Live from the Golden Coast, Part 7: The California Dream

Writing this a few weeks since attending the wedding I was packing for at the end of “Part 6,” here is what I remember about that weekend — falling asleep on the train ride down to New York, witnessing a disgruntled customer asking for a manager at an empty outpost of Roast Kitchen, waiting in line at midnight at Milk Bar for gluten-free birthday cake truffles with my mom and boyfriend after the wedding, seeing my friend, The Doctor, for coffee on the Sunday afternoon, and decompressing on the train ride back to Boston by beginning to watch “The Haunting of Hill House” and calling my friend The Lawyer in Chicago. I do not remember much of the wedding-associated weekend activities. Although they were beautiful and eminently “Instagrammable,” they were relatively uneventful.

When describing the black-tie family wedding I would be attending to friends of mine, I had been describing my expectation of a “Big, Fat, [Manhattan Jewish] Wedding,” with plenty of pomp and drama in the middle of Central Park. Truthfully, the most scandalous piece of the entire weekend was not being able to get into the venue for family pictures before the ceremony. I think there might have been some other crumb of drama at the family brunch on Sunday or sometime during the day on Friday, but I didn’t hear any details of it. Maybe everyone was on their best behavior or just happy I was attending this wedding at all (given that they all knew I had just gotten back from California and, with the exception of my aunt, who lives in St. Louis, and one of my cousins, who lives in Tampa, I had traveled farther than any immediate family member to attend this wedding), but none of the elders in my family gave me hell for the fact that my +1 wasn’t a Jewish doctor or lawyer who graduated from Harvard or some other approximation of “nice Jewish boy” they’d dream up for me.

While all the things I’ve just written about are moments that were a part of that weekend, I wouldn’t say that any of them were moments that defined that weekend, because a year from now, had I not written down any of the above, I would struggle to remember more than two of the items I just mentioned.

In the last few years, November has become a month defined by one or two visceral, emotional moments.

In 2016, there were two moments: The first was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when my relationship at the time was ended with the swiftness and mess of a rusty guillotine, the conversation beginning with a glass of Jameson, a card of affirmations, and a piece of artwork on the wall stating “Always believe something wonderful is about to happen” when one of the worst things in my world was about to happen. The second moment was the Monday morning after that Sunday night. After a sleepless, brokenhearted night, drying my tears in the darkness by Back Bay Station, I walked into the Copley Place Mall, trying to put aside my anguish and remain focused for the biggest Cyber Monday yet at Wayfair.

In 2017, there were two more moments: The first was going to a jiu-jitsu class the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving and nearly missing my train to New London, CT that would lead to my boarding a ferry to Long Island for our first family Thanksgiving outside of New Jersey in my entire life. My nose was bruised from the session at the gym, and though I felt a shred of pride at the evidence of toughness I didn’t have a year ago, I spent the ferry ride attempting to conceal it with makeup to prevent the interrogations and judgments of family members (ultimately, to no avail, because it was bad makeup). The second was choosing to spend the Sunday after Thanksgiving doing something that would completely take my mind off of the events that had unfolded exactly one year ago: with some friends, I attended a firearms safety course and learned how to shoot (albeit poorly).

In 2018, there were two moments that defined the month. The first was the pure, unfettered happiness of my first morning in West Hollywood in “Part 1,” eating breakfast at Blu Jam Cafe and going to boxing. The second is this one from the weekend of the wedding.

It was around 5PM on Sunday, November 18, and we were sitting in the lobby of the Loews Regency on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We were too tired after yesterday’s travels and wedding festivities and it was too cold to venture out for an early-evening adventure in New York City (not to mention, too cumbersome to lug our bags anywhere but to Penn Station). So, with two hours to kill before we headed in the direction of our train, we sat on the plush, monochomatic couches in the lounge area, plugged our phones into the outlets to charge them for a while, and got to talking.

“How are you?” my boyfriend asked, true to form, as he does multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times in a two-minute period if he detects that I am dodging the question.

I don’t remember what I said in response, but it wasn’t good. I wasn’t good. And I don’t remember exactly what he said in response to my response, but it was something I’ll synthesize like this:

“Erica, you can’t keep living in this place of in-between. Your indecision is the source of your depression — you’re driving yourself crazy with your own uncertainty. If you state, out loud, what it is you want, you might find some peace. So what do you want?”

I paused as if needing to think about it, but knowing that I didn’t need another second to think about it.

“I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“All right. Be more specific.”
“I don’t want to be in Boston anymore.”
“Okay, then where do you want to be?”
“Even if it’s only for a little while, I want to be in Los Angeles.”

And then I collapsed into sobs, burying my face in one of the grey velveteen pillows on the couch and clutching his thigh.

In the same way that I think of the moments of November 2016 as ones of heartbreak and the moments of November 2017 as ones of toughening up and shooting holes in the memories of heartbreak, I’ll think of the ones from November 2018 as ones of finding happiness and being honest with myself about what it will take to find it again.

The plan to leave Boston has changed somewhat since I stated, out loud, that I want to leave the city for some period of time, but it’s not an imaginary thing or a secret thing I keep to myself anymore. It’s not some brief possession or obsession after a beautiful day or two in Los Angeles. It was never an impulsive thing, since my love affair with the city is over three years old at this point, and every visit makes the place harder for me to leave. It doesn’t have to be long, the stint in LA, but I believe to my soul that it has to happen, or I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting never having the courage to do it.

If it doesn’t happen in the next year or two, it’s because there are a few factors to consider. On the professional front, the big thing I need to figure out is whether I want to stay in product management — if the answer to that is ‘no,’ I could be living the California dream but still be miserable because I’m in the wrong field. On the personal front, my dad has been seriously (physically) ill for the last year and it’s easier to hop on a five-hour train ride or car ride to New Jersey than it is to hop on a six-hour flight. Then there’s always the question of life and the things that might happen to get in the way of this plan of mine or to hasten it and move it forward.

Regardless, that Sunday, I spoke the truth. I drew a line in the sand and began to make a flexible plan for how I could find myself in California sooner rather than later.

That moment in the hotel lobby was a moment I’ll hold onto as one of the turning points and defining moments of the entire year — where I was rigorously honest and took real ownership of where I wanted to be and what it would take to make me happy.

It’s a moment I’m holding onto now more than ever. Boston winter is here, and with it, the freezing of ambition and the heavy, warm blanket of complacency that keeps you stuck in one place and clinging to things that are safe and familiar. Meanwhile, I’m putting on my coat, heading out into the unrelenting cold, and nurturing the spark of happiness that I found on the Golden Coast until I get out there again. At worst, I’ll be simply keeping the little fire alive. At best, I’ll find some kerosene to really light it up.

The Instagram story from a jiu-jitsu fighter I follow that reminds me to not wait long on the California dream

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Quitter of the corporate grind in favor of the open road, a writing career, and a whole lot of jiu-jitsu. Currently writing from San Diego.

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Erica Zendell

Quitter of the corporate grind in favor of the open road, a writing career, and a whole lot of jiu-jitsu. Currently writing from San Diego.