For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to live in California, specifically Los Angeles. I've wanted to call the West Coast sun, palm trees, In-N-Out burgers, and my biggest dreams home. LA has been the place where I believe I can best be myself. I've dreamed of LA living since my freshman year of high school. I knew the next four years would be hard, so I tackled each one initially thinking that I would go to college in California. I had the fantasy of reinventing myself and distancing myself from often being the only disabled black girl in the room. I always knew LA would be a place so vibrant and vast that I wouldn't have to worry about the mistakes I made in my past, or any preconceived notions about who I am. I wouldn't just be the sister or the cousin of, I could be my own person, a reinvention of who I was, a discovering of who I could be.
In my defense, there is a glamorous sheen to LA. We see in countless movies how California is life-changing in the best way. How shows based in these cities matter as much as the characters, and how no matter the situation, there is always a silver lining or a reminder that there's something special about where they are. Watching The Hills as a teenager, I longed to go to the bars and businesses they frequented. When Lauren confronted Heidi at Les Deux, I was riveted and longed to be 21 just so I could visit. In these shows, the possibilities felt endless: job promotions, friendships both real and fake that could make a delightful story either way. And the potential for love was around every corner. When every guy in high school and college liked every girl but me, I held on to the idea that love would find me in the big city simply to keep myself going.
But moving there for college became impossible in part because I wasn't emotionally ready to be that far from home. I come from a big, close-knit family, and the idea of being across the country from them scared me. Could I make it without them? Should I even try? I didn't have enough of a financial-aid package to swing tuition as an out-of-state student for most California universities anyway, so I set my sights on a post-college move.
I hoped that I would be emotionally ready after spending four years just an hour and fifteen minutes away. Immediately after I graduated, from the State University of New York at Fredonia, I applied for every media job Los Angeles had to offer. While many didn't respond, those that did were kind enough to tell me the truth: I had to live there already to be seriously considered.
I currently write in the living room on the couch of my Western New York home, where I live with my mother, sister, and brother. From that comfortable dark-brown couch, I have written for national publications with millions of readers. I have been interviewed by various news outlets for my viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute, which I started in part to celebrate feeling whole for the first time in my life, instead of like the fragmented pieces of a sad woman. I understand now that the hashtag has helped many people. In sharing their favorite pictures of themselves and things they like with pride, it has given them a community to belong to, and it has given me the same.
On this couch in my home, despite these things, I've felt like an impostor, scrolled through Twitter and wished to be elsewhere, felt like there was some big secret I wasn't privy to and a community of writers in California to which I'd never belong.