A Breakup Letter
Dear Los Angeles,
It's been eleven-and-a-half years since I gave myself to you. I drove thousands of miles, as far west as I had ever been, until the GPS on my dashboard turned blue, and there you were: ocean and unblemished sky, manicured green grass and high hedges hiding coppertoned bodies glistening by their pools. Swaying palm trees lining wide boulevards converged like a promise in the distance. Your sand warmed me. Your sky was open and clear, just like in the movies. Amid your skateboarders, ganja smoke, donation yoga, and farmers markets, I was free to be wholly myself, and thanks to you, that self evolved and evolved. On my bike, in sunglasses, cruising the coast until my leg muscles flushed with acid, I cast a decade's worth of my cares out toward your horizon, and in return, you showed me that sunsets can be colored in infinite permutations.
The lessons you taught me, Los Angeles, are too vast to catalog.
You taught my eyes the fuschia of Bouganvillea, the purple rain of Jacaranda, the geometry of blue-and-orange Birds of Paradise.
You showed me costly things (cars, yachts, clothes, and bags), and that did impress me for a while.
I saw art in your museums and on the streets of Venice Beach, and either laughed or cried at so many more things that wanted to be art.
I saw that celebrity was only human flesh, and so were those who sat in dust with cardboard signs. All their eyes held the same desperate plea: Will you see me? Will you love me?
You taught my skin it is not impervious to scars, nor wrinkles, nor a sneaky sunburn, even through a chilly breeze or the Marine Layer fog.
You taught me the peace of sweating solitary on dusty mountain trails, which left a ring of dirt around my ankles when I removed my socks.
You taught me the stinging stroke of lust, and the silky, supraliminal caress of love.
You took me out of my body (the convulsive, compacted despair that comes with loss), and you put me right back into it (the juicy crest of freedom that comes with catching a wave, the focused strength of holding a headstand).
You embedded my brain with your scents:
Your beach bonfires at dusk hickory-smoked my hair, jeans, and sweatshirt.
I will forever be able to conjure an L.A. memory from any one of these smells: Tom Ford cologne, surf wax, coconut oil, stale beer soaked into wood, saltwater, green juice with ginger, vanilla incense, cinnamon churros, piss, the pages of old books.
You taught me to like olives, mushrooms, shrimp, sushi: textures I couldn't get past in my youth.
You led me to explore sidewalk tents (cash only), where I could get tiny corn tortillas with shredded spicy meat, onions, and cilantro.
You sang to me in the squawking of seagulls and those damn green parrots (really, where did they come from?);
You spoke in the rapidfire Spanish of abuelitas in the laundromat.
You warbled through loudspeakered songs in late-night dives, and your melodies carried to the top of the Hollywood Bowl where I sat in the cheap seats drinking wine with a friend. But never was a mountain megaphone so impressive as when we lived in Mailbu. I truly couldn't sleep some nights, the sea crashed so loudly.
But these are just sensations. Sensations I'd never known before, sure, but what more? Through the gateway of these sensations, L.A., you taught me a much sweeter lesson:
The feeling of completely inhabiting the present moment is so much more beautiful than any place, past or future, that a mind can travel.
That lesson did not come easily or quickly, and it did not come alone.
It came with other lessons like,
I can be ripped apart
(On cliffs jagged with sharp rocks at Sunset Point, the soft middle of my foot got cut wide open, pouring blood into my flip flop. Another time my ear was nearly sliced off by a surfboard fin and when they sewed it up I could hear the thread pulling through the cartilage.
And once, in the same place Beyonce gave birth, two humans were pulled from a five-inch incision in my guts),
and I will grow back, stronger and more fearless.
If I listen, the Universe will whisper the answers to me, but if I don't listen, the Universe will get louder, scream, and abuse me until I do.
(In my first Santa Monica apartment, a 1920s studio above Hank’s Liquor with crown molding and built-in nooks, I aimlessly filled my days with happy hours and karaoke, recording songs and short films. I didn't listen to the voice that said I should slow down and question my own motives in life. Even when I kept getting parking tickets every week, even when I broke my tooth in half while eating pizza, even when I was stuck in jobs that took advantage of me, and when bed bugs drove us out of that apartment in a rush on Halloween night. I still steamrolled on.
It wasn't until a couple of years later, when I was as broke and alone as could be in East Hollywood, and it was so cold I actually had to scrape frost off my windshield with the ice scraper that had been stashed in my glove box since Kentucky, that I began to listen and listen hard.)
"Stronger" is not always what it looks like.
(When people asked me how I was, I told them the truth. I accepted my shortcomings. I asked for help because that's all I could do. I stayed at a friend’s duplex in the Valley. She let me stay for free, so I did the dishes. She left me little notes and I cried a lot. I spent hours in traffic on the 405 and I only ate protein bars. I got a second job at an office in Marina del Rey, slept four hours a night and never talked on the phone. I sang onstage. I accidentally set my hair on fire with a candle in the bathroom.)
I will always only get what I think I deserve.
(I wanted to live in a light-filled one-bedroom close to the beach. I declared it and it happened. We painted an OM on the wall. I spent much of those years as a servant, dressed in black, getting yelled at by the manager, aware faintly of the smell of my own sweat after eight hours in heavy non-slip shoes, balancing a tray of champagne that I’d sip in the stock room. I didn't know until years later that all along I could have just walked into a room of decision-makers with the conviction that I already had everything I could possibly need, and because I was glowing with vitality and indifferent to their decision, they would give me a commercial that paid a year's salary for one day of work. I did, however, meet my soulmate while wearing a tie and holding a tray of meatballs.)
I do, in fact, always already have everything I need.
(My first apartment with Kai, a one-bedroom by the graveyard on 16th street, with waves painted on the wall and surfboards on a rack, will be the last place I live in Los Angeles. Many mornings here were filled with the sound of oom-pa-pa accordion and trombone overlaid with an off-key Spanish wail--our neighbors' comfort sounds. We used to ride to the beach, our surfboards stuck to the side of our bikes with a PVC pipe-contraption he made. We watched movies and fought about where to eat or how much time we should be spending together. When we brought our twins home, we started sleeping in the living room on the pull-out couch and we became too tired to argue about time. Time does what it does: now the twins are 3, and we sometimes turn around to find them outside and down the stairs, riding plastic toy cars on the concrete by themselves. We've known for a while that we would have to leave.
I spent a lot of the 16th-Street Era auditioning for roles I didn't care about, or working nearby in the spotless houses of the rich and famous. I looked for clues to life in their refrigerators, in their cabinets, and on the spines on their bookshelves, and found only that they were as clueless as I was. They just spent more money on lotion.
L.A., you taught me I didn't need that. You taught me that when I need someone else's love, what I really need is my own love. When I need peace, I need only close my eyes and remember to breathe.)
And now, Love, our time together has come to an end.
I've been growing evermore ready to leave you for years, aware of your growing and my growing, and how we've been growing in different directions.
I liken it to this: Many times on a hot sunny day, I'd walk to the beach in shorts, or I'd go hiking in a tank top, cooking in the heat coming off the ground. It was impossible at 4pm to imagine that the sun could go down on me, so I never brought a jacket. Within two hours I'd regret that decision, always forgetting that in the shade, you'd turn chilly and whip me with the wind. Of late, it's been easy for me to remember my jacket. I am as aware of your dark side as I am aware of my own.
You've closed Swingers diner and Power Yoga, Spaceland and my hike to the Hollywood sign. Santa Monica has become a constant construction site, full of traffic and yuppies and three-story buildings with corporate retail shops and $4000-a-month "modern living" apartments. And every L.A. friend of mine who has achieved success and fame has been disappointed, always seeking something more.
I don't need the shimmering hope you used to provide, and these days I barely have time to enjoy the treasures you still offer. I'm busy making macaroni, researching learning toys, and performing picture books as a one-woman show. I got what I came for, though not in the form I once imagined: a life that is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and beautiful. A way to change the world for the better. You've given me a tribe of people who see me, who love me. And, with thanks to you, I love me.
Goodbye, old friend. Love always,