Tomorrow night, I board a flight to Boston. I had no intention of coming home this year. Back in May, Los Angeles felt about as home as my San Francisco birthplace — significant not because I felt any particular kinship to the city, but because its inhabitants happened to also hold occupancies in my heart.
Three months later, I can’t say that I am any more enamoured with this city. Familiarity has long been translated into monotomy and unfair comparisons to the New England town that has stolen my heart over nine months’ time. The California metropolis where I spent the better part of my youth can hardly compare to Cambridge. The never ceasing congestion, the stripped down strip malls, the impersonal attitude — Los Angeles is too sprawling to feel interconnected, too desperately young to age gracefully, a city of millions with no community.
When I arrived home in the last days of May, it was out of necessity not willingness. My plans to visit Europe had fallen through, and my attempts to locate a job in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, any city but this one, had proven to be fruitless or impractical. So I found myself unpacking the contents of a portable life in the bedroom of my teenage self: the prom pictures still hanging on the wall, taken with a boy who then seemed to mean everything; the two favorite trophies I declared significant enough to warrant positions in my bedroom, now gathering dust and long forgotten; the cardstock validating my first 17 years of existence by offering me a place at Harvard — the only new addition since my departure — framed and displayed front and center like the final act of an otherwise lackluster childhood.
In the end, I committed to two part-time internships and one full-time relationship, not really knowing what I was getting myself into professionally or romantically. Ten weeks later, I determined that I was well-suited for marketing, public relations, and even Republicans, but the reciprocal unfortunately could not be said. Summer Guy turned out to be a lot like my jobs: a bit of a disappointment. For all that he had done to change my life, I found that I made very little headway in his. And yet I find it difficult to write him off completely (though my friends have easily done just that). He treated me with respect and consideration right up until the end, but more importantly, he prepared me for our eventual separation so well that I moved seamlessly from hurt to whole. Though his abrupt departure left me bitter, angry, and unexpectedly single for the remainder of summer, it also left me remarkably strong, remarkably … intact. For that, Iâ€™ll always be grateful.
And I think that is the story of my 18th year: a lot of mistakes, a lot of letdowns, and a lot of lessons learned, forgotten, and relearned. I spent an entire year trying to not fall apart, but by the time my 19th birthday rolled around, keeping myself from breaking was no longer a constant worry. For once, it feels like I have life by the reins, ready to face unexpected tumbles without losing my grasp on sanity. What doesn’t kill you might make you consider transferring to UCLA, but it also definitely makes you stronger.
A few weeks ago, I wrote: Itâ€™s been a long time since I have felt as perfectly content as I feel at this precise moment, sitting on a bus mid-commute from an internship I’m not particularly in love with, in a city I didn’t really want to return to three months ago. Maybe not going to Europe was the best bad luck I’ve had; maybe instead of running away from my problems to â€œgain perspectiveâ€ several thousand miles away was not the solution fate had in store; maybe it took a summer with the mother who still nags, the friends who keep me down-to-earth, and the least likely candidate for boyfriend in order to really grow up. And perhaps, when I finally arrive on campus this September, I wonâ€™t be suffering from a crippling case of homesickness or unrequited love or self-doubt. Perhaps the prospect of standing on my own two feet without any of the aforementioned people for support is no longer as daunting a task as it was at 18. Perhaps that’s all growing up really is — not a grade, not an age, not even the number of air miles clocked, but a state of mind that I ironically found in the last place I thought it’d be.