The weather changed for our final week in LA. There was a chill in the air; the blue and cloudless skies of the previous week turned grey and the balmy evenings of late were no more. Halloween decorations still bedecked the houses of suburban streets; once plump pumpkins had lost their swell, cobwebs – formerly luminescent in their size and colour – had now turned stringy. While for some, fall feels like the beginning of something new; for me its onset – and with it the arrival of rainy mornings and grey skies – very much signified the end of our American adventure.
I suppose, in hindsight, America was never going to live up to my expectations. I grew up on a diet of teenage American literature (much to my parents’ collective horror); devouring it in droves. Point Horrors; Sweet Valley Highs, tales of The Babysitter’s Club; dog-eared books by Judy Blume a constant companion as a young adolescent. In my own head I created an idyllic landscape for this country I knew so little about; one of streamers and suburban bliss and shopping malls. Where everyone lived in clapboard houses with white picket fences and verandas and life was more sophisticated than I could ever imagine it being in the small market town I grew up in in Sussex.
And so, when I arrived for a three month stint in LA; a sprawling Southern California city and the centre of the nation’s film and television industry and a place so synonymous with the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood, I already had an ocean of pre conceived notions of what it would be like. I thought I’d be surrounded by the bronzed and the beautiful; the honed and the toned, the rich and the famous and the esteemed and the elite. I thought I would find my feet as easily as I had done in Sydney, that life would be effortless and trouble free, and that I’d return to Sydney refreshed and revitalised after three months away from home.
What I didn’t imagine was thus: that I would struggle to make friends; that my unemployment would be a constant burden; that I would find life hard in a way I hadn’t before. That I would find the city’s vastness and homelessness a daily difficulty over which I had no control. That I would begin to question where home was – if indeed anywhere at all – and that I would be faced with yet more difficult decisions, culminating in my booking a one way ticket to London. I didn’t think I would suffer from twice the homesickness; my longing for the UK as strong as my desire to be back in Sydney, and I didn’t think I’d find life so lonely.
Despite the challenges, however, much good has come from my time here. I have loved living with my boyfriend and seeing him pursue his life-long dream. I’ve loved the bookstores I’ve found and the ample books I’ve read that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve loved the hikes and the Hollywood sign and the crazy characters I’ve seen on the metro. I’ve loved the life and the buzz that seeps from every pore of the city, where dreams do come true for the fortunate few. I’ve loved nights at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and the sticky Pad Thais at the cheap Thai restaurant we stumbled across on Sunset Boulevard. Our endless Uber trips and the stories the drivers have told. Our two trips to Laguna Beach; both have been magical and made of memories that will last forever.
I’ve learnt about the spell of smoke and mirrors, and how nothing is ever as it seems – whether a movie or an Instagram post or a heavily filtered photo. I’ve been taught empathy on a scale that I’d never known before – in a city so rife with homelessness and hardship, it would be impossible to leave without realising one’s fortune. And so, as we come to the end of our American adventure, I leave LA counting my blessings – of which there are many; and I suppose that is often the most valuable lesson of all.