flux in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, wounded in a way I now had to cope with.
I knew that weekend in July would be cathartic, but I didn’t know just how much until it was over. I was able to devote myself to a cause, work with people who had never met me before, didn’t know what had happened to me before I got there (even when I was still holding blame). It was 12-13 hour days, working with our hands, on our feet. We often referred to it as a summer camp type experience, with every day different but the same, with the kind of experiences that bond you to people in that unique way. We all huddled together at the end, crying, promising to keep in touch and not let this be the last time we saw each other. We didn’t know if the event would be back the next year, what it would look like, who would be around to participate.
The magic of that weekend had ended, and we all had to go back to our real lives. And waiting for me back in Texas was unemployment, and depression.
Thankfully, I was able to get a new job shortly after returning - at a pizza place not far from the other job - and able to get back on my feet. While the wound of what had happened to me earlier that year wouldn’t start to heal for a while later, I was able to work around it.
There would be another trip, briefly, in September, to Los Angeles proper. I met up with some of those friends again, stayed in an Airbnb and rented a car. I would visit the Valley for the first time, take myself on a reconnaissance trip, and cement what my heart already knew at the parking lot of the Griffith Observatory, a box of In n Out and most of Los Angeles sparkling beneath me.
This is where I wanted to be.
2012 came, and I decided to make things official. I planned to move out that July, just before that year’s SDCC and hopefully that year’s offsite event that I could volunteer at. I would make sure I was settled so that I wouldn’t have to make that drive back to Texas again.
I got a second job, my first nannying job, and started adding to my waiting tables wages. I worked from 6am playing with a six month old baby, changing his diapers and feeding him lunch and bottles, and putting him down for naps as his mother slept after her night shifts. I would come home around 2:30pm, take a quick nap, and then get ready to wait tables that evening. I did that at least four times a week, with doubles at the pizza place on the weekend.
(2012 is also when I got my first passport and went to Europe for the first time, because of this plan, but that’s another story for another time).
I started the process of moving out of state - knowing I couldn’t afford a place of my own, I looked for roommates, after a failed attempt to move in with another friend (we had some disagreements and it eventually didn’t work out for us). I found two girls who were renting a three bedroom house in Studio City, we had a meeting over Skype, and made it official. Security deposit sent, my key came in the mail.
July 1st, 2012, my youngest sister and I hit the road. We left late, when she finished work at her own restaurant, where she made me a double shot Nutella latte that was so sweet and didn’t put me to sleep for once. We were going to drive through the night, up north to Dallas and then across northwest Texas (I still have the Google Maps route in my email). Our plan was to take a route we’d never taken before, in our years driving back and forth from California with our parents. I wanted to see Roswell, we wanted to see the Grand Canyon. When we reached California, I was going to drop her off at a friend’s house in Huntington Beach, and then I was going to go to Brea to our grandmother’s for the night before going north to my new home.
The wind turbines at night looked like aliens, with the darkness so absolute all we could see were the lights moving in slow circles. The highways narrowed, six lanes, four lanes, and then two. We drove in shifts, at least four hours each, and stopped for breakfast at one of the last Whataburgers we knew we’d see, down the main street from the UFO Museum in Roswell. I wanted to find landmarks from the 90’s TV show, not knowing they were really just located in LA. We went through northern New Mexico, and saw the beauty of the desert rather than the desolation. It was this stretch of New Mexico and Arizona when I realized what people meant when they said the desert had its own splendor.
We stopped in Flagstaff, at a hotel where our mom had thankfully booked us a room for the night - since neither of us were old enough to book one on our own. We drove another couple of hours to the Grand Canyon, and got there right at sunset. Another one of those landmarks that you don’t realize is truly beautiful, until it is sprawled out in front of you. It didn’t look real, like a Hollywood painted backdrop. We got a good night’s sleep, a hot shower.
We queued up our favorite California songs, playing Phantom Planet’s anthem as soon as we crossed the border in Death Valley.
We’d made it. I’d made it.
We made it on time for her surprise our aunt and uncle and cousins, we made it on time for me to get a hug from our grandmother to welcome me back to my native home.
I’m the only one (other than her) to be born there, after all.
The next morning, the 4th of July, 2012, I drove north. I found my new home, the house empty of my new roommates. I unpacked the car, went to a Big Lots and bought a new mattress and my first In n Out as a new resident, and rewarded myself for a journey well made.
I told myself if I made it to ten years, it’d be an accomplishment.
I almost didn’t, either. Those first four years were some of the hardest in my life. Hell, I often think of 2015 as the worst year of my life so far, and that distinction used to go to 2011. I made stupid choices, as you are able to do in your 20s, but this time I was buoyed by stubbornness and a budding ability to ask for help (although it was often at the last minute). The will to make things work, to make it to that ten year mark.
By the end of 2015, I was couchsurfing at friends’ places after having a new apartment fall through and being unceremoniously replaced by a roommate I’d thought was my friend. I had lost some of those friends that I’d moved out for, shown their true faces and heard their real words - rejected. I had that new car I’d purchased repossessed, and I struggled to get it back.
I also had real friends step up to care for me when I needed it, giving me a place to lay my head, move my things, advice and a shoulder to lean on. I was able to see new places - I went to Liverpool the first time, and Scotland, and Ireland - and saw the consequences of those trips.
2015 was a shift in the same way 2011 and 2012 had been, even if it was more painful. It was the bottom that someone never wants to approach ever again.
2015 helped the choices of 2016 become more manageable. 2015 forced me to grow up.
In 2016 one long friendship ended, while another rebloomed. 2016 I started writing for The Liverpool Offside, finally getting paid to write. I learned that writing about sports and a team that I love was an unrecognized dream. I moved into a new home, in a new part of the Valley, and was able to get settled. I hung art for the first time since living in my mom’s house. I had friends and family visit, and stay with me.
Every year got a little better. The setbacks didn’t feel so big, when they came. And they still came, as they always do. My support system grew, as did my confidence in myself, and my ability to take care of myself, and to lean on that support system.
I made it through 2016, 2017, 2018. 2017 was marked by a new relationship, an exploration of a sexuality I’d pushed away, ignored, because of what others had told me. I left the longest job I’d ever held at the end of 2017, and faced another period of unemployment. 2017 was about learning what I wanted, and standing my ground against what I didn’t.
In 2018 I let myself have something that had scared me at first. That I had let people talk me out of, when I wasn’t ready for it. In 2018, I told one of my best friends how I felt, that I had feelings for him again, after two years of repairing our friendship. In 2018, I said yes to this relationship that has grown into one of the best parts of my life, into what I hope, what I want, to be the partnership that carries us through the rest of our lives.
2019 brought the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. 2019 was the year Liverpool won the European Cup, for the first time in 14 years. It was a year that saw me add another job to my ever growing list, starting to work in the entertainment industry - finally - but in a completely different way than I had ever thought of. It saw my small pet sitting business grow by word of mouth, traveling across the Valley to stay with different dogs, use my caretaking skills in the most fun way. 2019 was also the year my boyfriend, his family, and I lost our dog to cancer, one of the most constant presences in our life. He was the best boy, and while I had felt that loss before, this hurt was different. The ability to say goodbye is a double edged sword, and both sides cut deeply.
And then, of course, 2020 happened. The whole world stopped. That little pet sitting business? Gone, as people were forced home. There was a whole month where I worked as little as possible - only two clients kept me on to care for their pets. I experienced another loss, as my therapist of 6 years was killed. The entertainment industry halted, until the summer. Vox Media announced they were releasing their California contractors, as of March 30th, 2020. I no longer got paid to write about my favorite team, so I started this blog instead.
The world went through a shift that it hadn’t seen in decades, with protests and unrest coming to a head. I, like many others, started to make an effort to become a better white person. While hiding away from a deadly virus and trying to protect those closest to me. I missed that youngest sister getting married, the one who had made the odyssey to California with me. I finally sought out treatment for ADHD, a condition that had held me back since middle school.
(Liverpool also won the League for the first time in 30 years, let’s not forget).
2021 happened. The world started to come back as vaccines rolled out. I saw my mom for the first time in two years, my middle sister in even longer. Watched her get engaged when her long time boyfriend proposed just before her 30th birthday. I saw my dad, as restrictions eased up, as more and more people got vaccinated, that fall. Introduced him to the man I plan to marry.
In truth, it’s really incredible to have made it to ten years. When I think about who that girl was that got into the car in Spring, Texas that her parents had loaded for her, after having her first anxiety attacks, she feels miles away. That’s what happens, obviously, in ten years. We all become different people, shaped by the experiences we’ve had along the way. The people we’ve held close, and let go. The things we’ve done, places we’ve been.
A third of my life has now been spent here, and I haven’t achieved everything I came out here to do. That’s okay, though, because everything else has turned out so much better. I am still working to be my most authentic self, and accepting that that has changed since 2011-12. I am not the person I thought I would be, ten years later, in so many ways.
And in so many ways, I am much better. So much happier. So much stronger.
Thank you, California, for your role in shaping me.
Cheers to ten years, cheers to ten more, and ten more after that.