There is a Lana Del Ray lyric I can’t get out of my head. So I moved to California but it’s just a state of mind //It turns out everywhere you go // you take yourself, that’s not a lie.
It is both haunting and a cliché, like most of my feelings right now, so it fits. I’ve never been a person who believes in the power of change; I am a person who is deeply suspicious of change. When I realized I was thinking about moving, I winced. I’ve read the longform essays about where the writer moves to a new city, I knew the beats I should expect: elation, fear, worry, BREAKTHROUGH, then some kind solace and a lot of plants artfully displayed in a modest but chic apartment. Rationally, I knew that was ridiculous; I told myself that moving was not going to actually fix my life, that living in a different state didn’t mean that my personality was going to change. It wouldn’t fix my depression and anxiety. I told myself this, all the while secretly hoping this move did have the power to fix me, to break me down to an elemental level and rebuild me.
I lived in Boston for ten years, the longest I have lived anywhere that wasn’t my parent’s house. I moved there for college and found the city immediately intoxicating. It didn’t overwhelm me like New York did; I fell for the New England charm. I went from a crappy railroad style apartment in (one of) the college neighborhoods to a bigger, slightly less crappy railroad style apartment in a grown up neighborhood. I knew the city inside and out, I had the roads around my neighborhood imprinted on my skull. I could avoid that one nail in the hall that stuck out just a little too far and would snag my socks en route to the kitchen without thinking about it. I could get to my office in my sleep, which is what it felt like I was doing, sleepwalking from my house to work and back again. I imagined my feet hitting the same places on the sidewalk I walked every day, a well-worn path of sameness that felt inescapable.
Part of it was my job, I had been there for too long, I knew it, and I resented knowing it. It made me a bad coworker, which I hated. I was uncharacteristically cranky and irritable for months before I gave my notice, suddenly the monotonous parts of my job became unbearable. I resented being asked to do anything; I bit my lip one afternoon because I had to send some emails and didn’t feel like it—I was trying not to scream. Every day felt like it was 3:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, like I was forever stuck in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week.
Part of it was the city itself. Boston is a place I’ll have fond memories of because I grew up in that city, I went from college student to intern to full time employee with a retirement account that I theoretically understood. I had deep and caring friendships that were seeded and bloomed in Boston, I came out there, saw my first therapist there. It will always mean something to me. But I couldn’t afford to live there, not without a ton of roommates or living in an apartment where the bathroom ceiling was constantly leaking because our landlord didn’t feel like fixing the plumbing upstairs. When I decided that I wanted to move to Philadelphia, I would tell friends and co-workers that I was sick of being one of two or three brown people in a room. If we were in a restaurant, I would watch their eyes unfocus a little, scanning the space around us. “There’s a black couple in the corner over there, and a dude who is some kind of brown at the bar,” I’d say, laughing. I had taken note the second we entered; I always did.
Of course, part of it was me. I’d complain about being at work all day only to run home and watch TV alone in my bedroom. I had a ton of friends who were always doing something, who were always busy. It didn’t escape my notice that I was suddenly, the only single person I knew, the only perpetually alone one who tagged along on group outings with boyfriends and girlfriends. Most of the time, it didn’t bother me. I’m used to being the single one, I don’t like dating that much. It just got harder to ignore the lonelier I felt, the more I shut myself in my bedroom. I would sit in my therapist’s office and do her job at her, I knew exactly why I was bored and lonely, I was just scared to change, scared that I’d end up just as frustrated with myself somewhere else.
I had been thinking about moving for almost a year when my roommate told me that she wanted her boyfriend to move into our apartment. I knew I couldn’t afford to move somewhere without roommates, and that our apartment, as crappy as it was, was way under market value. I’d have to live with a bunch of strangers and pay more money. I should have been annoyed, but I was relieved to have the choice made for me. When I gave notice at my job, I expected to feel something bigger than what I was feeling. I was looking for the power I was supposedly reclaiming. I kept waiting for it to click, when I said goodbye to my friends, after my last day of work. It didn’t come when I was packing. One Friday morning my bedroom was the same as ever, messy and lived in, books covering every surface and clothes piled where books were not. By Sunday, I had my whole life in boxes and vacuum sealed bags stacked in the dining room. My brother came up on Monday, we loaded the truck, and by Tuesday night I lived in Philadelphia, still waiting to feel like I had done something, waiting for the power to hum at my fingertips.
It’s been four months now; I’ve gotten to the place where I feel comfortable living here, I know the neighborhood, I know which train to take to get where. It took me a while to adjust to the laid-back friendliness of my neighbors, hollering “good morning at me” whenever I walk up the block. After ten years of Boston, I am still thrilled by the fact that Philadelphia is a grid, and I can navigate my way around with relative ease. But I still feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, like I’m not taking advantage of the power of this change. Lana was right, I took myself, that’s not a lie. Different environment, same me. I think I am a happier version of me, one that is on the way to feeling less bored and useless. I’ve gotten to write more, which is lovely. I’ve learned that being under scheduled is much worse for me than being too busy. I’ve baked a lot for my housemates, I’ve watched hours of TV, I’ve read a ton.
Maybe it is enough that I took myself. I know there is a part of me that thought I’d move here and my calendar would be filled with events and activities that I wanted to go to. That I’d feel like dating again, or that I’d have some career break through where I figured what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve started to think that maybe the power wasn’t ever in the move, but in granting myself permission to understand myself a little better. As things go, that seems like a pretty good deal. I’d settle for that; I think that’s powerful in a way I don’t quite yet understand. The loneliness is still with me, pressed underneath my ribs. It feels like a lighter kind of loneliness, it feels like something I can tend to. There is a garden center down the street from the house I live in, I walk past it some days. Maybe this week I’ll make myself go in, find a little plant, and remind myself that that power I’m looking for comes from myself. Plus, let’s be honest, I am trying to get closer to that plant filled modest and chic apartment.⚡
Edited by Heather