16 years ago today, I loaded up a U-Haul truck and moved down to Atlanta from NYC. I had only planned to be here for a short time. I had every intention of moving back up to NYC once I got my life and finances back on track. I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else. It was late ’95, right before the ’96 Olympics and job prospects were good in Atlanta, but the bagels and pizza mostly sucked. I didn’t know how to drive, which was a big liability in Atlanta, but was won over when I realized it was warm and not “freezing with a possibility of snow” in early April.
I was 25, an art school dropout, and had just left a 7 year retail career as a department store sales manager. I had burned out on retail and chronic neck and upper back pain made it impossible for me to haul boxes and clothing around all day. I had no real office skills, had no idea what I wanted to do, had no degree, and had no clue where my relationship with my boyfriend was going, so why not get in a truck and drive away? Except that I was moving down to live with family I barely knew. That story alone could fill a book.
I still remember straining to get my last glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as we drove out of NYC and into New Jersey. I wondered then, and for many moments during that first very difficult year if I had made a mistake. I had planned to stay only about 6 months or so, but 5 months after I arrived, my boyfriend decided to move down to be with me. I was having a hard time and clung to him like a drowning person on a life raft. He found new friends and reinvented himself as the life of the party. We broke apart and got back together for 7 more years. As for my family? Well, most of them moved away within a decade.
The job market and the generous nature of the people I met allowed me to get an office job almost immediately. I worked first at a law firm as a legal assistant, and then for 13 more years at a professional services firm. Now I’m in the midst of career change again, but when I look back – what a whirlwind!
I went from being an artist with a retail career to a management-level career in enterprise content management systems and processes. During that time, I married, divorced, graduated college Magna Cum Laude with an English degree (in Creative Writing), published a chapbook of poetry, embraced spirituality, traveled a lot, was on the board of two non-profit organizations, became a Reiki Master and started a business, got married again, and had a child. (Not all necessarily in that order, and often concurrently.)
I followed a number of divergent paths. Some people I know, it’s pretty much a straight line. Everything they do and everything they’re into and everyone they hang out with pretty much falls into the same category. I seem to straddle a number of different things, and it took me a while to accept that this is how I am. I’ve had people frustrated with me because I haven’t been painting or writing poetry lately or don’t want to go further into corporate dronehood. Things fall away, come together in new patterns and fall away again. I have very intense, but mercurial talents. Yet, it’s awkward to be at a party with people I see once a year and have to dodge the “So, have you written any poetry lately?” question. I’m noticing how we tend to freeze-frame people, expecting them to be exactly as they were the last time we saw them.
The one thing I did realize today is that I became an adult while living in Atlanta. Meaning, I went through the trials and necessary work to see, accept and allow myself to be the person I am today. That process wasn’t always easy and it’s still under development. But I often wonder if I would resemble at all the same person I am now had I stayed in NYC. Somehow I doubt it.
I like Atlanta, but don’t want to spend the rest of my life here. I could probably name a dozen different places I’d like to try living for a year or so. My husband and I have our sights set elsewhere in the future, but my stepson has to graduate high school first. Unlike when I was 25, I can’t just pack a truck and drive off on a whim. But one day, we will. And I can’t wait.
(Image credit: Clinton Steeds on Flickr)