Here I sit, on the front steps of our AirBnB in LA.
The first temporary residence I’ve stayed at in this city in 13 years. In this city I called home for 13 years. Down the street from the first house I ever bought. Just six months ago, I considered myself a bonafide Angeleno and now, I’m a visitor again.
This quiet moment on these steps, before my toddler and husband wake, give me the first moments I’ve had since we arrived nearly a week ago to sit with that realization. As I reflect on the feelings it brings up while I sit in the cool, but never too cool air, in this quiet, but never too quiet city, I realize I’m sad. But not too sad. Not the kind of sad to make me rethink my decision to leave.
You see, the sadness I feel isn’t sadness because I miss the familiarity of the weather or my old neighborhood or even my friends. Though sometimes, of course, I do. The sadness that’s been creeping up my spine and back into my bones as I’ve driven around for the past five days comes from the familiarity of something I don’t miss at all. That heavy, overwhelming, panic-inducing feeling that lived with me in LA for all those years. The feeling of being transient – not the adjective, the noun. Being transient wasn’t part of my experience in LA, it was the part of my identity there that overrode everything else. Over those 13 years, I was a young woman, an actor, a substance-loving friend, then a wife, a mother and an aspiring entrepreneur, but always, always I was transient. I, much like many who live here, was someone desperately trying to prove I was worth of existing in this highly-coveted corner of the world.
I lived in this city for a long time and started to consider it “home” at some point six or seven years in, when my hometown of Toronto started to feel less familiar to me than LA. I continued to solidify that title when I bought a house and started a family here, but I never felt at home. I never felt like I’d found my place. I woke up every day seeking instead of being; I was seeking something that would make me feel good enough to be.
What did I seek? The same things I can feel everyone else around me seeking this week. Success. Status. Recognition. Money. And ultimately, validation.
Validation that I was worthy of taking up space in this vast city. The transient people who choose to stay here can deny that’s what they’re chasing all they want. They always do. Perhaps because it’s embarrassing or shameful to admit something that, on paper, sounds so superficial. Instead, they refer to what keeps them stuck there as “dreams”, but I know. I know what those “dreams” are really made of, because I had them, too. And after stepping away, I can tell you those things aren’t things we humans truly dream of. Our hearts aren’t filled by those things. I know this because for a period of time here, I had them and I was empty. Back then, I was sad. Too sad. Deeply sad. But, also too alone to realize that sadness wasn’t something I had to endure. Too young to realize that the loneliness that left me on my own with those feelings wasn’t either. Too lost to realize that sadness wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough or successful enough to exist.
It was actually just my very human heart screaming to me that the environment I had put it in wasn’t a place for hungry human hearts to be full.
Los Angeles has a skewed perception of hunger. It has nothing to do with food, as you can clearly see from the slim, toned bodies running after their “dreams” all around you. It has nothing to do with love and companionship as you can see from the industry that require you to drop everything and everyone in your life at a moment’s notice for months of 15 hour work days on end. It has nothing to do with happiness, because recognition of strangers and colleagues and more money than you can spend in the bank doesn’t hold the same presence at the foot of your bed on those final days that family and loved ones and memories do. However, when you’re working and achieving and making the “dreams” LA tells you to chase come true, it doesn’t often leave space for family and true love and memories to be made.
My sadness today, as I sit on these steps, comes from my full heart breaking a little for myself, because I felt like I needed to stay here for so long. Because I believed that if I left, it’d mean I gave up on my dreams and in a way, I did. I gave up on the “dreams” that brought me to LA, but I also realized they weren’t my dreams anymore. They belonged to the 10-year-old who wanted to push everyone out of the way and take center stage at her dance recital. I lost her in the shuffle of LA transients a long time ago. What I found in her place was a woman who yearned for comfort, security, giving and receiving love, sharing compassion and thoughtful consideration and to be the kind of woman her children felt safe with and look up to. I couldn’t fully become her until I stepped our of the sea of “dream” chasers that I’m momentarily being tossed back into the current with once again. Only this time, I’m not swimming or treading feverishly to keep my head above water or worse yet, slowly drowning alongside them.
I’m floating in a raft calmly on the surface and want to swiftly pull as many of their desperate souls aboard with me to give them some deserved relief. But, I can’t. Only they can choose to save their soul before this city takes it. Only they can come to the realization that the relief they seek and deserve isn’t treasure hidden somewhere in this deep sea of “dreams”.
Since leaving LA, I’ve started to get comfortable in this woman’s shoes. I finally feel like I fit in them just right. I feel at home. It’s like I found a place that allows space for my hungry heart to be full. And this time, it has nothing to do with the city I live in. I think we will move on eventually and live in different cities in our lives and I will continue to grow and learn and find more pieces of myself as we go. This trip has been productive and wonderful and nostalgic, but it’s also affirmed that we will not come back to live in this one. I could never choose to become lost in the sea of “La La Land” again. It feels too damn good to finally be found.
Shenae Grimes-Beech is an actor and YouTuber with a highly engaged community of like-minded women who are here to stand up for what they believe in and lean into discomfort, especially when it means doing the right thing.