Dispatch / On Returning to LA

“Where are you from?”

I can sense the question about to roll off the tongue of the person standing across from me. It usually comes out in two scenarios: 1) as polite hostel travel talk, 2) because they have caught a whiff of strangeness in my accent. If it is of the second manner, the four words will generally come accompanied with a slight tilt of the head. The gentle slant a bodily representation of – “huh?”

Throughout the years, I have tried out a variety of responses to the said question, but none of them have proven to be successful in thwarting follow-up inquiries. Inevitably, I have to explain the whole story: the emigration, the movement around the US, the current locations of my family members, my citizenship status.

“But…where do you live now?” 

“Well, nowhere, but the last place I lived in was LA, and that is where my storage unit and car are stored.” I regurgitate the script.

My ex-boyfriend’s Mum was the first to come up with the description of my accent as “English-Valley Girl,” a classification about which I was quite frankly mortified. It took me years to accept that hers was probably the most accurate description; an English girl who gained some “likes” in her speech and a rise in pitch at the end of some sentences. It was this laidback twang that enabled me to not feel like a fraud when I would leave LA dangling as the somewhat answer to where I partially consider where I live.

Having a challenging time communicating the difference between my making a statement and asking a question (a general criticism of “Valley-Girl” dialect) wasn’t the only thing I gained from LA. I finally understood why people get excited upon noticing avocado on a menu, how you can justify $30 pilates classes as essential for both your mental and physical health, that life shouldn’t revolve around work, and adults should certainly smoke marijuana every now and again.

I understood why living in perfect weather makes it challenging ever to live anywhere else, that you should always look in strip malls for the most authentic world cuisine, and that the globe’s perspective of a place can be so far from accurate. I know first-hand that a perfectly curated playlist can make a 40 minute, 3 miles drive a joy, that Art Deco architecture is always splendid, that the Pacific Coast Highway never loses its magic, and that hiking is one of the best ways to spend a Saturday.

Those were all statements.

For the past few years, every time I flew into LAX and looked down at the sprawling city below from my window, I felt a sense of giddiness unparalleled to my inner emotions about anywhere else. No matter how long I had been gone, or where I had been, I would always feel fortunate to be able to return to a place I adored.

In June, on my flight from London to LA, I didn’t have a window seat — the first time in the history of me flying to LA. Pleading with the Norwegian gate agent, I couldn’t satisfactorily explain why it was so crucial for me to have an unobstructed view of the endless lights that only stop where the Pacific Ocean begins. “I selected a window seat,” I petitioned.

“I am sorry Miss; they are all taken. I don’t know what happened.”

Upon descent, I didn’t even glance out at the terrain.

“I don’t know what happened,” became a continuous theme for my first couple of weeks back in LA. “What happened?” I would repeatedly ask my brain when it became evident that my love for LA had diminished. As demonstrated in this post, being back was jarring, humbling, and confusing. After a weekend with my Mum and sister ended, I spent four days wondering what the hell I was going to do.

My initial reaction was to flee, to simply start the engine in my car and drive anywhere else. But, considering I preach a doctrine of never using travel as a way to retreat from feelings nor as a means of escaping yourself, I knew I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t work through my convoluted emotions.

“You shall remain for as long as it takes,” I commanded myself (with no hint of a Valley-girl dialect so I knew it was serious).

Almost instantly upon making the decision, the universe presented me with an opportunity to house-sit for two weeks. After sleeping in five places in 10 days, this meant I could remain in one location for a considerable amount of time and have my own space to do what I needed to do. I eagerly accepted and moved my suitcase in.

Some of my favorite people in the world live in Los Angeles, so I organized plans with them on the weekends to both ensure I saw them plenty and also to stop me from completely retreating from the outside world (something that is very easy for me to do). Then, I took it day by day.

For the first couple of days, I only left the house to walk the dog. This progressed into me taking myself to LACMA and lunch at my favorite taco truck. Each day I would check in with myself and discern how I was feeling. If I wanted to explore, I would. If I wanted to stay home and read my book, I would. Unlike ever before, I didn’t force myself to be doing things constantly. Instead, I allowed myself to sit with my emotions, thoroughly experience them, and then let them go.

I knew I couldn’t force myself to love LA again; it would have to happen organically. Just like when you reach your hand out to a cat, and they decide whether or not to come for a stroke, I took the same approach with LA. Although, I am not entirely sure which of us was the cat and which was the stroker.

The rationale for this course of action was that if I left LA on a bad note, I would probably never return. Or, if I did, the suppressed sentiments would only reappear in a more fervent storm. This would be a sad state of affairs for my relationship with a city I had only ever referred to as “my favorite place on Earth.”

In some ways, my five weeks in LA went by in a flash. In other ways, they were some of the longest days in recent memory. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Never before had I experienced such intense reverse culture shock. And, it took me longer than I would like to admit to come to appreciate the city for its own characteristics and flavors. Usually, I am skilled at not comparing and contrasting locales, instead, striving to recognize the worth of its individual essence. During this time, I was failing miserably in this regard.

Little by little the high temperatures started to warm my soul, rather than overheat my senses. The quirky, originality of the city evoked my creativity, instead of depressing me. The particular chaos of a town that has far outgrown its original plans began to challenge me, in place of overwhelming me. The rhythm returned. It was a slower tempo and quieter than before; but, it was there, reverberating.

I finally left LA last Thursday evening. Just as I had envisioned, I got into my driver’s seat, switched on the engine and then proceeded to get onto the nearest highway entrance and drive 80 mph out of the city limits (it was late, and traffic had finally died down). The difference to five weeks ago was that upon leaving I felt calm and at peace with the cognizance that LA is no longer my home. It no longer means to me what it once did; those years of my life have ended and will never return.

But, I needed to grant myself the time to come to that realization on my own terms. To ensure that when the final page of this chapter was turned, the concluding full-stop was of my own accord.

Originally published on July 23rd, 2018


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