The Hardest Goodbye: A Love Letter to California
Last night, I read a poem I wrote in high school about what I thought my life would look like ten years from then.
It is exactly ten years later and none of it is true.
What I learned from re-reading the words of that broken hearted teenage girl looking for a place to land was that nothing ever goes as planned.
Rewind ten years to the chapter of my life a dear friend so gently and perfectly described as being like a sparrow in a hurricane: “You were trying so hard to fly, but everything around you kept knocking you down.” It felt like that.
I was drowning in a sea of things I couldn’t possibly understand. I had been taking on water in a way only a handful of people know about, and I toyed, very seriously with turning the lights out on this life forever. A decade and a half later, though the road has been un-paved and rocky at best, I am so very glad I failed.
I did the hardest part of growing up in the mountains of Virginia. I lost myself there too.
And so I struggled, more than I let show, through college to find my way, putting big pieces of my life back together during those four years, but it wasn’t until I left everyone and everything I knew for the coast of Northern California that I finally found myself.
It was along the coastal ridges that I learned about what was truly possible, and in the deepest farmland valleys that I learned what I was capable of. It was in taking countless double shifts at the restaurant, that was as much a prison as it was a safe haven, that I learned how to mend unmeetable ends. It took working five jobs at the same time to know my limits and walking away from all of them to re-define my limitations. It was in the trenches of that first year as a freelancer and this past year as a teacher that I learned passion is a powerful fuel and that following your dreams is not for the faint of heart. But it is now, for the first time in my life, that I look in the mirror, so proud of the reflection.
I have grown in ways I never imagined possible and certainly didn’t know I needed. I battled the demons that followed me here and buried them beneath the wildflowers. I laid so many pieces of grief that were not mine to carry at the edge of the ocean who faithfully swept them away. I have wrestled with what I was taught to believe and what I know to be true, and I have made the answers I found for myself the foundation of this life I so wholeheartedly love.
What I used to see when I looked in the mirror was someone who was in survival mode. What I see now is a warrior.
I know how to answer the hard questions and I am proud as the hell of this business I’ve built in lieu of the endless “when are you going to get a real job” choruses.
This is the life that I have chosen in every way…. which is why it’s so hard to imagine walking away from it… but that is exactly what I’m about to do.
You see, I have always been a believer in holding space for the things I never see coming… and the love that broke through the ground of eight years of friendship over this past year was certainly one of the biggest, most incredibly serendipitous things I never saw coming.
And so here we, two people who finally found each other on opposing coasts, at that crossroad of staying or going where I choose going. I choose leaving a life I love so we can build a life we love. Together. In Nashville, TN to be exact.
It is as sure as of a decision as moving to California in the first place, but it is the hardest goodbye to date.
It feels a bit like breaking up with a part of my life that I’m most proud of, but to pursue the chapter I’ve been waiting on forever.
There’s a part of me that’s ready… to see what I can do and build and become now that I know who I am… it’s the leaving this place and the people who got me there that I’ll never be ready for.
And so my practice right now is to memorize every tiny corner of my life. The way the floor of my friends houses feel under my feet. When the magnolia trees bloom. How the light pours into the window of my perfect tiny studio. The blueberry couple at the farmers market who always give me a discount for remembering their name. The smell of the ocean, only thirty minutes away from my doorstep. The bank teller who knows what accounts to have open before I get to the counter. The feeling of collaborating and wrapping a photoshoot with people who will never cease to inspire me. Slow days with the people I love. The songs I sing to the littles I’ve been lucky to watch grow up as they drift off to sleep in my arms. Having the chance to enable the dreams of others and finally chasing down some of my own.
I want to always remember what it felt like to come up for air, when I gave up on giving up and gave this life every thing I had.
Standing at the edge of the ocean today, letting the waves drown out the sobs that could no longer be contained, I started to feel more held than ever before. I realized that all of the strength I’d been looking for was inside of me… and there’s no leaving that behind.
So what would I say to my eighteen year old self?
Follow your heart without question. Find your tribe. Always hold space for the things you never see coming.
And let love be the answer to all of life’s questions… even the really, really hard ones.
To California, thank you for being everything I never knew I needed. To my army of friends, chosen family, and fellow artists that I met on this road less traveled, thank you for continuing to show me the way. To my clients and to all of the talented people I’ve been so lucky to work with, thank you for trusting me with your story and for being a part of my own. To Paige Green, who gave me the chance of a lifetime, thank you so much for so beautifully documenting this transition and for always showing me all the strength I cannot see. And to Chris, thank you from the very bottom of my heart for loving me beyond what I think I deserve. You are such a good man, and I cannot wait for this new adventure with you.
This is not the end of anything… but the beginning of the next right thing.
Whoever you are, wherever you are… don’t be a stranger.