Early yesterday morning, I took my sons for drive-through hot chocolate. Rather than heading straight home afterward, I drove surface streets for a few minutes before hopping on the freeway.
Even for a Friday morning in pandemic times, traffic was unbelievably light. For a few miles, then, we got to do one of my favorite things in the world: unhindered by bumper-to-bumper traffic, fly down the freeway in SoCal sunlight.
My heart soared, despite the outward mundanity of the act.
I grinned as I told my kids how much I loved the feeling. I’d only just voiced curiosity about the source of this feeling when I found my answer, which I shared with my kids.
When I first moved to Los Angeles almost exactly nineteen years ago, I came on a Greyhound bus. I brought a single overstuffed suitcase, a Walkman, and a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand—the latter of which represented the most entertainment bang for my very, very limited buck.
A friend from online forums met me at the Los Angeles Greyhound depot. She took me for lunch before dropping me off at my new home: the large walk-in closet of a stranger’s one-bedroom apartment. At $300/month, the price—if not the space itself—was unbeatable.
I still wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for law school. While government loans covered most of the direct expenses, there was still a lot I didn’t know how I’d cover.
Before classes started, then, I walked down to the branch library nearest my
apartment closet daily, anxiously logging in to the library computers there to see if the meager private loan for which I’d been approved had been deposited yet. I was exultant when it did, even though I knew that government loans, that private loan, and a minimum wage job still wouldn’t cut it.
For my first few weeks of law school, I’d either take the city bus or walk the half-hour or so to classes. Then, finding my own bedroom for $380/month only a fifteen-minute walk from school (!), I seized it.
Soon enough, I’d learn that the incomparable dollar-cheapness of the room came at non-dollar costs. A couple of times, I found the apartment’s official tenant poking around in my closet, and once caught him peeking in on me while I changed clothing one day.
Afterward, I took to dressing in my closet in the dark. Still, I was determined to keep that “cheap” room … until my roommate expressed jubilation at having learned, from a TV show, some brilliant methods to kidnap people in public, in broad daylight.
I then asked to change my locks. He said that was fine, provided I gave him a copy of the key. I said I’d happily give him a copy after I moved out, following which he said our arrangement wasn’t working and I’d need to find a new place.
With the help of my friends and their cars, I moved first to one and then another near-campus apartment short term before eventually spending the rest of my law school days in an off-campus apartment. I took the bus to and from that apartment daily, studying on the bus the best I could given forever-present financial anxieties.
When I finally got a driver’s license, it was only because I discovered my post-law school job teaching English in Japan would, indeed, require me to drive. Despite my care to apply to only those jobs that didn’t explicitly require a license, I’d have to get one within a one-week period.
I did earn a driver’s license before leaving Los Angeles; never expecting to return to it,
I left it (just barely) knowing how to drive.
Early in 2008, I moved back to Los Angeles.
In the wee, dark hours of the morning, I prepared to drive away from my best friends’ hometown home.
As I pulled out of their driveway to begin my 900-mile drive south, Nick held up my dog and made him wave to me. As I watched friends and dogs grow smaller in my rearview mirror, I was devastated to be leaving, but also ecstatic to be going toward something new and then unknown.
I began my drive to the Scrubs soundtrack. Somehow, more than almost anything else, this one TV show—central to my last post—had helped change my understanding of how much was possible.
As I drove, I contemplated how wildly different was my life then from anything 2001 me could ever have dreamed:
I’d sobbed when I got my 2006 offer letter for a salaried position. I’d have a salary! I’d have health care! I’d be able to pay my bills, including my credit card ones, every month, and have money left over! My life would be something other than, like my mom before me, forever fretting about how I’d cover the next bill!
I learned, thanks to my boyfriend at the time, to budget. I paid down my private school loans as fast as I could, and began paying for more and more of my expenses not on credit but out of my checking account.
Over the course of a year and a half, I reflected as I drove toward my old/new home, I’d built a different kind of life than I’d really understood was possible when I left Los Angeles in 2004.
I was driving my own (new!) car to a new life in Los Angeles—
to a life so much better than anything I’d really
believed possible when I first left it.
Driving to a job interview one of my first mornings back in Los Angeles, I put in the Scrubs soundtrack. I choked up almost instantly; I was literally driving—no, flying, since there was surprisingly little traffic—down the 405 when I heard the first words of the first song, “Superman”:
Out the door just in time
Head down the 405
Gotta meet the new boss by 8 A.M.
Anything was possible. I just knew it.
Yesterday morning, cruising down the 405 with two beautiful people who didn’t exist when I first listened to “Superman,” in my own car, in Los Angeles, I knew exactly why I was so happy:
For that moment, I was experiencing what Elizabeth Stanley describes as “dual awareness.” I was simultaneously aware of the present and the past;
I was, momentarily, living in both. Except, unlike when I usually do so under guidance from Stanley’s Widen the Window, my dual awareness didn’t involve coupling trauma-then with safety-in-this-exact-moment.
Instead, I experienced a dual awareness that involved joy at all the possibility 2008-me believed was open
and exultation at the reality of experiencing, that 2020 moment, the simple, overwhelming
beauty of living in a hard, hard world that is nevertheless full of such grace:
driving down the 405, lit both by the sun and the presence of two
little boys, both with hot chocolate covered faces and
the laughter-filled awareness that anything, always,