I have no idea what I was thinking.
Yes I do. I was thinking: Hey, I've done this before. How hard could it be?
I remember the lonely days in NYC, before Steven moved up from Atlanta, before I became friends with Carol and Sandra, before I met my husband, or my boyfriend of five years before him. Looking back on that time, I see it through wine-colored specs. It's a vision that makes me forget how hard those early days were, and how much I didn't love New York off the bat. I had to be reminded of this by Steven the other day. He said to me, Carla, when you first got to New York you called me upset because you saw a piece of meat on the floor at Toys 'R' Us in Herald Square. The first time I visited you, you almost came to blows with a homeless man. You hated New York. Oh, I thought, remembering the meat. (And, excuse me, but, also the hunk of human doo doo I once spied casually loitering next to a building in Times Square. I think it was selling Fendi knockoffs.)
So I wasn't so into The Big Apple at first. Okay then. I was 29 and had finally left home, and I remember the thing that got me through -- instant camaraderie. One reason I was so gung ho to get into film school was because I had to live in New York. It was where I knew I belonged. I also knew it wouldn't be easy, coming from where I'm from. If I was in school, especially film school where the need to team with people is so immediate and intense, I knew I'd have a circle of friends before long. And that's what happened.
My move from New York to LA came packaged with a support system, my soon-to-be husband. I basically followed him out there, and I give him a lot of credit. I was frazzled and needy, and he never buckled, never faltered under the pressure of looking out for me. With his encouragement, I was able to finish my first master's degree, which I'd begun years before. I never found myself alone in LA, because when all hell broke loose in my marriage, I had friends to turn to. And I never really stopped turning to my husband, oddly enough.
I carried these experiences with me to Houston, and they were ripped away the minute I hit town and realized that my fantasy of Natalie staying forever wasn't going to happen, and I was about to be left alone in a place where I know almost no one. Seeing this, everything got blurry. My vision of taking Houston by storm -- hitting the knitting gatherings, organizing my own writing group, chatting up strangers in public -- withered. It was replaced by a kind of vertigo, a dizzying vortex in which I tumbled around, wondering where to find organic tampons and a decent salad. When I dropped Natalie at Hobby airport last Thursday morning, I begged her not to leave me here. I wasn't even half joking. More like a quarter joking, and three-quarters serious as a hurricane. It reminded me of when all my friends, and my boyfriend, left Toledo to return to New York after my mother's funeral. I had to stay; as my mother's only child, I had post-funeral matters to tend to, but I felt wholly abandoned.
My first few days in Houston solo, I longed to walk down to Trader Joe's (still do), or to Robek's for a smoothie. Or to make an appointment to get my eyebrows done with Marina, my sweet, Russian waxing maven in Beverly Hills. We both had sons young, and last year she had another baby boy, ushering in a near 20-year spread between kids. I find this fascinating. She finds it fascinating that I've never wanted another one. We vibe there in the middle of mutual fascination.
At the heart of missing LA was a simple longing for familiarity. It manifested as a desire for places and things that I know, but it carried with it the fear of not being surrounded by people I love. Last week I told Natalie that I was planning to go to knit night at my local yarn store, but that I wasn't looking forward to it because she, Ellen, Darcy, Lori, and Mary Jo wouldn't be there. She said no, there wouldn't be that cast of characters, but a whole new one. All I could think was that really sucked.
You know how it is when you don't need something. You can be easy about getting it, because you can live without it. Were I visiting Houston, I'd belly on up to the knit night bar, have myself a fine ol' time, and head on home. But going with the intent of making friends because I need some? It lacks a certain appeal. Not that I didn't go to Stitch 'N Bitch in LA for this exact purpose, but the need wasn't the same, because I already had a darling bunch of friends. They just didn't knit, and I wanted to bond with people who understood the compulsion that had overtaken me.
It hasn't taken me long to reconcile my feelings about all this. I'll do what needs to be done. But I am noticing that getting older has changed the ground beneath my feet from concrete to sand, mixed with a little bit of quicksand. The relationships I have are golden. I want to continue to cultivate and enjoy those. I've worked hard to trap the people who currently put up with me, and the older I get, the more daunting the work of forging new relationships seems. A couple of days ago it finally hit me that this is one reason people stay put.
Natalie wrote me a beautiful card reminding me to give Houston a fair shot. I will. You can never find your utopia if you keep looking for it outside yourself, and going back to LA or forward to some new place, especially when I know that here is as good as anywhere, would indicate that I haven't learned this lesson. Easy for me to say today, when I've had lunch with another of Natalie's friends, wonderful Charissa, and turned down a chance to spend time with the one person I know here, a college boyfriend turned loyal, protective friend. After nearly 20 years, he's like family, but a girl still doesn't go out with an ex unless she's colored her roots. I'm not that starved for companionship.