It’s simple, really, moving across the country. For all the trouble of boxes and moving vans and flights, the process can be summed up rather quickly: I lived in Manhattan, I went on a six hour plane ride, and then I lived in California. Silicon Valley, to be precise, that trendy place that’s been picked apart in countless think-pieces and HBO shows. My boyfriend took a job at a tech company, and I left a city I loved to join him. And for the first time in my life, I was homesick.
I tried to stay positive, and told myself New York is getting too crowded anyway. New York is too expensive. There are certain moments, I think, when every New Yorker considers leaving—perhaps when the subway breaks down in between stops, or the neighbor’s cigarette smoke comes wafting through the walls, or grown men in Elmo costumes accost them in Times Squares. From time to time every New Yorker indulges the fantasy of moving to the suburbs and finding a house with a backyard and a pool and room for guests.
Before we left, I told my boyfriend my only condition for moving to California was that we find a cute little house to rent, one in a nice neighborhood with green grass and kids who trick-or-treat. Of course, my hopes were quickly dashed when I learned that real estate in the Bay Area is even more expensive than New York, and the rent we paid for our Manhattan one-bedroom would barely cover half a bathroom in Palo Alto. And forget about green grass—the California drought has cast a lovely brown pallor over the entire area. Like most people, we ended up paying too much for too little, but considering how much time I spend stuck in traffic I suppose my car is my real home anyway.
I managed to keep a job I hated by transferring to the Silicon Valley office, and I showed up on my first day bitter that I still worked there and bitter that it wasn’t New York. We went to a dinner party the first weekend—a friend of a friend—and a very nice girl sat down next to us and told us how much we were going to love California. I went to the bathroom and cried.
I missed everything about New York, and nothing in particular. I missed my bagel place, and walking across the street to get pizza at midnight, and taking the subway home after a night of drinking. I missed the first Fall day, and the walks through Central Park. But I mostly missed the things I can’t describe. The feel. The energy. The comfort that comes with knowing that everything you need is available within three blocks. And that’s what homesickness really is, isn’t it? Missing that one place where you are completely comfortable, where you can be completely and utterly yourself. Where you know how long it takes to walk to the subway, and what time the Chipotle closes. Where you belong.
I don’t work in tech, which makes me an outsider in the Bay Area—an intruder in the world of disruptions and unicorns and pitch decks. Every time I read an article about how San Francisco has become the place to be, I want to type out a furious comment, as if that will somehow shake the writer out of his naivete. But the traffic is terrible! The public transportation sucks! There are no good bagels!
Perhaps I am being unfair to California, though; perhaps I am letting my love of New York cloud my judgment. After all, there are certain things to like about living in the Bay Area. In New York any weekend trip meant a subway ride, a transfer, Penn Station, train tickets, someone to pick us up at the other end. But there’s none of that now: we just get in the car and drive. We go to Napa, sitting with a glass of wine while our dog runs through the grape vines. We lay on the beach with our books, our dog digging in the sand as the sun tans our skin. And we leave the house in a t-shirt as our friends on the East Coast shovel out their cars and sludge through the snow.
I’m sure there are other things to love about Silicon Valley. After all, people are flocking here in droves. And I don’t mean to give the impression that I spend each and every day cursing in the wind, angry that the universe has placed me so far from home. Life eventually becomes routine no matter where you live. I go to work, I cook dinner, we take the dog for a walk, we go on date nights. Life is happy more often than it is not, and my boyfriend is now my husband and I couldn’t love him any more.
But there’s a feeling that persists, a feeling that’s hard to describe yet immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever been someplace they’re not supposed to be, someplace far from home. It’s an unsteadiness, a feeling that something isn’t quite right, like no matter how hard you try you just can’t get your balance. The world around you appears normal at first glance, but you look around suspiciously because something seems off. The street is uneven, or perhaps the sky is an odd shade of blue today, or is it that the birds seem to be singing a different song? You don’t know exactly what it is, but you can tell something is not how is should be. And then your realize that the unsteadiness—the something wrong—is within you, the pit in your stomach that will only dissipate when you’re back home.
The charger on my iPhone has been finicky lately: it looks like it’s plugged in, but until I maneuver the cord just right it doesn’t start to charge. It seems like it should work when I put the charger in the wall, but the phone doesn’t buzz, there is no lightning bolt. That’s what it’s like to be homesick: there is no lightning bolt, because you just don’t quite fit.
That’s not to say that New York is the only place to be. Homesickness doesn’t actually care where home is, whether it’s New York or Albuquerque or Des Moines. I’m sure there are plenty of people who miss SF at this very second. Homesickness is knowing there’s a place you belong, but being unable to get there. Not at the moment, anyway. It’s seeing the oasis on the other side of the desert, but no matter how long you walk you don’t seem to get any closer. It’s as if the things you love—your family, your favorite restaurant, your childhood teddy bear—are in a museum, close enough for you to reach out and touch them, but blocked behind glass.
So how do I deal with it? I count my blessings, realizing how lucky I am to have someone to share my life, and a steady income, and a roof over my head. I focus on the positives, drinking more than my share of Napa wine and wearing shorts in October. I call and text and Facetime my family and friends. And I plan. Plan for my next visit home, and for my next guest to come out to California. And I plan for our return to New York. My husband and I have always said our time in the Bay Area is temporary, a short fling before we become real adults who settle down for good back East. A flirtation with the West Coast before responsibilities like a mortgage and diapers become our reality.
And when I return, I’ll appreciate New York more than ever before. I’ll push through the crowds of tourists in Times Square, and I’ll love it. I’ll be stuck on a subway car with broken air conditioning, and I’ll smile. I’ll step into one of those puddles that seem to form at every street corner when it rains, and I’ll laugh. Because I’ll be home.