“Spent my days with a woman unkind, smoked my stuff and drank all my wine;
Made up my mind to make a new start, going to California with an aching in my heart…”
- ‘Going to California’ – Led Zeppelin
Have I ever told you about my time in California, and the just-under-three-years I spent living out there? I may have, perchance, mentioned how awesome it was, living in downtown Long Beach less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by palm trees, where salty air greeted my nostrils each and every morning. I swore up and down that I’d never tire of the constant presence of palm trees in my neighborhood and area of residence, and I never did. There was something genuinely magical about being there, and in fact, within two weeks of settling into the Southwest, several warts that had lingered on my palm and fingers for a couple years disappeared forever.
I truly loved it out there, I may have told you in passing, and almost felt more at home in SoCal than I do in New England, given my eminently laid back demeanor (I’m so low key that several coworkers call me Eeyore, because no one’s more chill than Pooh’s sullen pal). I dearly miss that sweet sunshine off the west coast and, I’m sure I told you, reader, that I would still be living out there if tragedy hadn’t metaphorically struck me (and literally struck my father as he rode to the store for that wonderfully fresh, Market Basket parisian loaf). I didn’t choose to leave Los Angeles county, and would have never made the decision to move back to this four-season-hell– and abandon my pursuit of that sweet, sweet Hollywood glory– if the world hadn’t dealt my family and I such a shitty hand.
I had to come back to my hometown and be with family after such a drastic loss– a process I was relatively aware of experiencing when my father’s accident occurred— because I knew I needed to be with my family and loved ones. My support system wasn’t quite as strong in Cali as it was here (because, surprise surprise/womp womp, it didn’t exist out there), so getting through the grieving process, and escaping bereavement without too much lingering damage, could only be accomplished back in Massachusetts. The world can be a cruel mistress, and surviving as a human being is monumentally difficult to accomplish even without monumental obstacles thrown in the way. Unfortunately for me, my father died suddenly and horrifyingly, and being 3000 miles from the people that loved me most was not the way to process and move forward as a now official adult orphan.
It’s so easy to romanticize my experience of, ahem, “chasing the dream of screenwriting for film and television,” and if I really wanted to– or more accurately, if I was psychologically capable of keeping the overwhelming disappointment of my tidal wave of failure out there buried– I could keep that line of drivel going for the rest of my pathetic and under-fulfilled lifespan. No one wants to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets or regrets to the world (welp, except I clearly do want to, given this site’s existence), and if you can present a happy and contented front, then the world will perceive you thusly. But my trek out to the other coast haunts me, creeping in at the quietest moments of reflection and ponderance, and with the fourth anniversary of the last time I stepped foot in the Golden State recently passing, I can’t help but reminisce about the highs and many, many lows of my time out west.
Everything fell to pieces before we even completed the trip, and frankly, the plan was likely doomed from the start (mostly because there was no real plan). My ex and I had decided in June 2012 that, at the end of the calendar year, we were moving to California, and…that was it. That was largely the extent of our planning: deciding to go, and creating a fancily-designed shoebox labeled the ‘California Fund.’ The shoebox never ended up accumulating more than several hundred dollars before we’d need to drain the funds for rent, or utilities, or groceries– or, sadly, something else entirely unnecessary, because our discipline was non-existent when it needed to be peaking.
Having simply packed our stuff into a rental truck and attaching our single car to tow behind, we followed Manifest Destiny with nothing set upon our arrival. We had no job or home lined up, and knew no one out there that we could lean on for advice, guidance, or support. In theory, this ballsy plan could seem rather badass, but in practice, everything blew up in my face both before and after my arrival. The Budget truck we rented was, somehow, NOT a diesel engine, and got roughly 4 miles to the gallon to create a financial crisis, adding more than $1000 just to our travel expenses. Shockingly, this horrible miscalculation led to running out of funds before we even arrived in California, and necessitated the borrowing of money from my ex’s parents* to ensure we were able to secure a home.
*I could have never reached out to my father for financial help, because I don’t believe he would have helped, whether he had the money or not. No, he was not and should not have been financially responsible for his adult son, but it was more than monetary support I was craving at that time. I have a number of messy emotions regarding him– from both before and after his horrifically unfair death–and don’t really care to open any wounds that can’t or won’t be further healed. He’s gone, and I miss him dearly every single day. But, shocking as it may sound to those who knew him, my father was not the warmest, most emotionally available human being; and suffice it to say there were countless moments, both before I moved and after, that I wished he was less chilly towards me…
We finally made it to California, and after some random bit of luck, found a studio apartment in downtown Long Beach, and were able to move in by our second night in CA. We lived off credit for the next three months as we struggled to find any employment, despite our qualifications and willingness to work, because there are more people than jobs available. There’s more than 10 million people living in LA county alone, compared to 7 million in ALL of Massachusetts; believe it or not, finding employment quickly is much more trying out there than it is in New England. Eventually, we each obtained jobs (my ex as an office worker for an independent record label, and me as– you guessed it– a direct care worker at a group home!), and settled into a routine out there.
Just kidding! Nothing ever really settled down out there, but that’s a story for another day. There’s too much ground to cover for just one essay– and far too many failures and personal frustrations to discuss in further detail– that I need more time and space to elaborate. There are numerous tales I’ve tried to amend or hide, but there were also some positive, optimistic moments that I’ve started to gloss over as I’ve become further removed from my west coast journey (like when I was a red carpet, T-shirt model for Muffin Top: A Love Story). Maybe I can dwell on some of those next time instead of just luxuriating in the sorrows, but for today? Enjoy these depressing, initial recollections of my doomed move from the Northeast coast to the Southwest one.