When I walked outside this morning, my eyes stung and my mouth tasted like ash. From our front door, which faces east, I could see that the La Crescenta Station fire had turned the blue sky into a dull beige dustbowl. I sighed as I prepared to take one of our cats to the vet. Given that all three of our pets have skin allergies, I should be happy they are not doing worse given the current climate. My eyes are so dry that I have to use Systane eye drops twice per day when weather conditions are normal, four times per day during sooty season. As I went to the car, I noticed that I could no longer see the Verdugo Mountains that separate Burbank from the city of Glendale. Outside of the vet’s office, I saw a mailman wearing a mask. He made me feel like I was in China during the height of the SARS epidemic.
Even though many people complain that the weather here never changes, Los Angeles has four seasons: Fires, Mudslides, Earthquakes, and Riots. I’ve lived in LA more than half of my life now so I’ve experienced its unusual spells. Although I was out of town for the 1994 Northridge earthquake, I was driving on the freeway when one of its biggest aftershocks occurred. I watched in awe and in fear as all of the cars simultaneously shifted into neighboring lanes. After mudslides closed the Hollywood canyons, which commuters use to get to and from the San Fernando Valley, I spent almost three hours driving a mere 18 miles. I was living downtown when the 1992 riots turned LA into a war zone. I’ll never forget seeing military vehicles on the 10 freeway and trying to fall asleep to the sound of chopper blades whirring and anarchy rising. Now it is fire season again. People are losing their homes, the land is burning to a black crisp, and the air quality has been deemed “unhealthy.” Though they light up the night sky, the wildfires always cast a shadow over LA, causing a city, full of stars both fake and real, to lose its shine.
I used to love Los Angeles. I remember when my affair with the City of Angels began. I had arrived for a summer freshmen orientation at the University of Southern California (USC). The campus was (and still is) beautiful. The sun was shining, the temperature was a perfect 75 degrees, and I had never seen so many beautiful men in my entire life. I was sold. I wasn’t even 18 years old yet, but LA had stolen my heart with its beauty, weather, diversity, culture, nightlife, and location—near the beach, mountains, and desert and more than 2,000 miles away from my mother. I didn’t know about the traffic, the air quality, the anonymity, or the character of many Los Angelenos—dense, shallow, tardy, and egocentric. I guess all of that beauty comes with a price.
Despite its flaws, I continued my relationship with LA but on different terms. In 1997, I moved to Burbank (a city that is technically separate from LA) so my sister Adrienne could attend a better school. Four years later, we moved across town to a another house in Burbank—the place where she died. In fact, I’m writing this blog in her bedroom right now, which may disturb some people, but it comforts me. I like to think of her as my muse. In October, I will have lived here longer than I lived in any other home in my life. I never thought I would want to move because I was afraid of leaving Adrienne behind. From her spirit in this house to her grave at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I didn’t want to abandon her. However, Burbank is still LA, and it began losing its luster the day I lost Adrienne.
The irony is that Adrienne loved Los Angeles. Whether she was a hippie in Venice, a rocker in Hollywood, or an ordinary kid in Burbank, she appreciated everything LA has to offer. She accepted its faults. While I had wanted her to attend an Ivy League university far from home, she had planned on going to USC. The one time we argued about it she said, “Forget it, Sissy. I’m not leaving Los Angeles.” Now she will always be here, and I’m the one who wants to go. I can’t escape the pain; it will follow me. But in the City of Angels, my grief outweighs any happiness I might derive from my memories, which haunt me. Maybe when I’m not running into something every day that reminds me of what I’m missing (I don’t need proof), I can finally remember all of the wonderful times I had with my sister—how much joy, humor, and depth she brought into my life.
I want a fresh start in a new place where I can make new memories in a new house with my not-so-new husband. In a small town, I can breathe. Today, I inhaled dirt. It’s over, LA. I’m sorry. You didn’t change … but I did.
Originally published on August 31, 2009 on my previous blog titled Pondering happiness, hope, wisdom
P.S. What saddens me most about this post is that it took another 5+ years for me to leave Los Angeles. I was so unhappy and I’m sure I was not easy to be around. We all have the power to change our lives, especially our environment. Don’t wait five years like I did. Time is too precious.