Is it possible to feel like a stranger in environments you’re familiar with? I’m talking about places you grow up in, whether it’s because you were born there or you’re a frequent visitor in a different country, or even moved to a new city.
Why is it so significant to differentiate these environments? It helps to distinguish the multiple identities that have formed, for I feel that I am a different person in each space. The place I grew up in feels like home but not entirely anymore. I feel a bit strange knowing things did not freeze the day I left and moved to a different city, as if my departure meant nothing even though I grew up there for 20 years. However, soon enough I’ll be returning to the place I tried so hard to get away from. A part of me feels a sense of relief knowing this chapter of my life is coming to an end from a decision made by someone else; at the very least I’ll be able to say I didn’t break my own heart in choosing to give up the fantasy that my life is right now, living in a city I dreamed of being in. There were days where I began to miss the things I grew to despise from back home, and there were moments where all I wanted more than anything was to be surrounded by people when back then, I wanted nothing more than to be left completely alone by everyone.
Despite the feeling of serenity that I feel with this nearing change, the cynical side of me grows anxious with the realization that soon enough I’ll have to disrupt whatever life I formed in the city I’ve strangely called “home” for nearly the past 2 years. I will no longer have these 4 white walls surrounding me, with a wide window whose view overlooks the houses of the neighbors and their backyard’s, and of trees that cover a large portion of my eye’s view. My favorite part of it all is seeing palm trees in the distance, whose green leaves billow around aimlessly in the calm cool air that is Los Angeles, California during the Spring season of May.
I’ve thought about the fact that I’ve changed a lot while staying in this new city. I’ve changed in a good way, and that is how the people who know me best have described my new sudden attitude towards life. I am less of the negative parts of me and more of the positive, fun and childish sides that disappeared for a long time. It was as though the small child in me grew scared of the reality that was my life back home, and suddenly emerged once it was just me alone, in a new environment. Maybe I felt safe enough to become a more genuine version of myself, because there was no one around to impose the previous versions of me. I was the only person now, who could police my growth in a completely unrestricted way and without ridicule. Every time I visit back home I am reminded of who I was before the move, the shy awkward little girl who felt uncomfortable in her own skin and relied on the opinions of others to define her. I did not like speaking to strangers and avoided any interaction in my life that was not familiar or known to me. Far away from there though, I no longer close myself off and have grown more confident with who I am, how I look and what I am doing with my life.
There are two months left before I go back to where I’m from, and while I grow restlessly excited to be reunited with the people I yearn for in those moments of unwanted solitude, I am worried about morphing back to the person I used to be, the 20 year old who was scared of the world and what it had to offer. As I think about the present, past, and future, I wonder whether it’s possible to keep the new person you are in a different city intact, once you face the homecoming experience. Is it possible to be different people all at once? Or are we supposed to leave behind the copy of a new version that we’ve generated in a different environment?
The relationships I have with people back home are a big welcoming factor that soothes away my fears of moving again. On my way to Los Angeles, I swore that I would never take that type of trip again, the “saying-goodbye-to all-your-friends-and family-and-try-to-hold-back-the-snot-and tears-because-you’ll-visit” trip. With their physical absence I realized how lucky I was to have such beautiful people in my life. I thought that I was never going to return, because I said I would try to make this move a permanency. I was going to try make it my new home where I could end up living and dying maybe, because I would have fallen in love and formed a family of my own and watched my kids grow up as I turned into a gray haired old lady who babysits her grandchildren. These type of permanent moves happen all the time you know, they’re a lot more common than you think. My mother did it at the age of 18, and she always visits to this day and returns to the childhood home of her parents. My grandparents.
It didn’t happen like I thought it would. That is a dream that I did not make come true, and that’s okay. I’m far too young to think about myself in 50 years, where I envision myself retiring in Mexico. Will the people who are currently in my life still be calling me on the phone when I am senile? Will my kids be friends with my best friend’s kids? I hope so.
But that is not what this is about. This is me, wanting to believe that it is possible to carry every new and improved part of me back to a city that raised me, and does not recognize me whenever I find myself back there. The first time I ever visited was after 3 months, during New Years Eve. When I surprised my mother by knocking on the door, I myself was shocked at how much older she appeared. She still looked beautifully young, but I couldn’t believe that I never noticed the intricacies of her face to see that my mother was slowly aging like wine. I remember waking up and walking over to my parents room the next morning, and as soon as they heard my footsteps they began to call for me. I opened their door and crawled into their bed with them and was reminded of childhood memories where I’d sneak in quietly and tuck myself in between them every Sunday morning.
I was barely 21 when I moved away and it’s been a year and a half maybe since the move has solidified itself, but I feel like I’ve skipped birthdays and became 30. September is the month I’ll forever correlate with change, for I moved away and landed in this new city the 1st of September, the beginning of summer’s ending. People have strange rules for when you can actually start to claim a new city as “home”. They say it usually takes a couple of years before you begin to feel like you’re from the area, but I believe it depends on the person and their views of what “home” is.
Home has many different meanings for me. I wake up in different beds and remain in the same white sheets, but the wall behind me changes colors. It could be white or lavender, but my favorite one is the color blue. I rarely get to see it and when I visit it’s only for a short amount of time. To wake up behind the blue wall is to be in a different country altogether, where the sun is always warm and the days are filled with family gatherings. Here is where I feel most at peace with everything that surrounds me, as I sit outside the roof of my parents house and watch the clouds disappear through the blue sky.
“You know you can always visit, this is just a temporary thing”, is what I am told every time I remind people that I am moving back. “I know, maybe I’ll move back to LA after I graduate college” I say in return, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less or make me feel any better. The truth is a part of me wants to stay, no matter how lonely I may feel at times. Change is hard, I’ve never been too good at accepting the transitional periods of life. But that is something I feel I’ve improved on as well, during my stay here in this new city.
There’s days where I allow myself to feel everything, because I realize I have to take care of myself and become a stronger individual. Instead of running away from my fears or drowning out my thoughts with music, I’ll sit down and stare out of the huge window in my room, watching the clouds go by in silence. For a brief moment, I feel content with the the future and all its changes, but I start to panic at the thought of having to start over again with a new identity in a place that is familiar to me.
There’s a brief moment between the sudden emotional changes that occur. It’s so subtle that I almost miss it, but I’ve always enjoyed noticing small details that may be insignificant to others. Right before my peaceful feelings turn cynical, there’s a brief stillness that feels as though its transcending the short time frame of a second the moment actually lasts for. It’s a stillness in which I feel nothing and just let myself be. There in the sudden feeling of indifference is where I feel most like myself, being caught in the middle of my current reality where my past and future are coinciding simultaneously. It’s as if time actually freezes for me, as if my presence is actually substantial. It is such a such a distinct feeling that I wish it could last longer than it actually does. It reminds me of how I used to sit on those plastic and metal horses held upright from a pole, where a carousel would spin you around and around until everything turned into a blur. I remember how happy I’d get, watching the world revolve around me while I’d smile and laugh as a 5 year old with no fears.
That is where I want to be, in the stillness of uncertainty.