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It happens to most of us at some point or other. It’s time to take the next step in your life, and it simply can’t be done in your current locale, so you make the decision to move. Whether it’s the change you’ve been craving or a necessary evil to achieve your goals, relocating is no easy feat.
Regardless of where or how far you’re going, your friends are going to give you at least a little bit of grief about moving, no matter how happy they are for you. It does seem, though, that the bigger the move, the more flak you’ll catch about leaving; if you move out of state or between two cities with a major sports rivalry, your friends act like you’ve announced that you’re joining a satanic cult and forgoing your whole identity to the point where you actually start to believe that yourself. So you can only imagine how my friends acted when I announced I was making the move from my hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles for work. I was met with everything from “don’t let LA change you!” to “remember where you came from when you’re down there” to “OMG TRAITOR!” Naturally, hearing sentiments like this on repeat was not productive for my pre-moving anxiety.
So when I loaded my little Subaru hatchback with everything near and dear to me and started my day-long journey, my mind was laden with iterations of the worst possible outcome.
The first omen comes in the form of a weather-related natural disaster. Not a hard and fast sign of impending doom, but running into a flash flood midway through my drive doesn’t exactly alleviate my apprehension. When I arrive at my one bedroom apartment in the main part of town, my internal alarms instantly go off. Even in the dim light of nighttime, I can see that the pictures I saw of the building online were clearly 10 or more years old. The paint is peeling, the main gate doesn’t latch, and there is ivy climbing the walls of the lower floors that gives the whole place an air of foreboding worthy of Camp Crystal Lake. I brush it off (it’s not like I have much of a choice) and begin the move-in process.
My decision to pick a neighborhood that’s not yet been gentrified seemed good on paper, but in practice, it has taken the form of verbal abuse every time I exit my apartment. Whether it was that they saw me move in or that they just have some otherworldly sense that allows them to spot newcomers, the locals have somehow pegged me as an outsider and they yell “Kook!” at me every morning as I leave to fruitlessly pound the streets for employment. I haven’t felt like this much of an outcast since that time I accidentally captured my own team’s flag in fourth grade and no one would talk to me for a week. That was rough.
Speaking of employment, after weeks of submitting my resume (along with carefully tailored cover letters) to fifty-some different potential employers and getting absolutely no response, I set up a meeting with a family friend who has been working in my field for a long time. The meeting ends up being him pulling a series of bizarre power moves in front of me and offering less information than Urban Meyer at Media Week. At the end, he finally asks if I have any questions. I ask what I can do to set myself apart when I’m blind applying for positions so I can actually get a response. He lets out a hearty guffaw before saying, “Nothing. Your resume gets a response because you’re someone’s nephew’s friend from summer camp at the JCC and they put your name forward. And you should probably lose 15 pounds before you show up for any interviews.”
In an attempt to be economical, I pick up Easy Mac on my way home. Last night it was leftover Hamburger Helper without the meat, so at least this is a slight change of pace. Eating this way has resulted in a soft roll of fat around my waist that would make the Muffin Man jealous. Having this pointed out by my family friend leaves me feeling more drained than Edward Scissorhands’ waterbed.
When I get home, I’m exhausted, but I know if I let my apartment get messy I’ll only be more depressed. So I go to clean up the plates from lunch. As I’m scrubbing, I see movement out of the corner of my eye. A bug. No big, I move to kill it… but it doesn’t die. Which is when I see another. And another. And it hits me… the previous tenants have left me a parting gift: cockroaches.
Knowing I can’t resolve this issue in the immediate moment, I douse the counters in white vinegar and decide to go to bed.
The next morning, I wake up to sweltering heat pouring in through my naked windows (blinds and curtains are a luxury here), cooking my bedroom like a greenhouse. I stumble outside into the muggy morning air, passing by several capsized cockroach corpses on my way out the door. When I get to the street, there is a man taking a dump on the sidewalk directly outside my apartment. In broad daylight. He makes direct eye contact with me and smiles.
I have a sobriety app on my phone that is supposed to track the number of days I go without engaging in destructive behaviors. I use it to track how many days I’ve gone without crying.
Today it says “0 days.” My record is two.
I’m gonna be real with you, the first six to eight months were rough, and a lot of the hyperbolic examples above stemmed from all too real experiences. I commuted for three hours each day (which offered the added bonus of allowing me to cry on my seemingly endless drives rather than sacrifice beauty rest and my silk pillowcases by crying at night) and came home exhausted.
Adjusting was weird. I didn’t know what freeways to avoid at what times or what shortcuts to take. And my first roommate was an utter nut job, but once I settled in and found my staples — a favorite coffee shop, the best happy hour, the least crowded gym — things started to feel a little more normal.
Then I started finding friends. If you’re in the early post-move phase and you’re feeling crushed by the weight of trying to figure it all out, give it a year and see how you feel; you don’t want to quit before it has a chance to actually get good. A year and a half out, I’m pretty happy, and there were certainly plenty of times in the first few months I considered giving up. As for LA changing me, the only noteworthy shifts are that I now care about awards shows, I lost 15 pounds due to stress and going to the gym to combat stress, and I dyed my hair millennial pink — so yeah, I’d say things are going alright. .