If you had told me six years ago that I would be living in Atlanta I would have laughed in your face and then I would have demanded that you buy my next round of shots. I was a smug 25 year old back then: I thought I had my life all planned out: I would get a good job and build a successful career, I would find the perfect SoCal athlete boyfriend (preferably Matt Leinart) and live in a town maybe 25 minutes from where I grew up. Back then I would have told you I had it all figured out; that my time in college had prepared me to deal with the decisions made in adulthood. Never mind that I was living at home, untouched by the burdens of rent and a majority of adult responsibilities....or that I had never lived more than 2 hours from the town I grew up in, or the friends I made in the hallways of my public schools. And yes I realize this is not the norm for most 25 year olds.
Enter the "quarter life crisis". I promise you the quarter life crisis is real, and it make you do some crazy ass shit.
Then, enter the recession....
I was offered a job in Atlanta four months after I graduated college. My best friend Tessa had just headed south and promised me it was a land filled with opportunity and new beginnings. I moved to Atlanta with $900 in my bank account and no idea how to cook or budget. My first year in the city, I walked five miles to and from the one bedroom apartment Tessa and I shared (it's all we could afford) to the train station everyday, because I didn’t have a car. I slept on a futon with Warner curled up at my side, and since I couldn’t cook, I lived off of ramen or anything that could be microwaved. When I couldn’t afford to fly home that first Christmas, and I spent the day crying on my couch as my very first snow fell outside the window.
It's no secret that I'm not a fan of this city. I rage against its miserable traffic and its sweltering summers. I hate how the city is laid out and that every street is named Peachtree. I miss being near the water and I miss my friends. When people ask me where I live I still say "I live in Atlanta but I'm from Southern California": no matter how long I live here, I will never claim this place as my home. Maybe that's why I've had such a hard time finding my place here; maybe that's why I've kept this city at arms length all these years.
When I look back on my time here, I often wonder how I survived it all. I see many times when I could have packed up, gone home and called the whole thing a failed experiment. I see a lot of loss, a lot of struggle and a lot of memories I missed making with those I love. I have been hospitalized twice, had surgery once and said goodbye to the dog who survived it all with me. Yet, despite all the bad things I have to say about this place, Atlanta made me the woman I am today. This city took my idea of independence, turned it over, dumped out its contents and forced me to start from scratch. It's where I taught myself to budget, to cook and where I perfected the art of saying "goodbye". Atlanta taught me that not all friendships are meant to survive the miles, and made me incredibly thankful for the ones who put in the work. It taught me to be brave when things got hard, sometimes because it was my only option and sometimes because I had people behind me cheering me on. Atlanta taught me the true meaning of communication and the value of good manners. This city has molded me into a survivor, a hustler, a hard worker, someone who appreciates the little things. I don't think I truly understood what independence, adulthood, friendship and community meant until I moved here. I don't think I would have become the woman I am today if I had stayed in my comfort zone.
As much as I hate to admit it, I am indebted to this city. I'm thankful for all those walks to the train station in the cold because they taught me humbleness. I'm thankful for the distance it put between me and the ones I love because it taught me the value of friendship and family. I now know how to appreciate what I have because I've lost so much. I know I won't live here forever, but I know I will always be defined by the time I spent here.
The other day, I was having lunch with a fellow misplaced West Coaster, commiserating about our time in Atlanta and she asked me if given the chance, would I give it all up and move here again?
My answer? Abso-fucking-lutely.