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Follow Your Heart
Even if it means breaking it.
I said I probably wouldn’t have time to write a new piece this week but I have a good one in the works for next week. This is an essay from 2013 reflecting on moving to Los Angeles in 2010. I am replacing the references to how long ago it was to reflect current timing instead of 2013 and a couple references to my perspective now, but the rest of the essay is as it was back then.
I refer to this story as
The Move That Made Me
I sat at a computer all night trying to find the emotional zone that makes me tell a story. I got distracted by the typical aspects of the internet, and suddenly dawn arrived and I had no words yet, despite having spent three days telling myself it was time to write it. Finally, I grabbed a pack of clove cigarettes and a lighter and headed to my porch to watch the sun rise. I don’t even smoke, I just love the smell of burning clove, the way the tendrils of smoke rise off the ash at the end of the cigarette. I listened to birds sing and the neighborhood wake up. I started talking to someone who wasn’t there, I started telling them the story I was trying to tell in written word, and suddenly it poured out. I do this a lot. I tell it like I’m a character in a movie, like every dramatic scene that’s quiet in which a character tells another the truth. Dramatic pauses, a drag from a cigarette and thoughtful sighs. It makes it so much more artful, and suddenly those spoken words travel down to my fingers and allow me to walk back inside and type them out. It’s always this damn cigarette that brings it out.
Eleven years ago, on Memorial Day weekend of 2010, I left New England for my new life in Los Angeles. I was twenty-two and ready for an adventure. Many friends confessed confusion as to why I would leave, and why I’d choose Los Angeles, a city I only knew three people in, a city so much different than where I was from. Once I moved, and still to this day, I get asked by people in LA why I chose to move here.
I often laugh and say, “it all started with a boy”.
But it’s far more complicated than that. I’ll take a step back to July 2007, at a neo-pagan, hippie festival in the woods of upstate New York (I have two love stories that started this way, honestly, but this is the better one). I was camping with my boyfriend at the time and several of our friends and there was a band that had played the night before. The band was made up of friends of ours from Boston. They had a new violinist, who was younger than our group, closer to my own age. I met him during the day in the shade outside the band’s encampment, introducing myself and complimenting his playing. His smile was the sort that makes you smile back instantly, his voice was soft and kind, he invited me to join him and I chose his lap as my seat. I remember he laughed somewhat nervously and observed that I was friendly.
I can’t explain what I felt in that moment, but I remember this rush, this need to know this person. Something in the energy between us made me believe without any doubt, without any hesitation that this person is going to change my life.
I loved him instantly, platonically at first, as I was happily in a relationship at the time. We became friends, and a year later at the same hippie festival we kissed for the first time under the stars. I fell in love with him – not with any surprise, not with any shock, just… as naturally as breathing, I loved him.
Our relationship was incredibly amazing. I still consider it one of the best years of my life, though I’ve had many further experiences and deeper love since then. It was the best year at the time, and I remember it with joy.
We were fairly inseparable. Loving him was the easiest thing in the world to me, and every moment of being with him made me happy. He was so open, so gracious, so willing to embrace different things in the world – he was effortlessly optimistic and he inspired me to be so, when in the past I’d been somewhat suspicious of change, of new experiences, doubtful of accepting my own youth and hope and higher expectations. I was sarcastic and in certain ways cynical. He changed the way I looked at the world tremendously.
In November of 2008, we were walking through the Victory gardens of Fenway in Boston, when he asked me why I hadn’t moved away for college or lived anywhere else. I explained that in my early childhood we moved often due to my father’s career, and I’d spent the last fifteen years in New England because I’d never had any reason to leave. I told him leaving felt like “running away”. I had no reason to “run away”, I was happy there.
He told me he’d be graduating from music school in 2010 and was planning on moving to Los Angeles to pursue his music career. He asked me if I would like to go with him.
Time stopped for a moment and the world opened up. I said yes immediately. I wanted to, suddenly. That’s all it took. It was like in a single instant blinders had come off and there was an entire world that I was going to adventure through. He was going to show it to me. It wasn’t like I hadn’t know it was out there, I had known, but it was somebody else’s world, for other people, and I already had my corner of the world. Suddenly the rest of the world was available to me. Suddenly the rest of the world was mine too.
So we started planning. I was working and he was in school and I inquired as to how to transfer my job to Los Angeles and I talked to the two people I knew in LA to find out what part we should move to. I learned about opportunities in LA I wanted to pursue, I started plotting out courses of action and ideas. I told my friends what we were planning. I was so excited. We were going to Los Angeles together to start a new life there. We weren’t running away, we were running towards something new. I think I was the happiest I’ve ever been for any extended length of time, in those months of late 2008 until the summer of 2009. That’s when things abruptly stopped.
With tears in his eyes in July of 2009 he told me he wasn’t in love with me anymore and he couldn’t be with me anymore. He told me he wasn’t sure if he’d go to Los Angeles or not when he graduated, he had other opportunities too, but he couldn’t do it with me, he didn’t want me along for the ride.
In retrospect, it was a powerfully mature boundary he set: he was considering LA, San Francisco, London, other cities, and making that decision at 21 considering a partner who would uproot their life too was daunting. At the time I just felt the rejection, but over time I grew to recognize how wise he was. We did want different things long term, and his indecision about his future wouldn’t have been fair to me.
However… He broke my heart, utterly. I’d never felt that pain before. I’ve never felt it since, about a person. (2021 edit: losing my bird Kiwi was the closest feeling)
I didn’t plead or argue or fight, I accepted what he told me. I wished he’d change his mind, I hoped he would, but I knew asking wouldn’t make it so, so I dried my tears, told him that I loved him, and left as gracefully as I could. I even walked him to his band practice that night and hugged him good-bye, knowing I’d have to see him again and again through our mutual friends and community. I cried so much in the weeks following, yet still attended every show his band had and every social event we’d run into each other. I was determined not to curl up and isolate myself, I saved that for the lonely hours in my own bed every night, crying myself to sleep. I was completely devastated.
After a few weeks, I started eating regularly again and started planning what to do next. It took a long time for things to get easier, and things got interesting when we both moved a month later to houses mere blocks from one another. I needed something to look forward to, I was depressed and hated where I was because it reminded me of what I’d lost.
So I decided to move anyway.
There were lots of reasons, but one major one I knew was that he was going places – he was going to go far and be so successful, and I was afraid that if he left, I would feel like I’d been left behind. I couldn’t handle that idea, I’d been dreaming of leaving and I knew if I did not, then I would hate myself when he did. Since he’d put the idea in my head, I suddenly felt that my ability to grow in Boston was limited. That I needed a new place, a new scene, to get uncomfortable in order to start agitating myself to grow in new ways. I needed this, suddenly and desperately. I needed the change.
So I spent my months planning. I flew myself out to LA to visit, met a few people, found a potential roommate and apartment, flew home and healed myself in my excitement. My friends knew I was still sad – watching him date new people, I would even cry about it sometimes when I couldn’t help it. But when I talked about moving to LA, they saw me wrap myself in strength and warmth and hope and happiness that had been scarce since the breakup. So they accepted it, this crazy plan of mine to move across the country by myself with my two parrots to a city I’d only ever been to once.
Memorial Day weekend, 2010. My flight was Saturday afternoon, so Friday night after I’d packed all my things to be shipped across country via UPS, my friends threw me a party to say good-bye. They gave me a book filled with messages they’d written me – of love and support and excitement. They told me not to look at it until I got to the airport. So many people came to say good-bye. Even him. We had a drink together and he told me he was proud of me and excited for me. I kissed his cheek and thanked him for everything.
I was dropped off at Logan Airport. I remember how excited I was, getting my ticket, readying my birds as my carry-on. I got through security, I gave the birds fresh water and sat in my seat by my gate, waiting for boarding. I posted a Facebook status letting everyone know where I was and thanking them all for their love and support. I told them that I loved them. I opened the book they’d made for me and started reading.
That was when I started crying uncontrollably, reminiscent of just a handful of months before when I was broken hearted over him. I cried as I read and I was suddenly aware that there was no going back – I had removed myself from Boston, removed myself from my home, that I had to go make a new one now, and I was terrified.
But he told me he was proud. He told me I could do anything, that I had more potential than I knew, and to never stop following my dreams. I took a few deep breaths, blew my nose and held the book to my chest while I waited for my flight. I replayed so many moments with him in my head, so many conversations. I remembered the first time we kissed and then the first time we met – I remembered that feeling, this person is going to change my life. I knew it. I had known it all along. I felt a rush of gratitude, for every moment of happiness, and how cleanly he’d broken my heart, despite my pain – he’d been fair and honest and kind even in that moment. I couldn’t ask for a better way to fall in love, and a better way to be heartbroken. It was perfection, even when it hurt.
He’d opened my eyes and he’d opened my heart, and even in the end of things I recognized that he’d given me a confidence and trust in myself I’d never realized I needed. Because of him I was hopeful, because of him I was ready, because of him and the heartbreak I’d lived through, I was fearless.
As I look back now, eleven years from that terrified and resolved young 22 year old in that airport terminal, I see how much I’ve changed and how I’m so much less terrified of change and of new experiences. I think of where I’ve been in these years, and how the start of much of that is thanks to him. I recognize now that we weren’t compatible in the long-run, we have different desires from the world and very different paths to take, but for a while we got to be together, and he completely changed the course of my life simply by stepping into it for a little while.
I love where I am now, and love the poetry of the fact that when I originally wrote this essay, Memorial Day weekend of 2013, I was getting into my car to move back to LA after a year of living in Las Vegas (just because I wanted to try it out).
I’m happy with the direction of my life, I’m in love again, I’m breathless with excitement about every possibility I’m facing and preparing for. I have my book of messages from my friends, I’m sitting at my desk holding it in my lap. I’m remembering that girl in the airport terminal and wishing I could tell her how exciting her life is about to be.
I got on the plane at Boston Logan airport. I flew across the country. I made my new home by the beach. “Leaving feels like running away” I had told him in 2008, but it didn’t anymore. It was embracing my fear, the endless possibilities, it was making a choice to not define myself by the self-imposed limitations I’d never considered reassessing. I didn’t run away, I came to myself.
This person is going to change my life. He really, really did. I know I did the rest myself, but for lighting that spark - I am eternally grateful to him for that.
I still read that message and smile. He wrote it the first time he saw me after I had moved to LA. That journal filled with messages from my friends is one of the first things I’d ever grab in the event of a fire. My birds, my hard drives/laptop, and that journal.
It’s been 12 years since that breakup. We’re still good friends, and every time we’re in the same city we grab a drink and catch up. Every time his band has been in Los Angeles I’m in the front row singing along. He actually stayed based in the Boston area (surprise!), but he tours regularly, particularly with his band Bent Knee, which formed in Boston while I was still there. They’re all phenomenally talented.
It’s one of my great sadnesses that he and my partner Judd have never met - schedule conflicts and location challenges mean the two most important men in my life (after the ones related to me) have never shaken hands. It’s something I hope to remedy during his next tour on the West Coast or our next trip back East. They’re both wonderful human beings, and I’m grateful to have found both of them so early in my life. It was only 3 years after that break up that I met Judd.
This is one of those situations where I say that society’s average metrics for a “successful” relationship are bullshit. I wrote in a Facebook status some time back that marriage shouldn’t be a goal. Because marriage is just another step, but also because relationships are so much more than just whether or not you get married.
What I said then:
”I count every single one of my past relationships as a success because they made better people out of both of us, but those better people individually would've made a terrible husband & wife (or wife & wife, in some cases).
Screw those kinds of goals. Just love one another, challenge one another, grow with one another, and if you can't anymore, then stop. It doesn't have to be a failure - it's just time for a new chapter. When you embrace that, you recognize that you're the protagonist in your story and you deserve to keep finding what makes you better, because the world deserves your best.”
I’m grateful to have found my person now, the one I want to build my future with, potentially “forever” (though we’re not the marriage type), the person I want to have children with. However it wouldn’t be a failure if it ended, the same way my relationship of 2008/2009 wasn’t. It was beautiful and perfect for who I was and it led me to the next parts of my life.
I can’t imagine anything better for 21 year old me.