The Great American Road Adventure: New Mexico

Michael and I set out for New Mexico late on a Saturday afternoon. Our intended destination in New Mexico was Santa Fe, but there was no possibility of reaching Santa Fe at a comfortable hour that night.

We were glad to get out of the stifling Arizona heat, but found that the temperature in New Mexico was much the same. The highway we traversed was one of the more bizarre ones that we came across while on our road trip. We passed multiple trucks that seemed to have the contents of the drivers’ entire lives compartmentalized in the backseats. When we got deep into the heart of New Mexico, we were often the only car in sight for a long way.

There were no sights to see along the New Mexico highway. Michael decided that we’d stop in a town called Las Cruces that night. It was still humid when we got out of the car at 8pm. Despite being a Saturday night, many of the town’s restaurants were closed by 8pm, which left us with only a couple of choices. The town could have been a setting for  a horror movie.

We opted to have dinner at an Italian restaurant called Forghedaboutit! and hoped that the food wouldn’t be entirely forgettable.

I had no idea what to expect when we walked inside. The servers at the restaurant were pleasant. A lot of the people in the restaurant were older than us. There were a couple of people inside wearing cowboy hats. The food, though edible, was by no means very good, and therefore lived up to its namesake.

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Las Cruces, New Mexico
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Italian food in New Mexico

After finishing dinner, we drove an additional 30 minutes and checked in at our hotel, La Quinta, which is part of a national hotel chain.

The next morning, we woke up and drove for a couple of hours to White Sands National Monument. Again, it was a terribly humid day, and we began sweating profusely as soon as we got out of the car.

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There was a $5 admission fee per vehicle into the area, which granted access for the day. White Sands National Monument was a vast, rolling expanse of white sand that stretched into the distance. There were many others in addition to us who’d ventured out to brave the heat, and were happily strolling in the surrounds. A woman passing by advised us to take our shoes off to walk on the sand, assuring us that it wasn’t hot at all.

We then abandoned our shoes on a sand mound, before traversing the sandy hills.

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After frolicking in the unearthly white sand, we continued driving to our destination, Santa Fe.

We stopped for lunch at a diner in Carrizozo, New Mexico, called Abuelita’s. Again, this looked like a place that didn’t see foreigners much. As we continued our foray deep into the heart of America, it started to become more and more clear to me that people here were unacquainted with cooking vegetables. It was becoming exceedingly difficult to find vegetarian options on restaurant menus, let alone a vegan option that wasn’t a poorly made salad.

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The waitress at Abuelita’s seemed unusually baffled when I ordered and said I wanted a vegetarian chili.

“Just beans?” She asked quizzically, perhaps wondering why anyone in the world would want to eat vegetarian chili.

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After our meal, Michael and I left Carrizozo to continue driving to Santa Fe. I spent the drive sleeping intermittently, and feeding Michael protein bars while he drove. We arrived in Santa Fe around 3pm on a Sunday, and were able to check into Eldorado Hotel immediately.

Eldorado was a noticeable upgrade from the La Quinta of the previous evening. Michael and I were both satisfied and relieved by this. After dropping our bags off and freshening up, we left the hotel in the late afternoon to explore.

My first impressions of Santa Fe were that it was a tiny city, made up of two main streets. The architecture consisted primarily of earthy tones, with a focus on clay being the main material. It was very befitting for a city in a state named ‘New Mexico’.

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The weather that afternoon was slightly more mild than in the lower part of New Mexico. It was still hot, but bearable enough to walk around outside for at least an hour. After walking around a little and viewing the city, we decided to have dinner at a rooftop lounge called Coyote Cafe & Cantina, which was a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

The rooftop bar was slightly busy when we came up. It was a marked change from the roadside stops we had made in small towns.

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View from the top of Coyote Cantina

The food here was also a marked improvement from that of Las Cruces, and Carrizozo.

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Corn cakes with grilled prawns in tangy gravy

I’d even go so far as to recommend visiting Coyote Cantina, if you ever find yourself in Santa Fe. After finishing our meal, Michael and I walked the streets a little more, and took a look at an art market that was just wrapping up in the late afternoon. In recent years, Santa Fe has become a hub for artists that are priced out of more historically art focused cities like New York, so art is plentiful here.

We had an early night after the long drive, but woke up early the next day to go to Meow Wolf, an interactive art exhibition that came as a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

From Eldorado Hotel, it was about a 15 minute to Meow Wolf. In the building’s carpark, was this art installation, which Michael said was largely similar to an installation from Burning Man. We purchased tickets in the building and proceeded inside. The space where Meow Wolf is, was renovated from a former bowling alley with support from George R.R. Martin.

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I can only describe Meow Wolf as a playground for adults. We followed a long passageway, with abstract scribblings on the wall, and found ourselves in a dark room, with a house inside.

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We entered the house through the front door, and found many oddities within, reminiscent of an 80s sci-fi or fantasy movie.

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From the house, there were inconspicuous ways to get into another large room that was larger than the house, and more colorfully decorated. In short, exiting the house was akin to leaving reality for a fantasy come to life.

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There were several outer rooms with different themes in each section. One of the sections contained white, textured walls that resembled an ice cave. Not wanting to miss anything, we navigated each doorway and hidden exit, making sure we had covered all of them before leaving. One of my favorites was going through the small, circular hole in the washing machine, to come out in the more eclectically themed room.

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As we explored the labyrinthine fun house, visitors were able to experiment with displays and games within the house, which resulted in sounds, music and lights emitting from the sensory play areas.

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Some of the rooms in the house had a 1980s feel, with retro posters plastered on the walls, and 80s music playing in the background.

We spent at least an hour and a half going around the house. Setting foot inside was like entering a fantasy playhouse, not unlike something you would find in Stranger Things.

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We left Meow Wolf feeling content with our day, and proceeded to Las Vegas, a small town in New Mexico, for lunch, before crossing the state line into Colorado.

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Replacements

When my first dog died, my grandfather bought me another one the week after. He taught me that things you loved could be replaced.

Growing up, I applied this concept to all the things I lost or broke- it didn’t matter if it was a camera, a sweater, or a boy. I treated my possessions carelessly; I wore things out, I lost them, I broke them. I knew there would always be new ones.

Sometimes, the replacements weren’t as good as the originals. I told myself it didn’t matter, as long as there was one, as long as there would be a shiny, new thing to take its place.

And so I went through life, loving things, losing them, replacing them. I began to think there was nothing in life that was irreplaceable. Then, something happened that surprised me.

Someone did to me what I’d been doing to everyone else. He was the first person in a long time who took me by surprise, who’d thrilled me,. I spent a long time trying to fill the gap he left. I looked for him in everyone I met. On and on the carousel of replacements kept turning.

There were others that seemed just like him on the surface. Equally intelligent, well-travelled, successful. For the first time though, the replacements couldn’t come anywhere near to being as good as the original. No one fit me as well as he did. That one didn’t smile the right way. There was just something about them that didn’t feel right, the way it did with him.

I treated people like they were interchangeable, and this way of thinking was destructive because I didn’t value anybody for their unique self. I didn’t know then, that each person is made up of tiny, intricate details that are meaningful to some and worthless to others. I came to realize that no one is really replaceable– but still on and on the carousel of replacements keeps turning.

How it felt running my first marathon

A couple of months after I’d started running regularly, I casually remarked to my mother that I was thinking of running a marathon. She turned around, and flatly remarked to me, “You can’t run a marathon”.

So I did.

I can now call myself a marathon runner, after running Philadelphia Marathon in November 2017. It was the hardest physical feat I’d done until that point, and taught me what it really meant to feel pain.

I first started running regularly in April 2016, after I got my first adult job. A bunch of people in the office used to go on lunch runs, and I said I’d join. Up until that point, I’d only jogged on and off, with half serious efforts, alternating walking with a slow run, stopping every time I got tired. That first day, as we were walking to the change rooms, one of the girls, Z, informed me that they usually ran at a pace of 6 minutes per km. Overly confident, I said I would be able to run at that pace.

Contrary to my beliefs, I was only okay for the first 10 minutes of the run. After that, I turned into a sweating, panting, red-faced mess. Most of the others soon outran me, while one of my coworkers, S, walked back to the office with me out of politeness. I had never felt so out of breath in my life. There was one last hill to overcome before getting back to the office, and S encouraged me to start running again and climb that last hurdle.

That was the beginning of my foray into running, and ultimately, physical exercise. I was the most unfit one in the group, but I persisted with weekly runs with the group a couple of times a week. Gradually, I was even running on my own, and slowly, I got better at running. Over several months, I developed the discipline to steadily run on my own without stopping every time I got tired.

After a couple of months of running, my friend J and I signed up for City 2 Surf in Sydney, an annual race spanning 14km from the city to Bondi Beach. We were very much beginners at this stage, and even with months of running training, I still felt anxious that I wouldn’t be able to perform as I wanted to. In the end though, we both came out fine. However, there was always another hurdle to overcome, and they kept getting bigger. From 14km, I planned to do a half marathon in early 2017. And when that was done, the only thing left to complete was a marathon.

I signed up for Philadelphia Marathon around May 2017, after not getting into New York Marathon. I figured that I’d been running for over a year at this point, and with dedicated training over the next couple of months, I would be fine running my first marathon.

My initial theory for training over the next couple of months proved wrong though. With several deterring factors at hand, including weather (it’s almost unbearable running outside in New York during summer) and joint problems, I realized how stressful training for a marathon actually was. In addition to that, I realized that running with strategic purpose and intent can take a lot of the fun out of it. Having to make sure I went on a certain number of runs per week, with certain distances targeted was more challenging to do than I previously thought. I began to dread going running each week. However, I persisted with training. In early September, I did a 22 mile run alone around Golden Gate Park. After 2 hours of running, you begin moving mechanically, kind of like mindless dancing at a festival when the sun is about to come up.

Then September came, and my boyfriend and I departed San Francisco for our 10 day road trip. A few days after the trip, I flew to Canada and spent 2 weeks with my best friend in the Rocky Mountains. This entire month was spent loafing around, barely running. The whole time, I felt guilty and stressed about my lack of dedication. However, I told myself that I’d be fine doing the 26.2 miles since I’d already covered 22 miles on one training day.

I got back to New York in October and promptly commenced training again. After all those months of dedicated running though, it felt like I had lost momentum. I began to hate running. I dreaded the marathon, and for the thousandth time, I wondered why I’d had the foolishness to sign up.

Race weekend finally came. The day before, Michael and I set out from New York to Philadelphia on a Bolt bus. By that time, the nerves had mostly dissipated, and I was happy and excited to be completing the 26.2 miles.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:40am. I stuffed myself with peanut butter and a cinnamon raisin muffin, put on my marathon clothes, and booked an Uber to the marathon starting spot. I was waiting in the hotel lobby, and it looked like the middle of the night. As I waited, I saw other runners filtering in and out of the lobby in running gear and ponchos, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

My Uber pulled up shortly, and as I got in, the driver asked if I was going to the marathon as well. When I said yes, she asked how many miles it was. I replied, “26.2”. She replied in a tone of bewilderment as she asked, “What do you get out of running 26.2 miles?”

My first reaction to this was speechlessness. I replied that I enjoyed the physical challenge of doing something I’d trained so long for. We chatted a little bit more about the difficulty of doing a marathon, before she dropped me off at the drop off spot.

It was still dark, cold and wet out, but the sun was rising. I followed the trail of other runners to the starting spot and weaved through the chaos and testosterone. As I was walking up to the starting spot, a woman offered me her spare pair of hand warmers. This was one of the first of many random acts of kindness that day.

While looking for my race corral, an older woman approached me and asked if I knew where the silver corral was, where we were both supposed to be starting. As I’d been walking around for about 15  minutes trying to find my corral, I felt a lot better looking with a companion. We found the corral quickly, and stood in place. It was hard to feel alone standing in the giant crowd, though my nerves had gathered again. Energy was high during this point, and people were chattering all around me. A woman standing next to me randomly gave me a hug before yelling to the crowd that she needed to pee.

Despite the designated starting time being at 7am, with so many people to get across the starting line, my corral didn’t pass the starting line until nearly 8am. If keeping the same running pace throughout the entire marathon, I should have finished the race within 5 hours with my corral pacer. The weather that day was windy, and it wasn’t ideal at all for running a marathon. Around the 8 mile mark, a tree branch fell down and nearly hit someone running in front of me.

There were many spectators that day, which helped to stay motivated. About every 2 miles, there were water stations with portable toilets. After stopping at the second one, I lost my 5 hour pace group. I continued running at my own pace without worrying about catching up. Things were going fine until about the 2.5 hour mark. Everything went downhill from there.

When I reached the 18 mile mark, it began to get extremely painful. My ankles were on fire. My left hip felt like it was going to bust. I slowed down considerably after this, and cursed myself for having the audacity to think I could run a marathon. But the shame of walking kept me going. I persisted with energy packs, a brownie and a slice of orange that a spectator stuffed into my hand as I was running.

The feeling of relief as I reached the 20 mile mark was palpable. At this point, it was nearly unbearable to continue running, and I began walking and half jogging intermittently. As I neared the 24 mile mark, a man who was running behind me overtook me and said, “Keep going, you’re doing so well”. Little things like this were what kept me going that day.

Finally, I passed the 25 mile mark and started running to the finish line. Crossing the finish line was the biggest relief that I’d experienced in a long time. I stopped running immediately after crossing, and turned around to see Michael waiting for me.

The hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the Philadelphia Marathon finish line, but the walk back was agonizing. I never endured a more difficult walk in my life. Once we got back, we quickly packed our things and headed back to New York on a bus.

I had a tremendous feeling of achievement after finishing, but also an incredible sense of physical pain that didn’t dissipate for a couple of days. Even turning in bed resulted in a sharp stabbing sensation in my joints. One of my coworkers, S, who I used to run with, used to say that running is just the ability to tolerate pain. After running the marathon, I finally understood what he meant.

Autumn (and monogamy) in New York

Despite a rocky start, the last couple of weeks in San Francisco ended up being blissful. As we prepared to leave San Francisco and drive across the country though, I had a topic on my mind that I didn’t immediately broach.

My boyfriend and I were about to fly out from San Francisco to Arizona to begin our road adventure before getting back to New York, when I suddenly asked, “Are we still going to do an open relationship when we move back to New York?”

Previously, he’d told me that we would, despite the debacle that happened in the earlier months, and despite that we were monogamous in San Francisco.

His reply was, “If that’s what you want”. I thought his answer was decidedly non-committal. I then asked, “What if I don’t want to anymore?” He then replied, “I would be fine with that,” before kissing me on the head. Based on what he’d said, I had a feeling that he was happy being monogamous. An open relationship had been a failed experiment for us.

Things in the last month between us had changed rapidly and significantly in San Francisco. From bickering over little things, I suddenly woke up one day and realized I had a wonderful person in my life who I had never really fully appreciated. I looked on the relationship with a new found vigor that I never had before.

We left San Francisco, and had a wonderful 10 day road adventure across the US. We then got back to New York, and went apartment hunting. We found an apartment that both of us loved, and signed a lease. I was ready to depart for Canada in 2 days to visit my best friend, when M accompanied me to the airport. During the ride to the airport, one of my friends back home was texting me about the relationship situation, asking, “Are you still going to be monogamous in NYC?”

I replied that we were going to go back to how things had been before, and M, reading over my shoulder, asked, “Are we?” as I just finished typing.

So there we were, in an Uber to the airport, having an uncomfortable conversation, just as we’d had many times before. M said because of an incident that took place earlier in the year, he no longer felt comfortable having an open relationship, but was open to me dating women. However, there were time constraints on how much I could date per week. He said he wasn’t comfortable doing a fully open relationship anymore, and that we would probably have to break up if that was something I needed. With my just blossoming romantic feelings for M, and my realization that I’d never find someone like him, I wasn’t prepared to give up the relationship, so while we were at Newark Airport, we agreed to semi-monogamy, and said goodbye temporarily.

I flew to Canada and had a relaxing two week getaway with my best friend in British Columbia, then returned to New York, where M was waiting for me in our new apartment. We had a perfect first week back, and in the following weeks, I settled back in. I was never so happy to be back in New York, and M was happy to be back, together. I settled back in, and this time, I tried harder to do everything that I had the first time around. I got a job. I got back on Bumble BFF and started making new friends.

Basically, I got my shit together. And when I least expected it, happiness crept into my life and settled there.

The worst breakup was the one that didn’t happen

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was having a Bumble BFF date with three girls at a wine bar in East Village (if you don’t know what Bumble BFF is, get with the times). One of the girls posed a question to the group: “What was the worst breakup you ever had?”

We went around the group, and everyone had their horror stories. Then, my turn came, and I said awkwardly, that the worst breakups I’d had were probably worse for the other person, because I was a terrible breaker upper and broke up with people by text most of the time. We then started talking about ‘ghosting’, a form of bad dating etiquette that has so commonly been picked up by members of our generation. We talked about all the disappointments that were accompanied by ghosting, and how we were also guilty of it ourselves on occasion, and suddenly, I was reminded of a painful memory.

I had glossed over the “worst breakup I’d ever had”, because at the time, I truthfully couldn’t think of any times I’d had a terrible break up. Then, while we were talking about ghosting, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

The worst breakup I’d ever had wasn’t really a breakup, because it never happened.

Two years ago, when I was in my last year of university and holding on the vestiges of my innocence, I was ambivalently dating on Tinder. Due to a few horror stories, I hadn’t really met anyone in awhile, but out of the blue, I noticed someone that I thought might be worthwhile– let’s call him S. He had model worthy good looks, with one noticeable caveat being that he was two years younger than me. Nevertheless, good looks trumped potential lack of maturity, so I swiped right, and we matched.

Our conversation at first was idle chatter about what we were doing, before we exchanged numbers. S shortly texted me asking if I was free to talk on the phone that night. I replied saying that I was free, but I’d prefer to text. S managed to persuade me to chat over the phone though, and I anticipated his phone call that night with trepidation. That night when he called me though, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of our conversation, and his eloquence and charm.

We ended the phone call after an hour and a half, and he texted me straight after saying, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” We continued to text every day and talk on the phone intermittently for a couple of weeks. I began to like him more and more as we got to know each other better.

After a couple of weeks of texting every day, and weekly phone calls though, I began to think that he only wanted to be virtual friends. Just as I was thinking this though, he asked me if I wanted to meet up in the near future. In my mind, I was saying a resounding yes.

We met up for the first time the following week, and when we met, I liked him even more. Things went well, and we continued going on weekly dates, and talking every day. We always did a lot of walking on the dates, and it felt kind of like that overly talky movie franchise, ‘Before Sunrise’. Around this time, I was still planning to move to Japan after graduating, and every time we went out, S continuously asked me if I was still planning to move. My answer at this time was usually something like, it depends on the circumstances at the time. My real answer was, I’d stay if I was in a significant relationship, but I didn’t want to seem needy or overly interested.

Things went on like that for about a month, dating at a steady pace of about once a week. After the fourth date, I went overseas for a month, and we continued chatting every day while I was away. Despite only having been on four dates so far, I felt like I knew him so well, and I really missed him while I was away. During this time, I also casually asked him if he’d met anyone else from Tinder while I’d been away, and he replied that he’d deleted because he didn’t have enough time to date, and he’d met me. I came back to Sydney a month later, and we met again a couple of days after I got back.

I was glad to see him, but I noticed there was a palpable distance between us that I couldn’t cross. We were discussing plans for the coming weekend, and after first asking me if I was free to come to an event, S then said he thought he’d double booked, and that he’d confirm with me later. I got the feeling then, that there would be an end to all the dates and phone calls, and that it would be soon. He kissed me goodbye that night without lingering, and I felt pitfalls in my stomach all the way home.

He texted me later that night, saying to message him when I got home, and we exchanged cute texts like we usually did, but I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that it was over. The next day, he texted me saying not to try and take off work on the weekend, because he’d double booked. I texted something back, saying that I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him. Never before had I come so close to admitting how I felt about him. In response, he sent a “me too”, with a couple of crying face emojis. As expected, our communication dropped off for two days, which previously had never happened before.

I didn’t want to text him first, but after a couple of days, I was dying to hear from him. This resulted in me messaging him on Facebook messenger one night, the lowest ranking in the pillar of communication. I asked him pathetically how his week had been, when really I meant, ‘why haven’t you contacted me for the past couple of days?’ S replied, rattling off all the things that were keeping him busy, and it just seemed like he was making excuses. I obviously knew what he was trying to say to me, but I kept digging for some concrete answer. I replied that my week had been strange, because I hadn’t heard from him, and he gave a non-committal answer saying, “I haven’t really been speaking to anyone”, before again stating all the things that were keeping him so busy.

He then abruptly ended the conversation and said goodnight. It was clear that he was blowing me off. What was unexpected though, was that I actually felt really bad. For the next couple of days, I was kind of heartbroken.

The most painful thing about it to me, was that he hadn’t even deemed me worthy of a breakup text. From other breakups, I’d gotten a clear sense of closure, but I’d never gotten it in this situation, which only made the sting worse.

The Great American Road Adventure: Arizona

On a Friday, Michael and I packed up and left San Francisco to fly to Arizona. The apartment was getting progressively emptier, as we had sold two pieces of furniture, in preparation for the move back to New York, and it felt strangely surreal to leave the apartment with less furniture. I was undoubtedly glad to leave San Francisco, but it felt surreal leaving that day, knowing that I wouldn’t be back for a long time.

Michael and I had planned for a couple months’ to do a big road trip across America, ending in New York, where we would spend a couple of days apartment hunting. The first stop on our trip was Arizona, where Michael’s mother lived.

We flew out of San Francisco on Friday night, and arrived in Phoenix at around 9pm. Our arrival in Phoenix was marked by hot weather, even during that time of the night. We got an Uber to Michael’s mother’s condo in Scottsdale, and after a catch up, settled in for the night.

The next morning, the Arizona heat could be felt even in the apartment. The three of us got ready and drove to downtown Scottsdale for brunch. The temperature was around 40 degrees Celsius that day, and it would quickly become unbearable to stay outdoors for too long. DSC_0764

We had brunch at a Scottsdale cafe, that was neither good nor bad. Upon entering the cafe though, I was confronted with a version of America I’d heard about. The stereotypes of hordes of large, white people came to life as we entered the cafe. It was notable that I was the only colored person in the room.

After brunch, Michael, his mother and I strolled around by the waterfront in Scottsdale. The heat only permitted us to stroll for perhaps 20 minutes, before we got tired of the heat and overbearing sun, and went back to the car. Pauline then drove us to Hertz, where we picked up our rental car, and then went back to her condo to organize our things.

Due to the short time we spent in Scottsdale and Phoenix, the place kind of failed to make an impression on me, either negative or positive. Michael was eager to begin our road adventure, and said we’d have plenty of time to visit Arizona again in the future.

With that, we began our road journey on a Saturday afternoon. Our first stop was New Mexico.

Leaving San Francisco

The first month in San Francisco was rough. It was difficult for me to adjust to the city, and to begin living with someone I’d only been dating for a few months.

Since we only planned to be in the city for about 2 months, I didn’t bother looking for work. Instead, I picked up writing the novel again, engaged in all my leisure activities, and started volunteering at a food service for homeless citizens.

Upon a critical self-evaluation, I realized what my problem was, in moving overseas to change myself for the better. I was still looking to an external source to change myself, whereas what I should have been doing, looking to myself for change (sounding sickly spiritual and preachy there, I know). So, I decided to stop looking to places, people, situations, to change me, and to develop myself on my own. I planned that when I got back to New York, I would pick up the job hunt again properly, and seek new experiences to get out of my comfort zone.

The second month in San Francisco wasn’t exactly blissful, but my boyfriend and I stopped arguing, and things gradually got better. There were many things about the city that I still didn’t like, such as the plethora of crazy homeless people, the hills, the inconvenience of having little convenience stores, opening and closing times of stores, the windy weather. But I made do.

The last day in San Francisco, as I was packing up the apartment, having sold off some of my boyfriend’s furniture, and sitting on a mattress on the floor, clothes strewn on the floor, I felt something odd. I thought about how many times it had been since I got to America, that I’d packed up all my things, and left, to start again afresh. That morning, I had nothing but pleasant feelings on leaving the city I so disliked, but as I packed up and left, I felt grateful to be given the opportunity to begin again.