What a strange week.
It’s hard to put into words what all of the strange parallels and bursts of nostalgia did to me in the half-fevered state I was in between Thursday and Thursday.
It was Los Angeles that did me in. I didn’t have a chance.
In grad school, I used to make the two hour drive to LA nearly every weekend because I needed to be somewhere that wasn’t San Diego, and I needed to be someone that wasn’t the person I was in grad school.
I very rarely planned my trips up there beforehand. It was almost always born of impulse – to flee something that was chewing me up inside. More often than not, I’d just be sitting on the couch, watching TV, and I’d suddenly feel like I was suffocating. I would grab a notebook (and sometimes my guitar) and just go. It made me feel lighter. It made the itch go away.
Driving made me feel blessedly empty, so I got lost a lot. I found spots along curving mountain roads where I could see the ocean, so I would sit on my trunk and smoke cigarettes and stare. I found pull outs on those same roads where I could curl up as best I could in the backseat of my tiny car to sleep. I read in coffeeshops. I talked to strangers. I made friends.
Then I burned all of it down and stopped going.
I’d been back a few times since, usually to go to a show, but I never went back to places I was prone to haunting before.
But sitting on the shuttle bus coming back from a company function, I began to point out places I knew to the woman in the seat beside me. What I didn’t tell her was about the memories flooding up as the blocks stole past: the diner where two hairstylists tried to pick me up. The Jamba Juice where I once sat for hours, nursing a smoothie, because that’s all the money I had could afford. The Best Buy lobby where I met someone asked me to be his valentine. The streets I would drive on for hours listening to a combination of B52’s, Death Cab for Cutie and Oingo Boingo. The coffeeshop where I would sit outside and read The Picture of Dorian Grey and House of Leaves and American Gods.
So when the meeting let out on Wednesday, I grabbed my box lunch, threw all of my germ-laden crap in the trunk and drove to the mountains. I found the same hidden spot where years ago I would sit and smoke cigarettes and stare at the ocean. I sat on my trunk and ate my lunch. I drove to the Valley and went to the bar where I sang karaoke for the first time and a stranger told me I had a nice voice and shouldn’t be shy about it. A bar where a make up artist told me I had a good face for make up, then proceeded to do a spot on impersonation of John Lennon. Where Pauli gave me unsolicited writing advice. Where I got to hang out with someone I am proud I can still consider a friend, who snuck me onto the Universal Studio backlot and give me a tour of my childhood memories. Where the bartenders and bouncers and regulars all knew me, at the end.
I sat down at the bar and ordered a hot toddy. No one recognized me.
It was strange to think about the two Kelly’s driving around LA that day. It made me immeasurably sad. Maybe it’s because I can’t get those moments back. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to anymore. Maybe it was the free lunch in my stomach or the business casual in my trunk, or the company-bought gas propelling me around on a tour of a very painful and formative period of my life. Or maybe it’s just the lingering head cold.
There are parts of ourselves we give up with every choice we make; small things that get lost as a life restructures itself. It makes it so that we can’t fit into the person we were before.
I had dinner that night with a new(ish) friend and his family. It was the first time in days I felt like myself again, and I had an amazing time.
Lots of people don’t like LA, but for me, it’s a city that was everything I needed it to be at a time when I needed it to be it. It was where I sat, emptied out from the highways, and forced myself to think about the life I really wanted for myself. And all these years later, I finally think I’m getting close.