In the spirit of the holidays I had my friend Eli over last night for cookies, studying and a chance to catch up. Funny how 5 hours flies by when you’re in good company.
Aside from the inevitable cookie mocking (my snowflakes always look like starfish and snowman heads are apt to fall off), we spent a good bit of time talking about what’s next. Eli graduates college tomorrow (!) and it got me thinking about this month, five years ago, when I left my apartment in Virginia and drove through sleet and rain and snow back to California.
5 years ago. Wow. So much has happened.
Moving to Yolo
Five months after I got home to California I moved again, this time to my current city where I had agreed to take care of my grandparents in exchange for living expenses. I also worked a full time (and sometimes part time) job, volunteered and managed the house.
See, my Grandma was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2006, when I moved in, there was a lot of things she could no longer do. Laundry. Cooking. Driving. And while my Grandpa was in okay health and still mowing the lawn twice a week, he would quickly begin to lose his balance and fall. Add to that the fact he had not spoken much in the 20 years since he had a stroke and I was up to my eyeballs in stress.
Normal was the watchword. We wanted their lives to be as normal as possible, sleeping in the same house, eating the same foods, seeing the same friends.
Somewhere in that time Kelly got lost.
Friends & Driving
If you’ve ever moved to a place where you knew no friends, how did that go? Did you stay in touch with the old ones and cultivate new? I found that 99% of the people I thought were my friends never made an effort to speak with me again. Even in the age of facebook. These are people I’d known for a decade and most of them could not be bothered (in five years time) to email, call, instant message, smoke signal or social media message me under any circumstance.
Wow. Moving out of town put my friendships in a new light. As a result I spent even more time with my family, my grandparents, at work.
In those days, and even to this day, my Grandpa could navigate the back roads in the rural country surrounding this town without a map. While he won’t speak, he’ll point and navigate the driver whether you’re just going for a drive or to find a walnut grove. In those days we’d go for a drive and I, raised in the Bay Area, would zip and speed and rush along, because driving was to get you from point A to point B in the least time possible.
Grandma would admonish me to “slow down” as she looked out the window at a jack rabbit in a field or the leaves that were slowly changing hue. One time she commented sadly about a farmer leaving all his tools out to rust. They were, of course, huge pieces of farm equipment in a staging yard but it gave me and Grandpa a laugh.
In 2007 Grandma went into the hospital and her disease took a new turn. Together with her doctor we determined she would now need full time care that I could not provide. That weekend with the help of my mom and her best friend, we moved Grandma into Assisted Living. Grandpa would be joining her a few days later so that first night I slept in the home with her. Held her hand as she fell asleep, comforted her when she woke up.
Breaking Family Ties
Time went on and we began necessary repairs on the house that Grandma had put off for years. During this time I paid rent/living expenses and sorted 30 years worth of household items and memories for the family. A little over a year later my landlord (a family member) and I had a major disagreement. He thought (at that point) that I should continue to go to the doctor visits taking sick leave from work, host visiting family with often no notice and be “on call” for my grandparents AND pay three times the rent I was paying to stay in their home.
I had no way to pay that amount so my options were to fight him or move out. I can admit now, I was hurt. Upset. Felt like I had poured two years of my life out for my family and then been tossed to the side. (even now it hurts to relive what happened)
So in 2008 I bought the half-plex where I currently live (a joint investment with my parents) and struck out to make this “home.” It was not an easy process, one filled with floods and paint escapades and a pit of mud. But this December with the sparkly Christmas tree lights and homemade decorative pillows and cookies that look like sea creatures, it does feel like home.
Which brings me full circle to chatting with Eli last night.
Where do I go from here?
One of the programs I support for my client is called the Money Map and it’s core idea is to determine the lifestyle you want, the business you have and the money you need to earn to make your lifestyle possible.
The problem, I explained to Eli, was that my future is so fuzzy. I can see myself living very nomadically, traveling and writing and working in a very leveraged way AND I can envision my life as described in my perfect day, a house outside of town, involved in a community and somewhat more stable.
Tonight I was driving home from dinner and decided to take a detour. Not unusual for me. I love driving at night and seeing where the road takes me. Tonight I only really wanted to drive further away from my city. I wanted to pull into a long driveway lined with trees and surrounded by the pitch blackness of a December night with no cloud cover and few lights.
Up to this point where I’ve lived has been reactionary. I went to the college I wanted to attend but got shuffled around in the dorms a half dozen times. I took an apartment off campus for my last semester because the price was cheap and the location wasn’t terrible. I moved in with my Grandparents because I felt I needed to be there. I bought into this half-plex because the location was decent, the price was right and I don’t like apartments.
I’ve never intentionally sat with myself, my goals, my desires and chosen, from that space, where I want to live. It’s one of the fundamental things of life to me, what you’re spending your time on and where you are in the world. I’ve gotten better at setting my path in relation to work and intentionally crafting my career – but not my locale.
A lot has changed for me, and in me, in the five years since I left college. Being at a university, and specifically on the debate team, taught me to stand up and challenge the status quo while understanding that no one is going to look out for my interests like me. Sure, people care but they do not have the invested interest that I do and I have to stand up for myself.
Leaving college has been an exercise in experiencing that truth. That my family can care until they don’t think the time I give is important. A company that doesn’t value my input or results. Friends who are not. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m committed to making conscious choices toward living the life I want instead of simply reacting to the circumstances around me.
[Note: for some reason WordPress hated me and wouldn’t let me link/add pictures so I posted this in December without pics knowing if I didn’t post then I never would.]