When I was 24 I moved from New Haven to Pasadena. I packed everything I wanted to bring with me into a bunch of big boxes and shipped them via UPS to the site of my new unseen apartment on Cordova Street, blocks from Colorado, a mile from CalTech. It would have been romantic and adventurous to say that I hitchhiked across the country, or jumped on a boxcar on a moving train, or tested public transportation by riding buses and subways across the states. But I didn’t. I packed up my Honda Accord and stuck my mom in the car and off we went, on an epic mother-daughter road trip, stopping along the way to visit family and friends.
I didn’t have much to aim for when I made this move. I just wanted to do it. True to self, though, I had lined up a job. I didn’t just come out here with only a dream, job-hunting and waitressing while I tried to define what that meant. I had done the research and interviewing ahead of time, and accepted the most responsible boring job you can possibly conjure up in your mind: insurance broker underwriter. I wasn’t even really an underwriter. I prepared the paperwork and steps for people applying for very large amounts of life insurance. I worked in an office and had a direct report who would scold me if I showed up even 2 minutes late.
But! I lived in Los Angeles! I made friends with other women at the office, and I made friends with my roommate’s friends, and I made friends at bars and in the acting class I eventually signed up for (because Los Angeles).
Lisa was my roommate. She was the best.
Of course I got bored working at an insurance company. So when a woman in my acting class told me about a job as a production assistant at a small company a billion miles away through LA traffic in Santa Monica, making 1/3 less in salary than I was making at the time, I went for it.
So then I had to move because traffic, and my Pasadena roommate moved to D.C. I picked a shitty apartment under the stairs behind what was then a Lucky grocery store. But it was rent controlled, 10 blocks from the beach, and 12 blocks from work.
I felt like a tourist on a very long vacation. I drove wherever the party was, even if the party was watching a movie at a girlfriend’s apartment with a glass of wine, even if the apartment was in Orange County. I went on dates and had a few short-term boyfriends. One of my old flames from back home called me out of the blue. He wanted to try again, so he hopped in his car and drove across the country to see me. He wanted to take me back to New Haven and marry me. I swooned—it was the biggest romantic gesture I had ever experienced. What if that had worked? What if I had gotten into his car and returned with him?
What if I had been too scared to even entertain the idea of moving in the first place?
What if I had stayed at the insurance company, gotten my broker’s license, and become an agent?
For that matter, what if I had actually been a good actress and gotten a role?
The view from now, looking back over the peaks and valleys of the years ago, looks so dramatic. But as I sit here remembering, my body is filled with the same sensations I felt during each one of those turning points. Adrenaline. A sense of purpose. The knowledge that my life hangs in the balance. I can go this way, or I can go that way.
We all do it every day, just not as…large. Do I wash my hands after using the bathroom or do I just rinse and flick? Can that tiny decision mean the difference between a healthy week ahead or a raging case of the flu? You don’t realize how small choices can have big effects in your life until afterwards.
But those big decisions, the ones that climb up into your face like a cat on a keyboard, you can’t ignore those. You’ll remember them for the rest of your life. They are what makes you.