What 3,000 Miles Feels Like

Exactly one month ago, I boarded a one-way flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

It was overbooked.

When I waited at the gate, an airline attendant offered me a $500 voucher to not take the flight.

I considered it.

I've never left home in my life.

For 33 years, I've stayed close to my parents, close to my sisters, close to my best friends I've known since childhood.

I love them (and they me) in a way that I know is meaningful and lasting, in a way that is not easy to rebuild.

I know what I have is special.

And I know that I could never again have what I have back home any place else.

But maybe that's the point.

Maybe we take giant leaps and start a new life 3,000 miles from home because we might just love a home we've not yet had.

Our choice of change forces us to sift through everything we own and determine what to save, to determine what still matters.

We throw away things, feeling surprised that we're lighter.

We throw away things that we regret throwing away.

We consider digging through trash bags to recover them.

We take photos of photos with our phones and discard the old paper images.

We save things -- VHS tapes of our high school plays, handwritten cards our grandparents gave us, and our favorite children's books so our future children can read them.

We place what we've kept in brown boxes, secure them with tape, count them (27), and send them off on an Amtrak train.

They go across the United States.

And then they're there, waiting for us to arrive, waiting for us to be opened.

Before I left for good, I asked people who have already done this,

How do you do it? How do you leave it all behind?

Will my three year-old nephew still think I'm his favorite when I stop visiting him on Saturdays?

Will he even remember who I am?

Will my 14 year-old niece and I still be as close when I can no longer go shopping with her, just her and me?

Will she drift away because I've gone away?

What about my parents?

When my dad celebrates his birthday without me for the first time in 33 years, what will that be like for him?

What will that be like for me?

How many more birthdays will we have left?

How about my friends, the ones I see every month, every week, sometimes twice a week, who are only minutes away?

Weren't our kids supposed to grow up together?

What about knowing a city so well, that I could walk three blocks for a cup of coffee, and run into four people I know on the way.

Knowing I always have people I know, a sister five blocks from me, a yoga teacher who's been a second mother to me, a street musician I've stopped and chatted with every time I've seen him for over a decade.

Where will all those people go?

What will happen to my city?

Everyone and everything will go on, I'm told.

Will those people and my city and me, will we no longer need each other?

Don't we hold each other up?

What will it be like to walk into another place, where there are people, people who already know each other well enough to not need me?

What if I need them?

Not one will know me, not the way other people have.

And no one has the answers.

Except for my dad, who, after my last visit, refused to leave me at the station until I was safely on the train home.

"I'm not leaving until you get on the train," he said, as he always said, for as long as I could remember. I saw my mom's eyes squinting and her lips quivering, which meant she was crying.

There was no fighting it.

They saw me off, all of them.

With dinners and barbecues and cake and wine and rooftop sunset gatherings. With a gift certificate for my first flight home.

I saw everyone I loved in increments before I left.

And they were with me, until the very moment I needed to go.

It was their way of holding my hand. Leaving me off and launching me ahead, happy because they knew I was happy.

It was almost if they knew it first.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, there he was, my love, waiting for me to get off of the plane.

I saw the smile in his eyes hiding under his LA Dodgers hat, and that's when I remembered that he knew me. Maybe not all my life, but it was as if he did.

He's like my old home, but new too.

With him, I wasn't going astray.

My people are people who always wait until I get on the train or plane.

They're there when I leave and they're there when I land. Ready to usher me out or in.
When my boyfriend and I left the airport at 7:00 p.m. Los Angeles time, I noticed the bright vast blue above me, slight white and pink wisps, threaded together, pointing us home.

It was already dark in Philadelphia.

My mom and dad were waiting for my call.

I dialed them before we went in the door.

Sometimes, you make a big life change because you realize you just might love where you arrive.

And sometimes, after you've made that change, the "might" loses its fear.

It loses its doubt.

Until it's clear:

You've found your way home.