Dear Los Angeles,
I’ve loved spending the last four years with you.
I don’t know if you know this, but when I left Colorado for you, I wasn’t in a good place. My heart was a mess. I was a patchwork of regret and resentment and anger and grief, acquired from the past years of broken relationships and teenage confusion, and I wanted out. I needed out.
You were my Out.
At first, that’s all you were. You were the big city cliché that every small town girl dreams about. You were all bright lights and sparkly promises and break-out talent. And I was ready to face you. I was ready for the change that would really get my life going. I was ready to run away from my problems, my past, my misjudgments, my mistakes. And then the unthinkable happened.
I got scared.
I found this the other day, something I wrote the night before I left for USC (August 16, 2010):
“…I really didn’t think that I was going to be all that homesick. I mean, I don’t like it here. I hate it here, in fact. All I’ve ever wanted is to get out of this town. So why do I suddenly feel so scared when I think about leaving?”
Guess what. 17-year-old me was a coward.
I was scared of facing my problems so I decided to run away from them, and then I got scared of running away (go figure). I was afraid of everything while pretending not to be, which just made it worse. The only reason why I didn’t back out of the impending 8-hour drive then and there, was because I am more proud than I am cowardly (although those may be somewhat interchangeable words), and didn’t want to have to tell my dad that I needed to unpack the truck he’d just spent most of the day loading.
I came to Los Angeles looking for my courage.
And guess what. 21-year-old me is still a coward.
The difference is, 21-year-old me knows it.
Part of that is your fault, Los Angeles. I cannot count the number of times you have forced me to say the words, “I am afraid.” Little things, like navigating public transportation by myself for the first time in my life. I am afraid. Attending a college of 40,000 people where I knew LITERALLY no one. I am afraid. Learning to drive on the 110. I am pee-my-pants terrified.
Trying to find a new church. Inviting someone I didn’t know to hang out. My first acting class. Interviewing for internships. Realizing that I want to pursue writing. Facing post-grad life. Trusting my friends with stories from my past.
Los Angeles, you made me realize how scared I am, at all times. You made me take a good long look in the mirror and say, “I have no idea who I am, or what I’m meant to be doing, or why I’m here on this planet.” You made me anonymous in a city of John and Jane Does, all trying to get someone to recognize their names.
And if not for you, I wouldn’t be who I am now.
I wouldn’t have learned that it’s possible to love where you’re from. I wouldn’t have learned that it’s okay to miss home and not know what the heck is going on. I wouldn’t have identified in myself the very same issues I used to point out in others—the low self-esteem, the desire to fix everything, the fear of seeming weak. Before you, I wouldn’t even allow myself to say that I am a work-in-progress.
Los Angeles, you have given me empathy. You have taught me that failure is inevitable. You have made me fall in love. You have made me cry. You have drawn new lines on my face. You took the girl who came to you cradling her plans to her chest, and threw a wrench right into all of them.
You took a child and wreaked havoc all around her.
You took a woman pretending to be strong and wrecked her.
Because of you, I had to find a way to stand up. And stand up. And stand up again.
Los Angeles, you are 24-hour Pantry Cafés and races to catch the last bus of the night. You are unplanned highway detours and the valley smog tangled in my hair. You are 3 AM firetruck sirens and the old woman outside Seattle’s Best who needed to hold my hand, just for a second.
You are the theatre-goers outside the Pantages, dressed in black sequins and heavy eye makeup, and the yoga-doers in Atwater Village who talk about juice and ballroom dancing and that time they met that author they hated. You are theme parks over the ocean and the man in Santa Monica who hula-hoops in roller blades and a lime green top hat.
You are my best friend and my worst enemy.
And because of you, I discovered a real need for Someone bigger than myself, because “myself” was too much of a disaster zone to handle alone. God became real to me here. God woke me up here. God opened my ears and eyes here, in a city of the deaf and blind, a city where nobody listens and nobody sees.
Los Angeles, I see you.
I see your slums and your skyscrapers, and I raise you a roller coaster heart who only knows she wants to survive. I see your orphaned homeless and your Hollywood starlets, and I raise you a girl who belongs to a kingdom not of this world. I see your Metro stations and your valet parking lots, and I tell you, I am not going anywhere, yet.
Los Angeles, you forced me to fight every day to stay me when I didn’t know who me was.
Los Angeles, I’m figuring me out.
Los Angeles, I love you.