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The Eye by Barbara King

Moving onward means leaving a complete life behind

There's an exquisite sadness to walking away from a neighborhood for the last time, even when you want to.

August 28, 2003|Barbara King

Boxes piled up in my living room and blocked the front windows that I kept open all day and all night because I liked fresh air and because I never thought I was in danger. I lived next door to two Italian cousins from New York, A.J. and Mario, tender tough guys who told me early on: "As long as there's a Benza or a Macaluso around, your safety is not in question."

And from then on, for the next two years, I believed it wasn't. I felt giddily, absurdly at ease in my house and on my street, rarely even pulling the curtains shut downstairs. The sun bleached books, the sprinklers shot streams of water through the screen and spotted my dining table, the neighbors remarked on my furnishings even though few had actually been inside. I didn't sweat it. I wanted to inhabit the whole environment.

Except for one dark spell that lasted a month or so, I let the place brazenly fling itself at the world. The risk of closing it in and off was greater for me than the risk of opening it up and letting everything pour in, sunshine and rain included.

Thirteen days ago, I finally closed those windows. This was no longer to be my neighborhood, the place I had grown so fond of and so used to. I was moving, and as such moving on, as I have been both sagely and simplistically advised to do at regular intervals (mostly after botched romances).

The act of moving on -- for that matter, the very sound of the words themselves -- sets off dueling emotions in me: exhilaration versus exquisite sadness. By the latter I don't mean despair or neurotic upset. It's more pure than that; it's grief. There's a certain poetry to it, or music, something on the order of Spanish classical guitar. Your body fills with it, but eventually, and usually rather soon, it, too, moves on, same as you have. Still, it's grief. And it's real.

Moving on means, by implication, going forward, but going forward means leaving something behind. Even if what you leave behind is what you ought to leave behind, you can't just brush it off as if it's a crumb on a sleeve. It clings, hangs on for a while, more like lint on wool. And no matter how often you go through it, you're still unprepared the next time.

There's no immunity for grief even if it's grief for an inanimate object or an idea or an illusion. And certainly not for the tangible and intangible nature of a house and a street and a neighborhood. They contain everything you were when you were there, and they forever will.

I didn't expect to grieve for this house and this street and this neighborhood, the ones I have just left behind. For months, I wanted nothing so much as to start all over again in a different sort of place, one that suited my evolving, unfolding life. My house was lovely, but too much so. It was French-style, 1930s, with small, rather delicate rooms, never exactly right for my bolder furniture. Nor was the choppiness of the floor plan right for my expanding point of view.

I wanted one big space with everything edited down to what I loved, and only what I loved. I wanted to be able to see it all at once so that I could take pleasure in everything every day. Most of all, I wanted to be forced to take stock and come to conclusions. I would have to leave behind more than just a location, and I was ready. Belongings that once mattered no longer mattered.

So when I was shown a top-floor loft at Little Tokyo Lofts downtown, I knew the time had come: The two walls of 9-foot windows convinced me. I rented it on the spot. I couldn't wait to pack up and get out of the house on Carmona Avenue that belonged to an old life -- a finished life.

My own sense of life, in fact -- or perhaps I should say my sense of my own life -- is that it is really a series of little lives strung together that get fully lived and are complete unto themselves. Thus my two-year lifespan in the Miracle Mile is like a whole contained universe that will stay in place, intact. Nothing is lost from it.

In some way, my little lived lives are like framed art, if you'll allow the presumption, that I can look at if I need to, or look away from, or love, hate, analyze, appreciate. Because they're framed, contained, intact, their safety, as the cousins might say, is not in question. I'll take them with me wherever I go.

In the midst of the mad chaos of my move, I forgot to leave the keys to my abandoned house for the next tenant. I drove over late in the afternoon. As soon as I rounded the curve toward the entrance, I had a sudden ache in my chest that moved straightaway to my throat.

I unlocked the front door and entered the barren living room with its tightly shut windows. It looked bereft, betrayed. I'd walked out on it like it was a love affair turned sour, and I didn't mean to do it that way. My eyes began to sting.

I went outside and sat on the brick ledge bordering the tiny manicured lawn. All around me was the life I had just left behind, still going full force, doing just fine without me.

The yellow roses were in bloom. The palm was in its sway. The church steeple lifted toward the sky. The macaw squawked across the way. My elderly neighbor stood in his driveway, smoking his pungent cigar. In my mind I heard jazz coming from my stereo, and the passionate quarrels of lovers coming from just around the corner. I smelled A.J.'s and Mario's fresh tomato sauce.

For a long time, I had loved it here. And now I would love someplace else. And one day, I imagine, I will feel this grief all over again, just as I will, most surely, start all over again.


Barbara King is editor of the Home section. She can be reached at

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