To My Cities, With Love

Time and people may change, but space can give the most ephemeral of fugitives a place to settle, even if for a bit. Falling in love doesn’t have to look like a typical boy-meets-girl narrative; sometimes it can take the shape of girl-meets-city.

From 1996 to 2014, the mid-sized town of Bakersfield was all I knew. I could recognize the mountains edging the 99 Freeway even in the densest of valley fogs or the curves of the Kern River, even when the summer drought took its hardest toll. And I could mentally map out the vintage stores, old theaters, renovated tattoo shops, and homestyle diners that dotted my gridlock downtown. Say what you want about the Central Valley — and more likely than not, I’d agree — but for 18 years, this little city was my home and heart.

Come September 2014, a few clouds hovering over the Pacific began to reestablish my home and heart. In the sunshine that lingers into the middle of February and sand that would always be there if I needed it, it became easier to leave what I knew existed only four hours away. San Diego might be a tourist destination for some, but I was determined to make it my own for the four years it promised me.

Though, temptations can come too. For a week, Portland beckoned me away from the sun with its rain. It was inviting — hospitable through every cup of coffee and whimsical in every quirk of its residents, books, trees and transit lines. Temptations also come with lessons. A trip to San Francisco reminded me why I loved San Diego instead. In the hurriedness and innovation of the North California skyline, I learned to be grateful for the slowness San Diego offered.

But halfway through San Diego’s promised four years, I learned to love another city. 102 miles of freeway were daunting at first, but like anything else, the more it’s travelled, the more comfortable it gets. Two hours north — on a good traffic day — sits Los Angeles in a halo of smog and veganism. LA’s a paradox in every way, with characters and stories that don’t go together crowded into different neighborhoods and parks, museums, and cafes. It’s for artists and creators, movers and leaders, and in my slow, San Diego, student lifestyle, I wasn’t necessarily any of those things. But a summer spent in this city taught me how the unconventional comes together, how there is brokenness and beauty etched into every sidewalk, and how even if I wasn’t typically LA in any way, there could be home for me there too.

All that to say, a lot of things happen in our college years. We grow, we fall, we learn, we change. But the cities we take from and give to can stay constant in the volatile, temporary nature of our twenties. In this modern love of ours, we’re conditioned to love what is temporary, so perhaps the spaces around us know how to hold our hearts best. As we learn to better love others and ourselves, may we look to the spaces around us for a bit of reassurance that though things come and go, there are places we can call home, even if for a little while.