I’ve been in California for one year (and one week…it took me a lot longer to write this than I planned.)
Last summer I decided I wanted to move to California. It had been 2 years since I graduated college with a degree in a field I no longer wanted to pursue, I was still living at home, and the monotony of my post-college life was making me depressed. I needed a major change in my life, I thought, or I would lose my mind. The decision to move to San José was, admittedly, not my most thought out plan ever. I decided it would be a good idea because my grandma lives out here and I figured I could live with her for a little while as I looked for a job to get me on my feet. I didn’t consider a myriad of things, ranging from I had no idea what California was like, I would be moving to a state where I knew no one else and would have no friends, I would be dipping into my savings account to sustain myself without a job, and the Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live in this country. I don’t really have an excuse for why I didn’t think this plan all the way through; one would think a plan involving the complete uprooting and refocusing of one’s life would result in at least some semblance of planning. 23 year old me is proof of the complete opposite.
My tentative plan had two parts to it. Part 1 was to move. Part 2 was to look for and find a job. The bonus part to my plan was to get an amazing job that I love and live happily ever after, but I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself. There were no further details to my plan. I figured it would be easy; my resume is awesome, I have lots of work experience, and having worked on President Obama’s campaign in 2012, I was the perfect fit for some super cool nerdy start up in Silicon Valley. Or, at least I thought I was.
I drove to San José with my mom and my sister. The drive took 3 days and it was exhausting. Being in a car for more than 2 hours at a time is unbearable to me, and even with a playlist of my favorite songs and the company of my family, it was hard. I thought a cross country road trip would be an exhilarating experience, but it proved to be anxiety inducing and stressful; the destination seemed so out of reach. And in the grand scheme of things 3 days isn’t that long, but the hours upon hours upon hours in the car passing repetitive scenery was difficult.
Our last day on the road we went to Disneyland because of course we did; we were in California after 2 days of a mind-numbing road trip and we rewarded ourselves. I distinctly remember Magic Kingdom being full of Pokémon in the then-newly released Pokémon Go and how hard the gym leader at the Haunted Mansion ride was. Everything was awesome and we spent way more time and money there than we planned, but it was a joyful break from the past couple days. Getting up to San José was the exact opposite; we left Disney a bit late then drove up the coast in the dark through narrow, winding roads that seemed to drag on forever. It was my first taste driving in the mountainous terrain I would soon come to live in, and it was terrifying. I was too scared to speak or move or breathe, clutching the steering wheel so hard it made my hands cramp. My mom broke the silence, offering to switch so she could drive, but I was too scared to pull over on the highway at that point; I had to brave the rest of the trip myself. According to twitter, we reached my grandmothers house at 11:58pm, and we went to bed immediately. Tomorrow would begin a new day, a new life in a new state.
My grandma’s house was different than I remembered it. Growing up, my family would fly from New York or Texas to visit my grandparents, and all I knew of San José was this house, the plum trees in the backyard, the stories my dad and uncle told about growing up here, playing chess with my grandpa, the pool in the backyard, and the Winchester Mystery House. The last time I’d been in the house was for my grandpa’s funeral, and I can’t even remember the last time I’d been before that. All I knew now was things were much different; my grandma had a new husband who had a dog I didn’t like, which was astounding to me because I like all dogs. The first few days in this new house I’d been to all my life were strange, and once my mom and sister left and I was truly on my own, it got even stranger. This was real now, I was really in California with no job and no plan aside from applying for as many jobs as possible. My family was no longer with me and while I still had a safety net in case it all went belly up, it was in this strange new version of a home I knew as a kid but didn’t know any longer.
The first few days of living in California by myself were uncomfortable. Nowhere felt like “home” and I didn’t know where anything was. I didn’t know anything about San José, I slowly realized. I didn’t know if you could make right on red here or the names of common grocery stores. The first time someone mentioned Safeway to me, I nodded and pretended I knew what they were talking about because I didn’t want to feel even more out of place. After driving halfway across the country, I figured my car could use a break so I decided to walk pretty much everywhere. I found the library closest to the house and would walk there everyday to apply for jobs. I discovered the mall with a Target inside of it, which I knew would eventually suck up a huge portion of my free time. I lived walking distance from the light rail, and after discovering the local secret that you have to purchase a metro card at a Walgreens and not the actual station (which still makes no sense), I found myself traveling even further around San José, just to try and familiarize myself with the area.
One thing I didn’t consider when I moved was the fact that I had no friends. That didn’t start to hit me until about a month in when the uncomfortable feeling was coupled with loneliness. I had nobody to talk to. Things like Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram kept me informed on what was going on in my friends lives, but I was so far away from all of them now. I could text my friends and would sometimes even FaceTime them, but there’s just something missing when you lack physical human interaction. The only people I spoke to in real life were my grandma and her husband at dinner every night and when we watched whatever tv show they were currently binging. They weren’t terrible conversationalists, but the age gap made for plenty an awkward silence or miscommunication. The two drink a lot more than I do, which I could immediately tell was going to make things awkward. I’m not one to judge someone else’s drinking habits, but theirs were just way out of my league, and I began dreading post-meal tv time because it meant deeper foray into drunkenness. I took to tinder because I was in desperate need for someone my age to talk to, and figured I might as well try it. It took a while to get there, but I was able to meet a few people and even make friends.
As summer drifted into fall, my job prospects seemed to dwindle. I wasn’t even getting so much as an interview, just automated “we’ve decided to go with another candidate” emails that chipped away at my self-esteem one by one. It was easy to get discouraged and do nothing all day; lazing around the house was simple because I was usually the only one there and was quickly losing motivation. I tried writing everyday; giving myself daily goals to write at least something once every day so as to break up the tedium that comes with being a loser who’s looking for work. The fall 2016 months of this blog are full of ramblings and stray thoughts and the magnification of things that happened to me; I had to capitalize on what little material I had since my life was so unbelievably boring.
September and October went by in a blur. I broke my glasses. I spent most of my time at the library. I applied for what seemed like hundreds of jobs I didn’t get. I wrote a lot more than I do now. I started driving for DoorDash because I was running dangerously low on money.
In October I drove to LA to visit a friend from whom I got the idea to move to California on a whim and live with a relative until a job came up. I was in shock at how successful his life was and how easily he seemed to be navigating adulthood; a stable, well-paying job, a beautiful studio apartment, a cute boyfriend. He was living the dream I was doing such a good job at failing to strive for.
Halloween of 2016 was the lead up to the worst time I’ve had in this new state. It started out fine, I went to a Halloween party in Santa Cruz with my one new friend and the next morning we were going to drive to LA for a convention featuring actors from Grey’s Anatomy. We had tasty snacks and played fun games and the party was a fun time. When I went out to my car however, my backpack with all my stuff for my trip, including my laptop, was gone. I looked everywhere in the car, the back, the trunk, back in my friend’s house. I called my grandma and asked if I left it there, and she said no. All of my stuff was gone. I’d lived here three months and was already robbed.
Being carjacked was extremely triggering for me. As I’ve touched on a few times in this blog, I’ve gone through a robbery that messed me up pretty bad, and having such a similar thing happen again took me out. I went through the next couple of days in a daze (ha), just kind of floating through while not really being all there. Everything I needed was on that laptop, and even though I had another one like some sort of laptop-obsessed freak, my spare was mainly for games and I didn’t have any important backups there. On November 7th, I lost my entire mind and checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. I was in the middle of having a mental breakdown and was pretty sure I was about to hurt myself, so I texted my sister, googled the nearest psych ward and checked in before I did something stupid.
I’ve been in the emergency room twice before for suicide watch, but this was a completely different ballgame. They took all my stuff and kept me and the 50 other patients in a tiny, disgusting space with these weird recliners as beds. I wasn’t allowed my phone, of course, and I had to take the string out of the hood in my hoodie in case I tried to use it to hang myself, or something. I got a phone call from my parents the next morning who were both crying on the phone. After a few hours in the ward, I was ready to go home. I often get these random flashes of extreme depression where I want to end it all right then and there, but I think being in such a terrifying and gross environment scared me out of it. I was in the hospital for 2 days before I was able to speak with a psychiatrist and I tried my damndest to act mentally fit to be released because, first of all, I didn’t want to lose my streak on a game on my phone, and secondly, I wanted to make sure I voted on Election Day to ensure Donald Trump didn’t win (cue “lol he won, send me back to the psych ward” joke).
*For the record, I’m ok now. I have a psychiatrist and a therapist who do a good job of making sure of it.*
For Thanksgiving, I went to Sacramento to spend the holiday with my friends because I was still in a place that didn’t feel like home and I deeply craved familiarity. We had a very non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which didn’t really help with the longing feelings, but it was nice to be around people I knew after months of solitude.
The end of the year was fast approaching and normal was spending one-third of my time at the library, one-third driving for DoorDash, and one-third at the house, wondering if I’d made a terrible mistake. I wasn’t nearly as depressed as I’d been after my laptop was stolen, but it wasn’t a good feeling either. I threw myself into volunteer work at the end of November because I needed something to do and people to talk to. I began volunteering at the San José African American Community Services Agency, where I taught kids how to code in their Saturday STEM program. I met a ton of cool people in a short amount of time, and was thrilled to finally have something to do. I also began volunteering at The Tech Museum, and quickly met a ton of cool people there too. I remember my first day there, I met an older Black couple who were also new volunteers and who I immediately decided would be my surrogate San José parents. After I think 3 weeks of volunteering there, I learned there was a job opening and I applied. Two days after interviewing I got the job.
After five months, I had a job. After being robbed, after a severe mental breakdown, after excavating my old life without a plan for a new one, my one singular goal had finally been achieved.
I cried when I got this job. Such a weird emotional wave washed over me as I sat in the parking lot of a Buffalo Wild Wings to pick up some food for stupid DoorDash. I can’t even explain the amount of relief I felt at not being a complete and total failure.
This job has been the best thing to happen to me since I moved to California. The highlight, other than the fact that they give me money so I don’t die, is the people at my job; my friends. The people I surround myself with five days a week are in the same frustrating position I am. We talk constantly about how lied to we felt after pursuing a college education like we were told our whole lives only to be spat out into the real world and discover all jobs require 10+ years of experience and internships that pay zero dollars an hour. We exchange grievances over surviving in this current climate and trade ideas on how to make it as a real life adult. We’re all in it together.
I’ve been working at The Tech for seven months, which means I’ve been there half of the time I’ve been in California. Even though I complain about my job (I’m seriously not being paid enough), I am thankful for it. I am thankful for the people there. I am thankful for the stable income. I am thankful for the boost in self-esteem it gave me, the message that I am not a total unemployable loser. I am thankful for the opportunity it gave me to stay in California for at least a little bit longer so I can figure out what the hell I’m even doing.
I could speak to all the specifics of working at The Tech, the beach trips, the dates, the concerts, the multiple times I moved, the amount of laptops I have now, the many times I’ve mispronounced “pho,” but I’m nearing 3000 words here. The last year (and one week) has been the most dynamic one of my entire life. So much happened in one year that it can’t be neatly nestled into one “good” or “bad” category. I am trying not to dwell on the past too much; I can’t change what happened, but I can remember it and use it to do better in the future. I wanted to recap the changes I’ve gone through since I got here for you, and for me. For you, my new and old friends, who may have wondered how my ridiculous, poorly planned life-altering excursion is going so far, and for me, to stay humble and remind myself that I’ve been through enough to know I can make it through just about anything.