When I shared my intention to move across the country, the questions began coming as if on a conveyor belt. Predictable and uniform. Are you keeping your job? Do you have an apartment yet? Why?
I imagined myself as a mysterious figure giving a press conference. With a twinge of vocal fry and a twirl of black, drapey clothing, I announce that I will take no further questions at this time, thank you. But it’s not really considered polite to tell friends and coworkers that you are taking no further questions. My life is not a press conference. I am not some high-profile detective, updating the public on the unknowables of my existence.
Or maybe I am. I certainly don’t have it all figured out yet. I learned soon enough, though, that the simplest response to a boring question is a boring answer. To say anything too extraordinary would overstep the dance. The questions people ask are, at least, ones that I have answers for. Are you keeping your job? Yes. How are you getting there? I’m driving. Do you have an apartment yet? No, I’ll figure it out. Why are you moving? Because I’ve spent most of my life bouncing between points in a particular constellation and I’m young and sufficiently unburdened and would like to explore a different constellation. Because I’d like to pluck for myself a small bit of the American millennial dream: my own silverware drawer; a window sill for propagating houseplants; my surname pasted, labelmaker-chic, next to a buzzer. Also, this is a practical move for furthering the grown-up adult career that I have. I usually tell people the latter.
Practical. That’s what it takes to justify something big and bold and daring like this. People look at you funny if you say you’re moving 3,000 miles just because you feel like it. That wouldn’t be a wrong answer, either. Yes, I did just feel like it. But I didn’t feel it as a whim. I felt it like a seed sprouting. Not all at once but stress-tested and nurtured and dreamt on. Until it was so large that its roots began tapping on the boundaries of their universe. It — I — needed repotting.
Everyone you love can live within a 100-mile radius and you can be scared to leave but still know in your heart that you need to go.
I suppose it’s for the best that people ask the logistical questions. They make for easy small talk, and acceptable answers can be given in a measured tone. It would take a whole essay — perhaps like the very essay before you — to grapple with the harder questions, the ones no one asked in the first place. Questions like: Am I scared to leave behind the people I love? Have I started having weird dreams? Does home mean something new to me now, or does it just feel different? Will California always be my one true home, or can a person’s home change? Is home even a place, or is it more like a feeling? Is it even real at all?
It would have been uncomfortable, probably, if these questions had been posed to me when I declared I was embarking on this odyssey. Uncomfortable because there are no easy answers. (I was having weird dreams — strange, almost-real visions of my West Coast apartment supplanted on the East Coast, or stacking moving boxes 10 feet high on the roof rack of my Subaru, or random coworkers and acquaintances accompanying me on the trip — so that unasked question is easy to answer.) Everyone you love can live within a 100-mile radius and you can be scared to leave but still know in your heart that you need to go.
As my departure date drew nearer, other logistical questions popped up. Is your car in good condition for the drive? Who’s going with you? Oh, you’re going alone? So brave! Sure, I would say. Brave. Or stupid! I’ve always enjoyed driving, and had pleasant experiences traveling alone both in the states and internationally, so escorting myself across the country didn’t strike me as bold or courageous. It was just the most straightforward way to execute my plan. But exclamations about my bravery left me with my own questions. Am I brave? Should I be scared? Must bravery or stupidity underwrite every bold life decision? What about yearning? What about the need to know for sure, and the belief that the things we regret most are those we never do? This belief transcends bravery and stupidity.
March 31, 2019, was a laborious day of dusting and packing tape and Tetris-ing the components of my life into the back of my station wagon. Strangely, I was emotionless most of the morning. It wasn’t until I was standing in the driveway ready to leave that I realized I had to leave my house key inside on the kitchen counter. I pulled the key off its ring and that’s when the tears came. I guess that’s another question I was never asked and don’t have the answer to: Why is it that you can feel so detached from a flurry of changes until a single object or moment snags your emotions like a fish hook?
The drive through the Southwest was long and arduous and hot. I said my goodbyes to California in Joshua Tree. I dutifully brought my ficus and philodendron into Airbnbs and friends’ apartments each night as I plugged along through the desert. When the leaves of my ficus began to burn, I wrapped it in a scarf. My shoulder began to ache under the seat belt strap. The drive was harder on both me and the plants than I’d expected. I got a speeding ticket in Texas and dropped my credit card at a gas station as I crossed into Louisiana and mistook the drip of my AC for a more serious leak. Nonetheless, it was liberating. I got to see friends and eat vegan tacos and visit cities I’d never been to and swim in an oasis in the middle of the desert and in a river outside Austin. I drove terrified through the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced across Tennessee and the Carolinas, but I felt all the more capable and empowered for coming out on the other side of it. How’s that for a metaphor?
Why is it that you can feel so detached from a flurry of changes until a single object or a single moment snags your emotions like a fish hook?
When I finally crossed the bridge from New Jersey into Staten Island and caught that first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, it brought tears to my eyes. That damn fish hook again.
It’s October now, almost exactly six months since I signed my very own lease on a one-bedroom in Brooklyn. My ficus and philodendron lost some leaves during the journey, but I’ve repotted them both, giving their rootballs room to stretch. They’ve stabilized and we’re all hunkering down for the dormant season.
People still sometimes ask why I moved here. And I still fall back on the simplest answer — that I’ve come to pursue a career. But the quieter answers remain true, too. Why? Because why not. Because I can always go home. Because if I hadn’t packed up my car and driven off into the great American open precisely when I did, perhaps I never would have.