August feels as much a fresh start for me each year as January. It’s not because of the school calendar - my children are still too young to mark time that way, and I’ve stopped having that dream about forgetting to go to class or missing my exams. August feels like possibility because this is the month thirteen years ago when I moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles.
I didn’t tell anyone in the beginning that I sort of hated this city. I was emboldened by the adventure of it, proud of myself for following through with my claims, and relieved to be so physically far away from a heartache. At first that mattered more than the foreign-ness.
The old apartment on Hollywood Boulevard that my new roommate and I lucked into was bright white with high, crown-molded ceilings, and pink flowered trees outside a painted iron balcony. Wooden floors and a breakfast nook, our sparse furnishings - mostly hand-me-downs - showed off the space instead of making it bare. That apartment was a refuge from fear and loneliness, from the determined face I showed the world. It was holy.
Eventually I changed addresses and roommates and jobs and hairstyles, and after the first six months LA became a part of me like a colored tattoo. I liked who I was in California. I was original, even as I mimicked those around me. I was independent, even as I struggled. Most of all, I was free.
In this town I have found and then lost myself at least eight times. The year I was engaged I almost self-destructed over the thought that I would live out the rest of my life in Hollywood. But every time I leave, I ache to come back. I feel the most myself, I like myself best here.
Los Angeles makes and crushes dreams, mostly the latter. I’ve seen both up close. I’ve been both. I’ve heard it called soul-less, but it’s not the truth. You just gotta get off Sunset, step away from Rodeo Drive. No one local goes to those places anyway. The heartbeat of Los Angeles lives in the side streets, in the tiny apartments, outside the dive bars, on the warm sidewalks. The stories big and small.
One late afternoon my first year, I was driving up La Cienega in a car that barely worked, in a tank top and ponytail, cursing a boss who had sent me on a fruitless errand. My windows were down for relief from the broken air conditioner. Stuck in traffic, a blonde guy leaned out his SUV idling beside me. We’d been at the same stoplight for three rounds. He looked like a struggling actor, I looked like a sweaty assistant. Our exchange was brief, he called me cute and shouted his number as we finally got a green. I shook my head and laughed, never intending to call.
A few years later, after too much wine, I tossed around ideas with a producer friend about a screenplay. I never wrote it. He never asked again. These are the daily conversations that keep the city spinning.
All the What Ifs. That’s what buzzes underneath these streets. It’s not a home that feels steady or smells of cinnamon at the holidays. Los Angeles doesn’t bring comfort in that way. But possibility falls off the palm trees, and that’s its own kind of addiction.
Last night I took off my statement necklace and climbed over and into my restless son's crib. We talked about things and I let my fingers play with his light hair until we both almost drifted off. I could dimly hear my husband down the hall, pacing, working, concluding a conference call. I am the same person who arrived at these same hills over a decade ago. I like myself best here.