How to build a life: On moving to a new place and trying to belong

An apartment building

Life is made up of all the little pieces of something. 

By Nicole Horowitz, Contributor

What makes up a life? What are the required, component pieces of a life? And how do we go about forming them, compiling them, and pressing them together into a whole? 

I found myself asking these questions, post the-worst-of-it pandemic. Post moving to a new city (one that I’ve lived in before). Post moving out of my parents’ house (for a second time). 

I am a woman in my late 20’s. I have a graduate degree. I have traveled to 25 countries and lived in three. I speak three languages. And yet, I found myself scared. At a loss for words — for a grip. For a clue on how to move forward, belong, or just simply be. 

My first week back in Los Angeles, I was struck by the overwhelming feeling of emptiness. Yes, empty, because in this semi-post-COVID world, many venues are still closed, many signs of “We’ll Be Back” still perched on rusted out storefronts. 

But more than that, I was alone. Always alone. Endlessly alone. 

Lots of kids from big families — immigrant and extended families — grew up surrounded by, well, family. Which means things to do: birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, red egg parties, quinceaneras, you name it. It’s the Fourth of July? Family party. Thanksgiving? Well, duh. 

Often, we don’t notice the lack until it hits, hard and fast. Maybe at a million miles per hour on a sad, empty day. For many of us, it happened in March 2020. A cousin’s wedding postponed. Another’s high school graduation put off. An uncle’s birthday, missed. We counted time, checked off days in relative isolation, not sure in which direction it would extend, or for how long. Not sure who we were without implication in the community around us. 

It’s a similar feeling, taking the time to move to a new place. 

The search for meaning has been thrown off kilter. You start to realize that you never really understood what community actually meant: how a family could dovetail so nicely into something that was more than the sum of its extravagant parts. That:

Being part of a family meant being part of a collective identity. 

Defined by blood, race, religion, culture, values, or even something as simple as physical proximity.

People walking on a cross walk
photo credit: Ryoji Iwata via Unsplash

On these city streets, I find myself listening close into the conversations of a Chinese couple, strolling hand-in-hand on the street. Resisting the urge to go up to the girl in the Girlfriend Collective leggings, with the dark brown hair that matches mine, and asking her how she’s holding up. Or the guy with a New York sweatshirt, to say, “I lived there, too!” 

To be seen, known, implicated — a part of a whole. 

To have the sheen of lonely newness stripped away and replaced with something comfortable and familiar. 

Instead, I go on dates with men I meet on the internet, solely because they have pictures with guitars in their hands. I meet up with new “BFFs” because they’re from the same city as my far-flung best friend halfway across the globe. I have endless conversations about random, obscure things I like in hopes that someone will say, “Hey, me too!” and make me feel less alone.

“Is that living? What is a life, really?” I ask my therapist.

These days, I am still alone most of the time — feeling out of place and like I’ve become some sort of stranger to myself. Eating ice cream on the street with people I don’t know, asking them if they like some dumb band, or the taste of absinthe, or if they’ve ever been caught in a monsoon in Vientiane. 

“What is life?” she repeats back to me. “You’re living it.”

I think what she means is that: 

Life is made up of all the little pieces of something. 

Puddled like discarded fabrics, waiting for me to stitch them lovingly together. One day, my cousin will get married. Uncles and aunts will have birthdays and parties. People will occupy the same spaces they once did, together, and I will be there to meet them and be a part of it, even if it takes a plane or a train to get there.

In the meantime, I will live in this unknown place, in the aftermath of the things I thought I knew. I will enjoy the connection points: a moment of eye contact, a shared favorite ice cream flavor, a hand held on the sidewalk, and hope they can lead me to more moments like them — stacked up and arranged in a way so that they ripple outwards. Towards things like friendship, or even love. 

Along the way, we can grieve for what we’ve lost. Look for what we can find, and never take what we have for granted. And all these moments make up a life.

 

About — Nicole Horowitz is a writer and content marketer who is passionate about the intersection of beauty and culture. She writes about topics ranging from makeup to old movies, identity to Monopoly, and everything in between. She has a B.A. from New York University and M.A. from Oregon State University. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California and is co-creative director of Bad Asta Vintage @badastavintage.

Cover photo sourced from: Badal Patel, Aditi Damle, & Simone Hutsch


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