A few weeks ago, I read the book Places I Stopped on the Way Home by Meg Fee. It’s an essay collection, subtitled “a memoir of chaos and grace,” and I loved it so much. It’s a book that’s stayed with me, a powerful book that I haven’t been able to forget. I think it resonated with me because so much of the book is about the messiness of Meg’s early and mid-twenties, and she writes about it with such care and emotion. She’s deeply introspective, examining the ways that her mistakes have haunted her and the ways that her successes have impacted her. It’s about friendship and love and lovers and New York City, as well as a million different places that Meg calls home.
Speaking of home, that title is incredible. It’s made me think about how all the places we stop on our way home are the crux of what we are, in that the journey is really what’s important, no where we end up. It’s not really about where we go after all, is it? It’s more about the places and things we go and do along the way, and of course the people that are a part of it all.
Inspired by Meg (I mean it when I say that this is the deep, heart wrenching, incredible book I’d like to write one day), I decided to write about five of my own “places I stopped.” I picked a place or a thing or an experience, set a timer for five minutes, and wrote. As I wrote, some themes emerged, and I think it’s interesting to look at them from the lens of moments that have had a big impact on me. So without further ado, here’s an incomplete list of places I stopped on the way home:
Los Angeles International Airport
I am twenty four when I visit for the first time. I’ve heard so much about it, known of its existence for as long as I can remember. I’ve wondered what it must be like to live there, to have constant warmth, to bump into a celebrity on the street and be able to act like it is nothing.
I hopped off the plane at LAX (thank you, Miley Cyrus) on a warm evening. Two and a half years later, I can no longer remember what it day of the week it was, but I can clearly remember how I felt: buzzing with excitement that won out over the exhaustion in my bones.
It was the fourth day when I woke up and thought “I think I want to move here.” I don’t know where that thought came from. I only know that I was looking for somewhere new and that this place, with the mountains and the valleys and the warmth, felt like it could be a home one day. I only know that I liked how I felt that week. It never occurred to me that that could have been more about the people – or person – I was with, but I had so much still to learn.
I remember crying at LAX when I left. Once again, it was a late night, probably a weekend day. I sobbed in the terminal because I’d had such a wonderful time, because I was about to be jobless and didn’t see the point ingoing back to the east coast when I knew that this is where I wanted to be, and because of a feeling I didn’t have a word for at the time.
I moved there six months later, and this time, there was no one to meet me at the airport. I took a cab to Pacific Palisades, balked at the cost of it, and handed over the cash. As always, I still had so much more to learn, but I was there.
My therapist’s office
In the height of my depression, I never wanted to get out of bed. I would lay there until the last possible moment, hoping that if I just waited long enough, I wouldn’t have to get up. I was obsessed with my phone, constantly scrolling and trying to find a sign, a warning, anything that would make me happier even for just a moment.
The first time my therapist said the word ‘depression’ to me, it was in the context of a discussion about my insurance. She said that they needed to give me a new diagnosis code, and she was diagnosing me with “mild depression.” In that moment, it felt so good to have a name for this thing that seemed to be taking over my life, creeping its way into everything and bleeding into even the things that had once felt good.
She was the one who encouraged me to follow my desire to move, to break out of the patterns I knew and to try something brand new and scary and unknown. She was the one who told me to ask my friends what they liked about me, in the hopes that I would see the good things about myself. She told me that I had worth, that there was value inside of me, that I was my own person and was going to be okay. Sometimes I felt like she let me get away with ignoring stuff, and that was when I learned that I was really good at burying the truly hard stuff – the forever alone-ness, the stuff inside of me that I didn’t want to name – and never bringing it up to the surface.
She was the one who handed me a life raft in the middle of a really dark season, and for that I will always be grateful.
GrubStreet Writing Classroom
I am in the middle of writing class in the beginning of the spring of 2017. I am about to move to Los Angeles, and my life is in a weird soft of upheaval: I’m working all the time, yet not enough, and my best friend isn’t speaking to me, and I have absolutely no idea what’s coming in the next few weeks. But the one constant in my life is my once-a-week writing class. It’s the second time I’ve taken a class in this building, and I have felt myself come alive both sessions. It’s the place where I can be surrounded by people who are doing the same thing as me. I’ve been out of college for two and a half years, stuck in a handful of jobs I don’t like, and it is only in writing class that I feel like I can come alive. In writing class I don’t feel like I am a sad, depressed person who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. Instead I have an identity, one that I’ve wanted for my whole life.
I can still remember when someone told me that a character I’d written to be nice and sweet, modeled after one of my favorite celebrities, was “sleazy.”
“He’s not supposed to be sleazy at all,” I said, a bit hurt.
“Well, you’ll need to change some things,” said the teacher.
It doesn’t matter when people give me feedback that I disagree with or when people gently try to tell me to change things. I felt like I was accomplishing something that really mattered to me. I had a goal, a project and a community to do it with. I would head there after work, often using the spare room to get some writing done before class, a cup of coffee or hot chocolate by my side. For a season, that building was my favorite place in the world.
I haven’t been able to recreate that feeling of a writing community here in Los Angeles, and I miss it every day.
Me, at 20 years old
At 20, there was so much I didn’t know about the world, and even more I didn’t know about myself. I didn’t know that I would end up abandoning my long-held dream of living in New York City to move across the country, no job and no apartment and really no friends in the city at all. I didn’t know that I was going to wrestle with depression – not once, or twice, but three times and maybe more. I didn’t know that the name for what I had, the stress, panic attacks, the worrying, was actually anxiety. I didn’t know that so much of my early twenties would be consumed by fears about money and weight loss and being good enough for anyone else.
But I also didn’t know that I would move to a city and find so much joy and independence and feel like I was, for the very first time, free. I didn’t know that there were hidden depths of me that I would figure out a few years later, a name for the stuff that made me feel weird and out of place. I didn’t know that I was going to have best friends from different corners of the globe. I didn’t know that so many of the people I went to high school with were actually pretty cool and that my fears about so many of them were just because we were all young and had no clue what any of us were doing. I didn’t know that other people were muddling along just like me.
There was once a time when I thought I would be married with two kids by the time I was 26. Nothing could be further from the truth right now, and yet somehow, I’m okay with it.
I think the main thing that I didn’t know at 20 years old is just how much time I had left. Even now, at 26, I am still learning that there is time for everything. 30 isn’t the ancient age I once feared it was. These days, I’m looking forward to turning 30, but making sure to enjoy the time in between. I am finding a balance for myself that includes all the things I love – baking and running and writing and reading and spending time with friends – and I am carrying 17 different plates as I walk through a busy market, trying not to drop any of it, but I am somehow making it work. That’s the best part of right now.
Runyon Canyon Park
I’d been living in Los Angeles for a month by the first time I cried. Tears for me are a rare occurrence: I may be a Pisces who feels things deeply, but I often feel flat out incapable of crying. Ever the child of Irish immigrants, I find that things get buried down and I deal with them later. Much later.
I was in a new place and six weeks in, the honeymoon period of it all was starting to wear off. And when I woke up to a text message calling me flaky – sent to me by a girl I knew from high school and had recently reconnected with – I just burst into tears. How dare she call me flaky when I was just trying my best? I won’t get into the circumstance, but suffice it to say that the situation was strange enough that I just burst into tears and I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t really about the text, more about money fears and life fears and unanswered texts from old best friends and a worry that I had done the total wrong thing. But the text was the catalyst, and then I cried and cried.I took myself to Runyon Canyon that afternoon, deciding that I could do something alone.
As I climbed to the top of the mountain, I marveled at the view, amazed at the fact that something like this could exist in LA. It was the first of many hikes in LA – and I live only a few blocks from Runyon Canyon now, incidentally – but it represented more than a hike. It was a brave decision that now that I was here, I could decide who I wanted to have in my life. It was trying something new and standing on my own two feet, declaring that I was going to make this my city no matter how many tears I had to shed in the process.
I hope to do this again in the future and share it here. Thank you for reading.