An old friend from LA emailed and when I wrote her back, I told her I loved her photos of her city -- burnt and hot-looking on her Instagram account, offering a glimpse of a place I've never visited but have always secretly loved. Los Angeles, or the vision of it I have in my head, is my single instance of coastal regret. Why am I in New York, I sometimes wonder? But here is where I settled. The settling happens, whether it’s into bones or cities or routines, and I always knew New York would be good, it would be how everyone said, and even better, and then some. But there are losses, sacrifices I forgot would revisit when I least expected them.
Last fall, a lovely 23-year-old I worked with jumped ship; a cross-country move, a dream job. I told her then how jealous I was, and I had never been more serious, and it was a thick jealousy, a mournful one. For a while I struggled with the reasons behind my reaction. I moved to New York after college, lured by a communications job for a respected news organization. I spent six years at that job, loving things, but far from settlement. I read books on LA, on how to become a writer, on how to write for TV, on how to work in entertainment. My Amazon bill for those books was more than I could afford and I remember thinking they felt dated even then, in the early '00s, and they felt less than useful. But I read them, and wrote occasional poems, and when I thought ahead I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was a vague notion, and besides, wasn’t what I was doing already just a type of writing?
It was. One day, years ago, on a train ride from DC to NY, a man next to me, leaking nerves, told me his life story. He waved around photos of the long-lost child he was about to go meet. He asked me what I did, and I said, I’m a writer, and he said he’d never met an actual writer before, and so I felt like a liar.
Today I am 33 and a writer, and it’s definitive, and I adore all of it – my day writing job, coming home to my writer love in the evenings and cooking dinner together and then retreating to our shared office, where I write more, this time for me, this time for ghosts I’m legally unable to name, this time for what I hope is my future life. And the city speaks to me in fits and starts and that’s okay because it’s mine, and if that means I can’t live on a deserted beach, then that means the beach is there for vacations.
But then a twenty-something told me she was leaving New York for LA to write, and I wanted to throw up, because even though I love my life and I’ve chosen this and it thrills me, my making the choices I’ve made means, necessarily, that I’ve opted out of other lives.
The problem is, there are so many lives I’ve always wanted. But I have this one, and it’s not even a “but,” it’s my own type of fantasy, one I never even thought I’d be brave enough for, because I made it here in New York. But it means I didn’t make it in LA, or London, where I was so close, so many times. I chose this place, which means I couldn’t choose any other.
In a few months I'm getting married, and that too is a choice that relegates some other choices unnecessary. I treasured my single life. I miss aspects of it -- the things I could have hung on the walls, the throw pillows, the night cheese. And marriage is a type of settling, too, an acknowledgement that one more life is closed to me, a burst of magic rendered obsolete. A circus with no more seats.
Both youth and naps are wasted on the young. My bones feel their age now but sometimes I am still the youngest person in the room and therefore the one with the most opportunity to dream and when I dream I dream of flight, escape, but the secure kind, which doesn’t make much sense.
When I told my fiance all those months ago about my coworker, the one leaving, the one I could have been but can no longer be, he told me with wide, serious eyes, Babe, we can move to LA. You can work in TV if you want!
And maybe we will. Even if we don't, though, I like having the option.