11. Eleven years spent making moves, mending wounds, and building a space to call my own. A home, a customized habitat where I could plant my flag. Eleven years of shape shifting, wandering, dreaming, creating, searching. 11. Eleven days spent deconstructing, packing, parting with friends, painting walls, and panic attacking. After eleven years in Atlanta, a city I had identified with so closely its initials are ingrained permanently on my arm, I said goodbye to half of my belongings and my entire hand picked family to board a plane alone with a one way ticket.
It's June 1st. My alarm goes off at 7am and I find myself on my mattress boxspring under a pile of clothes that I couldn't find space for in my duffle bag the night before. I was more nervous than I had ever been for any interview, presentation, or date. I wanted to throw up. In less than two weeks, I had gotten a job offer in New York, sold nearly all of my furniture, tossed half my closet, white washed my condo, found a property manager, sold my car, had countless going away dinners and drinks, and cried (a lot. like, a metric shit ton).
My best friend was coming over to help me trash leftover miscellaneous items and take me to the airport. Usually a chatter box, he hadn't said much to me since I told him I was moving, unintentionally leaving me insecure. We hadn't really talked in great detail about it - I didn't have time to sit down properly, nor did I have the emotional stamina to start the dialogue. I wasn't sure if he was secretly as upset as I was that I was about to be ejected from around the corner. Unavailable for those "Hey I'm in your hood - you home? I'll stop by" or "It's Tuesday - AHS is on, come over. Bring wine" moments. It hurt a little, the nonchalance of some of my closet friends. As an only child who grew up with parents who were in and out of my life, I had always felt paranoid that I overemphasized the importance of my curated family: friends, coworkers, relationships; that I was predisposed to care more than I should, and would inevitably be disappointed because no one could possibly fill that void. It was unclear to me if this was the case again, but couldn't help questioning - after everything, was my friendship that easy to live without?
He showed up and we buzzed around my place trying to tie up loose ends. He helped me drag the boxspring to the dumpster and we loaded up the car. I would later come to find out my duffle bag was now 70lbs. I couldn't see his eyes behind his aviators and it was probably better that way. The ride to the airport was so unnervingly quiet. He was my oldest and closest friend in Atlanta - we had met 8 years prior slinging lattes at a Buckhead Starbucks. We unwittingly discovered we lived 4 doors down from each other in the same apartment complex and had been friends ever since.
Leaving everything behind feels like a form of death in its own way and, as we flew down 85 at 85mph, the flicker of the dotted lane divider under us mirrored flashes of memories I had kept locked away. It was a purge. And like any breakup, the only things that immediately float to the surface are the good times. The amazing, special, irreplaceable moments that make you wonder why you ever thought to leave in the first place. My poor cat was shoved into his ridiculous, futuristic-looking travel cat pack at my feet. If you know what a cat who is in transit's face looks like, then you can assume you know what mine looked like too.
We followed the Delta departure signs and he put the car in park and turned on the 4 ways. He came around to the passenger side, and suddenly his petit frame started shaking and, in his Puerto Rican Abuela voice, he said "aye aye aye" as he started crying and hugged me tight. "This is temporary you know."; "You're gonna be back after a year or two right?" ;"You have to call me once a week" "You always have a room at our place any time" "Who is going to make me go to weird places and get out my comfort zone?" were just a few fragmented sentences that fell out of his mouth. The fleeting doubt that I was important to him disappeared along with the mustard seed of strength I thought I had pulled together. I was now just a puddle with an obnoxiously heavy piece of luggage and a cat on my back. We took a red nosed selfie and I swallowed my angst deep enough to get me to the ticketing line.
Completely dazed and shook, I had never gotten so many sympathy looks in my life. The ticketing agent looked guilty for charging extra for my morbidly obese bag, and the bartender took the liberty of a heavy hand on the house. I assumed people thought I was flying out to a funeral, not that I was a recent recipient of a gift from the universe to chase a dream in the Big Apple. Though, in a way I was burying a life that I knew based on a pipe dream, and only time would tell if I would ever see a return. Despite this, the most difficult part was knowing that people would change, and that I would change, which inevitably meant being unsure who I would still connect with when I got back. I was jeopardizing the sense of home and belonging, that habitat, that I longed for my entire adult life (and most of my childhood). Why getting what I dreamed of felt so gut wrenching and agonizing in this moment. What was I doing?
After slamming a few vodka sodas and ugly crying at the bar, puffy eyed and sleep deprived me boarded the plane and sat in a window seat where I buried my face out of plain view. Fortunately, we were directly over the wing so the humming of engine drowned out Romeo's howling, and most of mine. Unfortunately, the older couple next to me was intrigued by Romeo and his travel pack and would not stop asking me questions. I hadn't felt this raw and vulnerable in a long time. The notion of a physical sense of security and familiarity was now just a mirage. The emotional support blanket of my inner circle was yanked from me, and trust me it's cold without it. I had not visited the new neighborhood or seen the apartment I was moving into, so I couldn't sooth myself with something tangible.
2016 had personally been a really pivotal year, and likely prove to be one of the dirtiest consecutive 365 days for America. I turned 30; left a toxic relationship. On the same day I had planned to quit a job I loathed with no backup plan, I got laid off; On the same day my cat had emergency surgery and broke my credit card, I received a note from my HOA notifying me that after being on a wait list for 2 years, I was finally eligible to rent out my condo. I had effectively been dumped by the city I loved, which meant I had free will to go anywhere.
It is funny how unnatural freedom feels after you've been swimming in your own lane for so long. Trying to make other people proud. Being stuck "do what makes sense" mode for so long that you feel undeserving of the gift of a pure and unfettered opportunity. Trying to live the life you're told you're supposed to live all while being unknowingly comfortable chained to a shadow self you didn't know existed until you position yourself to break free. It's funny how a decade spent craving and attempting to create the habitat to belong in, I had now forced myself into isolation (ironically while immediately surrounded by millions of people), where personal space is nonexistent, with nothing but ten days worth of clothing and the cutest cat that ever lived. There was nowhere to hide from myself. I would soon learn nothing would sustain or make me feel whole until I found sincere refuge in my own skin, the habitat I had possessed all this time and somehow overlooked.