pointless shenanigans & quasi-poetic musings

Wanderlust Will Carry Us On

I remember the first time I left New England.

A perfect storm of bullshit circumstances culminated in me, just barely two weeks off from turning eighteen—not even a month since graduating high school, stepping off a plane at Boston Logan that had taken off from Athens a few hours previously. Tired and a little bit delirious, I spent the night at the airport Hilton waiting for my internal clock to catch up on timezones and dreading the next day’s flight. Southwest Airlines to the innermost circle of hell, and in the first week of July: Orlando International Airport. I was off to college in a couple of months, a minuscule liberal arts school in Ohio, but until then my permanent address had moved with my parents. So keen were they to retire to Florida that the last week after graduating before the Big Move was spent in a two-bedroom hotel suite. I was heartbroken. Utterly devastated. To the teenaged version of myself, it felt like the end of the world.1

One night spent sobbing in an airport hotel sounds melodramatic at best, but if there was one thing I knew for sure in my confused teenage heart, it was this: I’d sworn an oath to myself that I would make it back. For a couple of years, it was one of the few things that kept me going. I try to remember that because, as goals go or for reasons to stay alive, I could’ve done a lot worse. It ended up taking eight years to get back to New England, the only place I’d ever thought of as home, but in 2019 I finally made it.

Shortly after I made it back, everything went completely sideways.

With hindsight’s perfect clarity, I can look back and say that if I’d let myself enjoy New Jersey, I could have called it home—and actually meant it. You see, I spent all those years wandering2 maintaining that home meant one very specific thing: Rhode Island or eastern Massachusetts. Nothing else would do. I enjoyed my time in Jersey, I met some lovely people, and if I’d let myself settle down properly there (or even if I’d bothered finding a nicer apartment), maybe none of this would’ve happened the way it did. Maybe it would’ve happened in a worse way, who knows. There are a million decisions that I could’ve made differently. Here, on this timeline, in this branch of the decision tree, I chose to move back to New England. I found a decent apartment in suburban Boston, started a new job, and thought that I’d settle down here and start the rest of my life.

What happened?

  1. Six months after I moved, while I was still very much in the process of settling in and re-acquainting myself with the area, the coronavirus pandemic came to America.
  2. My gender identity crisis, which had already reached a boiling point before moving in terms of whether or not I was actually going to let myself come out, became an all-consuming maelstrom that drowned out everything else in my brain.
  3. As if that particular identity crisis wasn’t enough, I started having some inescapable doubts about whether or not I was actually happy to be home.

For a while, I blamed that last one on the pandemic. After all, it had started out with me cancelling flights down to catch some spring training games. Travel is in my blood, as much as it can be–neither side of my family tree has ever been particularly content to stay in one place for too long. Rationalising it away as some garden-variety wanderlust was easy. Once the vaccines hit, during that glorious summer of 2021 before we knew this pandemic was going to stretch on for years to come, it stopped being so easy. Here was everything I’d been missing: my friends, the restaurants, all the tangible reasons I’d moved back. I had even started hormones by then, and on weekends I usually had a mediocre wig clipped to my slowly-regrowing hair. Things were looking up.

Everything, that is, except the nagging feeling that I’d made a terrible mistake. For every good memory I could revisit, and for every familiar curve in a road, there was something else haunting me. I kept gaining more and more distance from the person I used to be–a sad and directionless boy struggling with an identity crisis that wouldn’t even be his last–and I kept finding more and more reminders of that person.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the human condition, what it means to be alive, to have a soul, to exist in any meaningful sense. Even after years of therapy, I can’t even pretend to be an expert on what’s going on with my own subconscious. She remains as much a mystery to me as the inner machinations of the universe. There is one thing I know with absolute confidence, as surely as that sad boy knew back in 2011 that he’d make it back to New England: I’m not him anymore. The only thing we share is a paper trail. His motivations are not mine. His goals are not mine. At this point, they’re completely foreign to me! The thing that I expected the least about my transition has been the clarity of thought and sense of self that I’ve developed now that I have a different set of hormones pumping through my system. Once the initial brain fog lifted, I could feel the importance of those old goals fading. What replaced it? That’s the hard part.

He left me a lot of bullshit to clean up. I’m hardly in good physical health, the apartment has been a disaster basically since I moved in, but that all pales in comparison to this: there was no plan for what to do after getting back to New England. There were barely plans at all, actually–he was somewhat surprised to still be here for every passing birthday, and wasn’t entirely sure if he’d be here for the next one. I still don’t have much of a plan, honestly, but I know that I want to stick around for it. It’s a new feeling. I’m not used to it yet.

My justifications for having picked Seattle are somewhat flimsy: I know a few people there, people I care about deeply; and it’s somewhere I haven’t lived before. When I started considering what to do if I didn’t want to stay in Boston, it occurred to me that I’ve already lived anywhere that I’d want to live on the Eastern Seaboard. I also know, from experience, that I don’t thrive if I’m too far from an ocean. So, as much as I love Minneapolis, or for appealing as Chicago truly is, they were never truly on the list.

I have to live somewhere, though. I looked at the West Coast, and thought about the time I’ve spent there—brief, comparatively, but all good times. There’s a reason my last name is what it is, and it’s very much tied to an experience I had in southern California. Around the same time as I’d decided that I’d ruled out most of the East, friends I know and love–the sort of people I’d list as emergency contacts–had started making their way to Seattle. It seemed to be a critical mass. Besides, sweater weather lasts longer in the PNW.

So, I’m about to set out on the longest drive I’ll have ever taken. Fortunately, I have friends to visit along the way. As I write this, I should very much be packing my belongings into boxes. The moving container shows up this weekend, and my lease is up in a week. There’s plenty that I’ll miss, and it’s been hard these past few days not to dwell on it. Truth be told, I’m too sentimental to truly be “over” anywhere I’ve lived—even the places that objectively sucked. Like lovers I’ll never see again, I have such specific memories of them all: the way the air smells, random waypoints that tell me I’m on the right road (or at least, not on the wrong one), every good bar I drank in more than thrice. I can even remember cities I’ve never lived in like that, somehow. There are corners of Santa Monica that make that list of well-loved details, and I only spent two weeks there.

That’s why I wonder if it’s a curse. It’s entirely possible that I spent so long ignoring where I was in favour of a nebulous dream that died as soon as I worked out who I actually was that I’ll end up wandering forever, never accumulating more than can fit in a small box van, constantly in search of something I’ll never find. After all, I still don’t know whether Seattle will be home or not. At the very least, if it’s a city I can stay in for more than half a decade, maybe that’s enough.

Come back in ten years and ask me where I’m living. If it’s still on Puget Sound, maybe I found it.

  1. At the time, in occasional moments of lucidity, I wondered if I was being unreasonable in my hated for the state of Florida in general or for the specific incidents that I endured there. Years of reflection and personal growth have led me to this conclusion: actually, I didn’t hate it strongly enough at the time. This ain’t just about their fucked up politics or generally weird vibes–I was born in Tallahassee. It’s deeply personal. ↩︎

  2. Two in Ohio, two in Tampa, four in Central Jersey. ↩︎