I’m back in San Diego. For five weeks, the sun has been shining, the birds have been chirping, and the streets have been bustling with that calm, buzzing energy I love so well. I’ve been gorging myself on the joys of southern California, delighting in ocean views and desert hikes and incomparable—impossible—produce.
I’m applying for an apartment today. It’s a six-month lease, a mere block from where I lived one year ago, B.N. (before nomad). It has everything I could possibly want in an apartment, with the small exception of a gas stove. (Turns out you don’t need a stove for rice cakes and hummus anyway, so hey.) (Rice cakes are my latest crutch-cum-bad habit because apparently you really do turn into your mother.)
I feel simultaneously elated and concerned. It would be so luxurious to have my own place, surrounded by my own things, following my own rhythms. I could retrieve the boxes of books and mementos I left in a friend’s attic. I could hang art that represents my tastes. I could invite guests to stay—for a night, a weekend, a week! I could spend entire days observed by no one, watching Jane the Virgin with nasty, unshowered hair, covered in rice cake crumbs (seriously, it’s a problem), popping into the bathroom whenever I wanted without having to decide how much sheepish eye contact to make with the person sitting right outside who definitely knows why I’m turning on the fan and hopefully won’t listen to what’s about to happen in there.
Am I giving up a dream? I was supposed to be traveling indefinitely, gradually acquiring fewer and fewer belongings, not settling back down within a year, throwing in the proverbial towel on this identity I hardly had a chance to try on.
I toured another possible living arrangement: three roommates seeking a fourth for their big, beautiful house with large, exuberant dogs and lemon, orange, and avocado trees on a hill overlooking the ocean. I saw the place as the sun set last night, and it was a kind of paradise. Still, as soon I as I stepped into the house with its stained carpet, stray tufts of fur, and disheveled sofa cushions—as I too-firmly shook hands with the young beach people who smelled of marijuana (not a judgment) and work in surf shops—I knew I didn’t belong. My gut told me, “You can’t live here.”
I drove away, fantasizing about the kind of couch I’d buy for my new apartment above the sandwich shop, and realized a dream version of me had already died.
If I were truly the nomad, the detached wanderer stopping in for a medical reprieve, this house would be perfect. Its eclectic inhabitants, warm, welcoming vibe, and social atmosphere would fit beautifully on the person I was trying to be in Maine, the person I thought I could become long-term.
Here is where I feel a deep conflict because I want to dismiss my time in Maine with, “I wasn’t happy there,” but that doesn’t capture the whole story. I was happy when I embraced the beauty of the setting, when I relaxed into the mess and allowed myself to be witnessed, when I took time to get to know and understand my housemates (except for that 70 year-old Pizzagate mansplainer, but he doesn’t count). I had wonderful experiences in that house, even when it was filled with the stench of rotting rats. I loved that I could text a friend about an eerie light in my room, and three minutes later, he was there scoping it out with me. That kind of casual intimacy can fill up spaces in your life you didn’t know were empty.
Now I’m sitting here thinking about not just where I want to live but who I want to be. I feel like I’m on the precipice of casting a significant vote about my character, and I’m not sure I like the direction I’m headed—a magnetic pull toward the bougie comforts I scorn and crave in equal measure, joining the flow of those around me, allowing the current to take me where it may.
Back in B.N. times, when I worked in a cubicle, I would console myself that the energy I saved with structure and predictability would be spent on doing good in the world. Is that something I can make true now, or am I retreating into the familiar, hiding from the painful effort of letting go, needing less, growing smaller?
I’m not sure.
But it’s only a six-month lease. Right?