A Year in the District
I never really belonged in LA.
Every day feeling like a stagnant routine of going to work, grabbing a single $15 cocktail at “happy hour,” and then driving home. I had friends, sure, but their disparate locations made it difficult to hang out and so I spent so much of my time at home or at my parents’ just watching the days go by.
It came to the point where I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the group of friends I had always dreamt of — ones that rival sitcoms in every measure; ones that were in walking distance and not a “short” thirty minute drive away.
Despite a small group of friends, I had really only gone to D.C. twice in my life—once as a child (I have been told that this doesn’t count) and once back in 2019, which I do remember. I had extended a New York City trip a few days and took the Amtrak three and a half hours south to visit and stay with my friends, Joey and Jason. The weekend was nonstop—a crowded birthday party to another birthday party in Maryland to The Mall to the National Portrait Gallery to a an overwhelming birthday party to, you guessed it, another bar—all this on a sprained foot I sustained in Bed-Stuy. In the silence between parties, I would walk around The District and try to process it all: “Is it a city? Is it a suburb? Is it a neighborhood? Is it grunge? Is it gentrified?” I cycled through question after question and couldn’t quite put my finger on how to describe it. So I decided not to.
By the time I got home and the rose-colored vacation glasses came off, I didn’t think that I’d come back for anything longer than a weekend. My friends would remain settled there and I would continue my life in LA, amidst the vapid and banal. For a year, I thought about moving, thought about going somewhere where I was happy (even if just for a weekend), but it all just seemed like a distant wish.
Then there was the pandemic.
Then the layoff.
Then the seemingly never-ending anxiety and depression.
Then the new job—based out of D.C.
The job was a door. A door out of a toxic job and into the world of progressive politics; a door into stressful nights during a weeklong general election; a door to something different. I knew working east coast hours from the west coast wouldn’t be possible for long (I’m surprised that I managed six months of it), and so I decided to make it official—it was time to move.
However, being Filipino and raised a homebody, brought their own set of unique challenges like, “how do you tell your family (immediate and extended) that you’re not only moving to another city, but another coast where no one else lives?” and “how do I afford this?”
Turns out you just slide it in the middle of a sentence and hope they don’t notice it straight away. Their reactions weren’t as over-the-top as my imagination made them out to be; a bit of shock, a bit of awe, and a lot of follow-ups. And once the dust settles, the shock eventually turns into, “Oh, now we have a place to stay when we visit!”
The move itself wasn’t arduous because, while it breaks the bank, investing in full-service movers and a new prescription for Zoloft makes it well worth the cost. Even the goodbyes weren’t terribly saccharine; in my own way, I did say goodbye by leaving letters for those in my west coast life before I got on that 8am flight to DCA. (I even sprung for actual stamps to mail them to people!)
I didn’t know what to expect when I got here. By the time the last box was broken down and tossed down the trash chute, I felt like I hadn’t even left LA. With the pandemic still raging and vaccines just barely rolled out, I barely left my apartment. But after I got vaccinated, more doors presented themselves—I got a cat who never stops screaming at me, I found a new dentist, I even went out and made new friends.
Finding new friends are always the challenge, I feel. When you’re in school it’s easy because you’re forced to see the same people for forty hours a week if not more, and when you’re working in an office it’s more or less the same, but oftentimes with people you’d rather not see outside of work. And while I bemoan the process of searching and connecting with new people, I knew how vital it was to have a foundation here; how essential it was to step outside of my comfort zone and be present. And I’m not saying that I cracked the code on finding friends as an adult, but the apps have proven themselves effective—for me, all it took was one step in a new direction to see that there were people out there who wanted me to their friend as much as I wanted them to be mine. I got lucky when I met Vincent because A) without him I don’t know where I would’ve found daikon radish or fish sauce and B) I wouldn’t have grown my friend group and met Nate. I take pride in both of their friendships for so many reasons, but the main one is because I met them without the precursor of work or school, but through choice and genuine connection.
I came to The District knowing barely a handful of people, and in the last year, I have been able to grow and foster and cultivate something beyond just friendships. It’s here that I found my second family—one of my own creation and filled with people I have grown to love beyond my capacity to love. And I couldn’t have been happier for it, because now, I feel like I’m supposed to be here.
I finally feel like I belong.