Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I have returned.

I'm not going to reflect much on what it feels like to be back, because what's most important is where I've been.

Afforded the freedom of a car from a friend who had one to spare, I was able to drive where I wanted, and when I wanted. I came to Los Angeles poor. Incredibly poor. But I wasn't going to let lack of cash stop me from what I knew I had to do. Two days before I had planned to leave and had told everyone that I wasn't going to make it, I decided how silly that was. Silly to let a few hundred dollars keep me from going to Los Angeles, which I knew was meant for me to do. Everything was working out too well for me to ignore the signs. And those signs were pointing west. I was writing in my journal that on my death bed, I wasn't going to be glad that I saved money by skipping this trip, but regret that I didn't take the hands of so many people that offered them to me to get me there.

It is extremely hard for me to ask for help. And extremely hard for me to accept it even when I didn't ask for it. And though I resisted it every step of the way, help from others is not only what made this trip possible, but the wonderful experience that it was. I will cherish it for my entire life, and seeing the people whom I adore who allowed me the space and understanding to do what I had to do while I was there. And, to trust me to understand that they had lives and jobs that had to go on during my visit.

And that is such a change from when I left. I am usually a nervous flyer. I fret the week before and replay everything that can go wrong during air travel. September 11th didn't help this fear, and since takeoff is the thing that I'm most frightened of, I always try to get non-stop flights. However, when I learned that my flight would have a stopover in Cincinnati, I didn't care. And when the plane took off from Baltimore to Cincinnati, I wasn't afraid. Not because I'd suddenly overcome my fear of flying, but because I felt I didn't have much to live for anymore. Though I'd never do anything drastic, I've been feeling that way increasingly over the last few months and have had a pretty fatalistic attitude when it came to life. So, when our plane took off and bounced around, creaked and tilted as it climbed in altitude, I felt nothing. Normally, I'd be turned away, my hands on the arm rests in a white-knuckling grip, scanning the plane for a view of the flight attendants to see if they looked nervous in their jump seats. But instead I just sat there in first class (due to a buddy pass from my sister, a Delta flight attendant) with my head leaning against the window and watched as the harbor, roads, houses, trees got smaller by the second, then back at airport as we made a 180 turn and watched planes land on the runway or make their approach into Baltimore. All the while, feeling completely numb. It was the same thing when the plane took off from Cincinnati. I relaxed in my chair and five feet of leg room, unperturbed by my usual fears during takeoff.

When we descended into Los Angeles, it was raining and the cloud level was low. The orange and yellow lights from the buildings and street lights glowed from below and reflected off the streets and the 405 freeway during the thick of rush hour, was two arteries clogged with red and white lights. I wondered how long it would take me to get to my car and to my apartment, then realized that I didn't have one here. And that's how the trip went. It was as if I never left, and never moved to Baltimore. Thanks to my friend Felix, I had a car and could experience it that way.

A car, by the way, that had Bush/Cheney and NRA bumper stickers on the back along with Florida plates. I felt as if I should have a big chad hanging from the rear view mirror to finish off the theme. However, people let me change lanes with plenty of room and the guards at Warner Bros. lot were more than amused. They kept asking me, "YOU belong to the NRA?" Then, they proceeded to check every single inch of the car.

There is so much to report, but in short, I walked the sidewalks of my old neighborhood, sat at my old coffee shop and reconnected with the workers and customers who recognized me, saw my therapist who also generously cut her fee so I could afford it. I drove by my old Barnes and Noble and became instantly sad that I was no longer there. On another night, I went into the store, sat in the cafe and watched the customers, then caught up with the one coworker whom I recognized. So many new faces, even a new manager. I managed to see my friends even though I had only one night to spend with each of them, and once again, felt like we'd seen each other yesterday. Just having them around was invigorating, hilarious, reflective, bawdy, comforting and just all around great. I worked on a project with a friend during which I reconnected with the skills that I'd tucked away this last year. To live inside myself being so incredibly organized and confident, and regain optimism about the future and my part in it. To not be afraid to set my boundaries nor feel the need to explain them. To be tired at night and get a full night's sleep and wake up in the morning feeling actually rested.

To realize how strong I've gotten, and that instead of being at the end, that there is so much more to come.

And regardless of this newfound zeal and purpose, when the plane took off out of Los Angeles, I still wasn't afraid to fly.

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