Back Again: Returning To That “Never Again” Place

You can never go home again. I think nearly everyone has heard a version of that statement. Well, this place wasn’t home to me, but I lived there for years and it represented the future, potential, dreams, freedom and so much more. That place being LA.

Of course, before three full years there it had chewed me up so thoroughly, I decided enough was enough. I left. And I never looked back. All right, that last bit was a load of crap. After leaving, I did nothing but look back for nearly a year before I died. Yes, I actually died. Sounds fun, right? I don’t recommend it.

Then I spent the next few years fighting to stay alive (chemo, dialysis, autoimmune disease, seizures, strokes, skull fracture… you know the usual) so I rarely looked back. And whenever I did I thought, “Well if this happened and I was still in California, I’d be dead.”

And then I met my husband a short time after my health started to improve. And we dated, moved to Colorado, bought a house, got engaged, got married, traveled the world (okay Italy and the Bahamas, but I like what I said better) and have settled into a domestic routine. Since he (my husband) entered my life, I honestly haven’t thought about any what if’s because I know if I had stayed, we would have never met. So I’m good.

For all of my reasons leaving it was never something I wanted to do, but felt I had to do in order to be healthy and well at the time. And now, nearly eight years later, I recently went back. I had a conference to go to, and figured this would be a way for me to have closure, and see a lot of friends I still miss. Well… it was exactly as I expected and not at all as I expected.

Going back was seriously weird. So much had changed and I know that with time, all things must, but these were like highly developed areas becoming more developed or twelve story buildings that used to be there, no longer there at all. Suburbs or expansion I understand. This was something else.

But that was the least weird part of going back. I was both happy and sad while there. I got to do all of the major things I wanted to (well with the exception of one, but that’s okay) and I got to see a lot of people I missed. I didn’t get to see everyone I expected to and that was disappointing, but I also got to see some people I never expected to, so I like to think it all evens out.

I think what was strange for me is that it wasn’t as strange as I thought it would be. I felt sad when I visited a few places, but never the places I expected. When I visited my old grad school campus I was happy and flooded with memories: Where we had our first orientation ten years ago, my senior reading, meeting with my mentors, where I gave my senior lecture, and spending time in the quad, talking to friends, grabbing coffee or food… it was so overwhelming. I didn’t want to leave. I felt like an outsider and at home at the same time. And I also felt this heavy sadness that I really can’t explain. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect campus to affect me like that – or at all beyond basic happiness.

Other places, like my past residences, didn’t bring any emotions forward. I thought leaving suddenly meant that I never got necessary closure to those places where I slept, ate, stressed, worked, loved etc. But apparently, I never needed any such closure. It was like touring someone else’s life. I lived here, okay moving on. Apparently, I already had moved on.

Visiting places I wanted to see… I enjoyed myself. They were wonderful and yet they didn’t hold the same mystique that they did all those years ago. Even after two years of living in LA, when I was there, everything seemed grander, glitterier, and further away. Going back, it’s like a curtain was lifted. “It’s nice,” I thought. And that’s it. A museum is just like any other museum I might go to. A park is a park. And so on.

Traffic wasn’t as bad as I remembered it to be, and the weather was even more beautiful than I remembered. Everyone was nicer than I remembered too (strangers I mean, everyone I missed who I saw were as nice as they’ve always been, I know some pretty awesome people).

I’m sad that I had to leave LA the way that I did. Part of me wishes I could go back and change things, but this useless “what if” borderline regret isn’t even that heavy. Because I realize that if I had a time machine and could do it all over again, I would still leave LA. Maybe it would have been a year later, but it would have happened. And do I wish I could take back the abusive relationship that held me hostage while I lived there, holding me back from a lot of things, from dreams unfulfilled to being social with the friends I had there? Yes. That is probably my biggest regret. But while my time in LA could have been more fulfilling it would have ended the same way. And I guess that gives me immeasurable peace that I honestly didn’t think I needed, or would find.

I am happy with where and how I ended up. I would not skip my LA adventures and change moving there anymore than I would change leaving. The details – yeah, I would change almost every little thing about moving out there (all of my friends remember this, I got my own apartment after the first three places didn’t pan out due to: underground prostitution ring, landlord’s attempted suicide and breakdown and a woman off her meds that threw her animals at me whenever I tried to leave my room) to jobs (I gave up my dream job at The Advocate for a banking job because it offered “security”) to relationships (JUST SAY NO TO ALL OF THEM).

But then again, those details still played their part (though some seemed fairly gratuitous after awhile) into who I am today. So maybe I wouldn’t change everything, just a little bit here and there. 😉

I’m really glad I went back. (I seriously never thought I would, because of the reason I left.) It was definitely emotional, and while I remained surprisingly cool, collected and kind of “whatever” on the outside, on the inside I was feeling all of the feels. But it really wasn’t as hard as I thought. I think the hardest thing is realizing just how easy it was, and how when it comes to the big things, like living there and eventually leaving, I wouldn’t change a single one.

-DMW

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