Ed Note: This is a guest post by Chris Backley. It's part of a two-post series on moving to a new city. Yesterday, I wrote about living and loving in LA, after growing up on the East coast. Here is Chris on the reverse journey.
When I left Los Angeles to move to New Haven, Connecticut I brought with me a truck full of everything I owned and left the only city that I had only ever known. I was a native Angeleno that grew tired of his metropolis and wanted to try life in a northern town. I moved across country without having a place to stay and without knowing a single person in the entire state, all I knew was that I had a job waiting for me as a paramedic and I had about 10 days to get there. I told myself I was going to give the East Coast at least a year because I knew with such a big change, I was going to go through a range of emotions.
My course to Connecticut was equally unplanned. I knew I wanted to take Route 66 up to Chicago but after that I only had a rough framework of a couple baseball stadiums I wanted to see on the way. My first stop was the Route 66 town of Seligman, Arizona. I had a chocolate shake at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In which I promptly got on my white paramedic school t-shirt (the stain is still there to this day). By sunset I was in Monument Valley, the home of several famous westerns with John Wayne and other notable Hollywood cowboys. Then nightfall came. With my headlights illuminating only the immediate darkness in front of me, I had no other stimuli to keep me from my thoughts. And that’s when the enormity of what I was doing suddenly came crashing in to me. What the fuck are you doing Backley? You’re leaving everything you know in California to move to fucking Connecticut? You don’t know anyone there. You don’t have a place to stay. And you have no idea what life is going to be like there. That was probably the closest I’ve ever come to having a nervous breakdown, and I was appropriately driving on Route 666 [Note: The highway has since been renamed U.S. Route 491].
It took a couple weeks for me to settle in once I got there. After sleeping in motels, living out of my truck, and a brief stay in what I call “the house from Fight Club” I finally found a place to rent and started working as a paramedic for New Haven County. Every weekend when I wasn’t on duty I would hop in my truck, pick a town I didn’t know, and type “Main St” in to my GPS. When I got to each town I would go to the general store and buy a root beer and go sit in the “green” (for those that don’t live in New England, most towns are organized around a commercial district surrounding a park called a “green”). If I wanted to go see the “turning of the leaves”, drive to Vermont. If I wanted to see a lighthouse, drive to Maine. If I wanted to go antiquing, drive to New Hampshire. If I wanted to watch the Red Sox, drive to Massachusetts. If I wanted to hang out with the rich folk, drive to Rhode Island. After a few months of exploration I oriented myself to my new surroundings -- everything was shiny and new.
Right around the third month is when I started to get lonely and miss California. I took a fateful flight home for Christmas that first year and was never more happy to see those palm trees at LAX. I used to spend weekends visiting old college friends in Manhattan instead of sitting by myself at a bar in Milford or eating alone at a restaurant in New Haven. This loneliness is the period where most would have given up. It wasn’t until a couple months later that my life started to fall in to place. I had started to make a bunch of new friends that were paramedics, firemen, and the nurses that worked at the local hospitals. LaPaglia gave me a sofa so I finally had something to sleep on. Filosi, Ballerini, and I would go grab beers after “swing shift”. Cindy and Andrea invited me over their house for pot-lucks. Once I met those life long friends then my world started to open up and expand out from there. Life stayed at that level for a while, until the spring of 2008.
Easily the darkest time in my life was when I broke my arm. I decided it would be a good idea to go mountain biking for the first time ever in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Ten seconds later I tore the ligament in my right elbow. The fluke accident required surgery, an excruciating rehab, and me living off supplemental work insurance -- which is next to nothing. This is the time when I needed my family the most, but had none there for me. My poverty was so profound that I was stealing napkins from McDonalds and some of the dark thoughts that went through my head during that period I couldn’t even bear repeating. But it was during that rock bottom when I first began to write and started my first blog, “90 Women in 30 Days” (it’s exactly what it sounds like and is no longer on the Internet so don’t even try). I would have never emerged from that dark chasm if it weren’t for my new family in Connecticut and the mental grit I created from embracing change.
By the time I left New England to almost move to Raleigh, North Carolina (another story for another time) but instead move back to L.A., I had accomplished a lot. I was the groomsman in a wedding, I had met some of my greatest lifelong friends, and I had the most personal growth I had ever experienced. There’s nothing scarier than any kind of large life change, especially if you’re doing it by yourself, but there is no faster route to personal growth than when you challenge yourself. By forcing myself to make new friends, I became less shy and more personable. By facing the fear of the unfamiliar, I had learned how to control fear. By dealing with the darkness, I had learned how to write. In cities all over America there are people with similar tales of growth because people with ambition welcome change. I have a unique respect for those that have lived in different places because I know the type of character it takes and the struggles they went through in order to succeed. Change is when you will grow the most as a person and challenging yourself is the only way to make strides towards making yourself better.