I can’t count the number of times I’ve moved in the last three and a half years. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the places I was living. It would be hard not to like the places I’ve traveled in the last few years. Guatemala. Portland, Maine. San Diego. But each time I’ve moved from a place, boxes lining the walls of my house or my rucksack stuffed full with anything I can carry home, I’ve always been ready to leave. I’ve always said to myself, “OK, I think I’m done here for a little while”. Until now. I don’t feel “done” with Los Angeles, maybe because I’m just fully realizing how much I love it here.
When I talk about how I decided to move to L.A., I say I crash-landed. Not literally – the plane that brought me from Phoenix descended without a hiccup – but metaphorically. I arrived in LAX on January 6th, 2014 a bit unexpectedly. I was sick with the worst flu I’ve ever had, deliriously tired because I had just completed Salt in Maine and was supposed to fly on to Guatemala to contemplate what to do next. But I was not allowed to fly to Guatemala that night because of a change in visa rules, and fixing my visa would take a week. I’d had a plan, it had taken me weeks to make that plan – get to Guatemala – and now my plan was ruined. Or at least delayed. I couldn’t handle it. Sobbing and on the verge of an anxiety attack, I called the only person* I knew who lived in California, my best friend from high school, Bode. It happened to be her birthday, but like all friends who constantly have your back no matter what, she dropped her plans, picked me up, put me up on her couch and bought me a Bob’s Big Boy burger. The next day, I remembered that my friend Steven was also living in L.A., and while Bode worked, Steven and I walked up and down Venice Beach, pants rolled up to we could splash in the water. Was this really January? We toured the Palisades and ate Mexican food and talked about how chill things were on the west coast. The next day I fixed my visa and bought another ticket to Guatemala, but the flight wasn’t until the following week. Then I remembered that I had two friends in San Francisco, so suddenly I was in a rental car driving north through the San Angel mountains, thinking that those peaks looks like sleeping giants that at any moment who wake up, stretch their dry, brown skin and then walk off towards the Pacific for a bath. In San Francisco, my friend Katie put me in my first Über. The whole time I sat in the back seat whispering to her, “What do you mean ‘it’s a new app’?! You mean you just call up some random dude with your cell phone and then get in his car?!?!!!”
*If you’re paying attention, it seems I actually have a few friends that live in California.
Back in L.A. I boarded my flight and flew to Guatemala. I thought about my time in California, how random and unexpected it was. I had hated L.A. like a good New Yorker for so many years, but now all that hate seemed silly and misplaced. After a few weeks in Guatemala a friend asked me what I would do when I went back to the States and without even thinking about it I blurted out, “I’m moving to L.A.” I literally put both my hands over my mouth. “Are you OK,” asked my friend. Yes, I said, I just had no idea I would say that.
And so I moved to L.A. in March 2014. I liked it. I was hard for me to say that I loved it. When I decided to move to New York, it felt like I had an octopus wrapped around my face. No matter how many times I tried to remove it two arms at a time, those six other arms wrapped tighter and tighter, making it impossible to ignore how much I loved that city and felt like I needed to be there. My desire to be in L.A. was more subtle. There wasn’t such a strong pull to stay here. It felt like L.A. was the aloof kid in class – she didn’t need to be your friend, and sometimes she kept to herself, but eventually you peeled back her layers and saw that she was really awesome and you had to be friends immediately and forever. That’s how I feel about L.A. now. Like we’ll be friends forever.
Our friendship was tested. A month after I moved I was offered a short contract job in San Francisco that I had to take because I was broke. The company ended up offering me a full time position. Truthfully, my bank account couldn’t afford to say no, but every time I thought about it I kept on thinking, but you want to be in L.A. So I didn’t take the job.
Last September, I dropped Matt off at LAX for the first time. It was the first time in our short long distance relationship when we didn’t know when we were going to see each other again. After a tearful goodbye, I was driving my grandmother’s Buick up and over the Baldwin Hills, looking out over Beverly Hills and Downtown and the Hollywood sign thinking, What the fuck, Natalie? Why are you still here? The man you love is flying back to New York, a perfectly good place to live and not a place you are unfamiliar with, so why are you here? In L.A.? Just go to him. Why not? Through my tears I said, “Because I can’t! My place is here”.
And in March, we had a chance to set up in New York permanently for a couple of years. A great opportunity by any standard, but in the end I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave L.A.
The ironic part about that decision is that we’re leaving L.A. anyway. As amazing as L.A. is, as fun and exciting and cultural and laid back as it is, we aren’t staying. We’re moving to Arizona, which is a sentence I never thought I would write in a million years. We’re going home, back to our roots. I’m sad to leave L.A., because I don’t feel like I’m done here. I feel like I just got the tip of the iceberg, and there’s so much more here to do and see. Oddly, I also feel like this chapter in Arizona is long overdue, so I am stuck in the unfamiliar position of feeling like I want to be one place, but knowing that it’s time to start a new chapter in another.
There’s a joke that goes something like, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. Now I don’t know if I believe in God, and if I did I don’t think I would think it was a ‘he’, but I very much like this saying, mostly because anything can happen at any moment and if you’re life is like my life I am just barely hanging onto it by the tips of my fingers, but I’m enjoying the ride. Will I move back to L.A., I really hope so, but for now, we’re good friends, pen pals, who visit each other on the reg. See ya later, girlfriend…