[SIX DAYS REMAIN]
Let’s go back in time to a desert town just outside of Los Angeles. I’m a little boy walking out of church with my older brother, Gabe. I tell him that I like his shirt and I ask him what it says. “Leave Lancaster,” he says to me in the way older brothers talk to younger ones. Like mysterious things are obvious. Before that moment, my home town was just that. A home. Sure, there were other places, but this was my place. Where my family was, my friends, my school, my whole universe. But that T-shirt planted an idea in my head that slowly began to germinate. That my town wasn’t a place to call home, but a place to escape from.
As I grew up, adult family members and strangers alike would ask me what I wanted to be. I told them I didn’t know. “Well, whatever you do, make sure you get out of the fucking Antelope Valley.”
The locals have observed a phenomenon called “The AV Vortex”: everybody says they want to escape, but few do. From an early age, I internalized this fear that I would be one of those that didn’t. That I would slowly become a part of the desert in the way that the crew on the Flying Dutchman slowly grow barnacles and become a part of the ship. I was acutely aware of the stereotypes of what people from our town looked like. The harshest including missing teeth, three baby mommas, and a meth addiction.
My whole life became about trying to escape. First, it was into my novels. As a kid, I spent hours on end in my room writing stories about faraway lands. Then it was a trip through Northern Europe, and Brazil shortly after. Each time I returned I felt like I’d been sucked back in the vortex again. I picked the farthest in-state school I could find and ended my studies there in Spain. But all the time I spent running from my fears I didn’t stop to realize something. Fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had spent so much time being frozen in fear of what might happen, that I didn’t do anything to prevent it. I didn’t try to find a place to live after I graduated and I had nowhere else to go but home.
Summer came and went, and all I did was wait in fear. “Saving” for a new place I had no plan for. Then my Aunt and uncle said I could rent their apartment in North Carolina and I decided t go. That changed everything. Because this time I was actually leaving. Not going on a trip, but moving out, and moving far. And that’s the one factor that all of my destinations have in common:
Every day I woke up with this huge fear in my gut. I was aware of all the things my self-pity had me missing. I was missing my entire life. And in the few months I had before my move, I wanted to break that habit. I helped my dad maintain his carwash more, I had long theological talks with my mom, I went to visit Gabe and his wife and kid more in LA. I went to visit my sister Rocky, her husband and kid in Orange County more. I made more music with my brother Garrett, I went surfing and on photo adventures with my sister Angie. But what I would probably do most is sit on the couch and play Super Smash Brothers with my youngest brother, Giani.
Eight times out of ten he would beat me, but I didn’t mind. That video game was more therapy than anything else. And the laughter it induced was medicine for the soul. One of my best friends, Justin, would drive into town from LA a lot. Justin has all but absorbed himself into the fabric of my family. Sometimes I’d get home from work and he would already be there. I’d ask him what he was doing here and he would tell me that Giani had told him to come over.
Such was the case the day we went to go see Alita: Battle Angel. Giani and I and his friend Noah had already gone to see it on Valentine’s day. It was our “Palentines”, and when Alita did her first karate kick so hard that it cracked her opponent’s skull and pinned it to the wall with blue blood while her severed body slumped to the floor, all three of us screamed so hard we nearly blacked out. Seeing that Comic books, Super Smash Brothers, and indulgent Scifi movies are the things that bond Giani, Justin, and I the most, it only made sense that he would make the drive down from LA to come to see it with us. He’s done it countless times in the past to see some Marvel movie or to stay up all night Smashing, or both. And even though I’ve moved out of state, I have no doubt that he will do the same thing with Giani while I’m gone and when I come back to visit. We’ll probably keep doing this until we’re old.
This time, Alita was reduced by her enemy to just a head, a torso, and a left arm. She used that arm to catapult herself through the air to stab her enemy in the eye with it. She ripped her own arm off after whispering “Fuck your mercy!” We got welts on our arms from hitting each other while screaming our heads off.
And I realized what a blessing it was to have a nineteen-year-old brother because I could be nineteen again with him. I could reclaim some of the time I lost running around alone on the streets of Paris waiting to have some fucking poetic realization. And it made me miss him to death even though he was right next to me.
I had to question what I was doing. Was I just repeating the pattern, blowing around to the next destination, not setting any roots, not being present, just living out some small-town complex? Was this really just a terrible Idea? I didn’t know. But I knew that deciding to leave helped me enjoy all the pleasures of staying. It made me realize what home was for me. Surely not a place to stay, but maybe a place to come back to again and again.