A few days ago, I considered writing a post about September 11th, as I do every year. However, with all the feelings of personal anxiety and loss that have consumed my life lately, I figured the last thing that was helpful for me was to dwell on a traumatic experience that none of us will ever forget. In fact, it’s impossible to believe a decade has passed, since I can recall that day, both in a real and an emotional sense, as if it happened yesterday.

A decade. It’s a long time, a third of my life. It’s been enough time for me to live many different lives, that phase that people often refer to as “finding themselves”, and since that time did in fact encompass my 20′s, it makes sense that more should happen in a decade than I’d have ever thought possible in the previous decade of my life, when I wondered if anything notable or exciting would ever happen to me.

Tomorrow, September 15th, is my 10 year anniversary: the day I first got myself on an airplane and moved my life (and whatever fit into two suitcases) to Atlanta, a city I’d never seen, to live with a guy I barely knew. The story itself is not lacking in drama, as this ex-boyfriend and I met online and kept up communication over a period of years. We met,shared some amazing experiences, and a month or so later, I found myself packing up my life to move to Atlanta. The plan was to come here for a few months, see how I liked it, see how the relationship worked.

Ironically, after weeks of discussion and debating, I committed to buying a non-refundable ticket to fly out of New York on Sept. 12, 2011. As if some angel were on my shoulder, I made a last minute change to fly out of Philly, and decided to spend the 10th and 11th with family, since I didn’t anticipate seeing them for perhaps another 6 months.

I won’t go into what happened on the 11th…a day filled with panic and fear and worry and nobody reaching anyone on their cell….but I do remember where I was. I was actually up, on my computer, chatting with a friend in Australia, when you could simultaneously hear the entire block turning on their televisions.

I spent days in the airport, from the 11th-15th, because my tickets were non-refundable, and every Amtrak and car service for miles was booked. At some point, it seemed the entire East Coast was shut down, and everyone was on edge waiting to see if their city would be next. The airports were giving the Project Runway view on things, “Either you’re in, or you’re out”.

I chose to wait it out, and predictably, every time I got close to departing, the flight was canceled. On my 17th try, with 10 minutes to go before boarding, my flight changed from “Departing” to “Canceled”, and I reached a breaking point. I swore, I threw my luggage, and caused a scene right in the middle of the lobby. Before I know it, a large, pissed-off-looking guy is approaching me, and I’m preparing to get thrown out of the airport after all my trouble. Instead, he asked what the problem was. When I told him, he asked if I had my passport and other travel documents. Fortunately, I did, just in case I decided to stay put in Atlanta for awhile.

I’ll never forget that large, pissed-off-looking airline employee. He told me that while most domestic flights would be canceled for that day, there was an international flight leaving for Air Mexico. Being somehow related to Delta, which has a hub in Atlanta, the Air Mexico flight was returning to Atlanta for refuel.

Thanks to that guy, I made it to Atlanta a few days before most airports re-started their domestic schedules, but we also were able to see “Phantom Of The Opera” at the Fox on my first night in town. (As a surprise for my then-boyfriend, and also because I saw it as positive that something I loved was right there in Atlanta, I’d booked us tickets for the closing night show, and was certain I’d never get there.)

As for Atlanta, once I got there, I didn’t like it. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it reminded me more of Orlando than a major city. I mostly didn’t like it because it wasn’t New York, it wasn’t Philly, it wasn’t D.C. or London or any other city I enjoyed. I didn’t like that everything looked like someone took Brooklyn, stretched it out, and dumped a highway in the middle of it. I didn’t like that everyone had a car, and needed one, and I didn’t even have a license. I didn’t like that I was brand-new and didn’t know a soul in the city, except for the boyfriend I was staying with, who’d only arrived a few weeks earlier for school and didn’t know the place any better than I did. In short, I was homesick. I was bored. I missed the world I lived in where I had a lot of friends, always went out, and spent a lot of time being the centre of attention. I didn’t have a job, didn’t know how to make friends,found the performing arts scene to be non-existent, and the idealistic romance bit is much better when you not only don’t move in with someone you’ve been seeing for a few weeks, but you don’t move in to a single room. I spent a lot of time not being honest about myself, my life, what I felt, what I wanted, and who I was. For the first three months, I was actually miserable.

And, then, something happened. I went home, and I realised all these little things I thought I hated, I actually missed. I liked seeing the green trees, and walks around Midtown, and the run-down pizza place near where I was living. I did what people do. I started being real about my life and my future. I found a job, started making friends, and when the relationship didn’t work out, despite nearly two years of efforts to repair it, I found a place to live. It was one of the crappiest places ever, one of those places where college students live with 6 roommates in a house largely neglected by a slumlord. There were roaches, and the “living room” became a storage room populated by stuff left behind by the constantly rotating cast of roommates. In fact, it was no different from my own college days.

A few jobs later, some attempts at dating, and a new apartment, and it finally seemed like I had a home. I never meant for it to work out that way…frankly, I still didn’t much care for Atlanta and its lack of urban flair and dependance on cars (the fact that the city’s most famous citizen, Margaret Mitchell, was killed by a streetcar illustrates exactly the long history of apathy that the city has towards pedestrians.), but life worked out that way. I made friends, I had relationships, I had jobs…and when all of those things stopped working out,and changes had to be made, I considered each and every time that it was time to leave. But I never did. I “transitioned”, but I never just packed up and went back home…maybe because I don’t know there’s anyplace that is “home” for me. At so many opportunities, I could have, and likely should have, started over somewhere else.

But I’m still here, a decade and a few lifetimes later. I’m a little more jaded, and perhaps even a little more elegant than when I arrived. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but after a decade of searching and learning life lessons the hard way, I know who I want to be, and that counts for something. Once I decided to start letting people in rather than clinging to a rotating cast of acquaintances and adventures, I started to make friends…the type you can count on when you need bail money or a ride to the hospital or your roommate almost gets you evicted. Somewhere along the way, I traded in my out-6-nights-a-week, devoted-to-polyamoury, please-don’t-limit-me persona, and rediscovered the girl that stepped off the airplane and believed in adventure and love and the idea that anything is possible, and your life can be anything you want it to be, as long as you work at creating it. I’ve been in a stable relationship for a long time with a guy, and our biggest sources of conflict come from arguments over whether or not we might have a future together (Imagine! Me? Future-thinking?) and whether or not he’s willing to move, if not out of Atlanta, at least into the city. (I hate the suburbs, and that’s one part of my future-dream I’m not willing to give up or compromise. I love the people, the energy, the noise, the shops, the restaurants, even the dirt and grime and unpleasantries you encounter. I am a city girl, somewhere deep in my soul, and I think I need that in my life to be happy…so I can’t be with someone who doesn’t share that dream for the future, I think.) I am still independent, still in a situation where it wouldn’t take much to move my life elsewhere…but some of the people in my life here are like family to me. Not my family, whom I found remarkably easy to leave and difficult to visit for more than a few weeks a year, but the supportive and loving family I’ve always wanted. I have a support network. And,though sometimes I’ve seriously considered it, it’s still hard to leave.

Atlanta’s a lot like the Mafia. You may not like it, you may even think it has some kind of bad karma that’s making your life tougher than it needs to be but something about it will always pull you back in.

I think maybe it’s all because of that deal I struck with God on September 15th, 2001, when I was a terrified girl riding alone on a plane in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack, and still willing to face fear and risk everything for the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime, all-encompassing love. I said, “Dear God, if you just get me there safely, I’m never going to leave.”

I sometimes wonder if there’s an expiration date on that promise. ;) My life still isn’t exactly as I’d like it to be, and often, I think it has something to do with where I live—it’s impossible to be independent in the suburbs of a city that’s been widely noted for having the worst public transit system of any large metropolitan area, and not being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it is always a problem for me—-, and the fact that I’m still not where I want to be in terms of living on my own, earning the salary I need to keep me happy, and being lazy about achieving my personal goals. I’m still letting the Destroyer Of Self-Esteem that lives in my head (and is doubled as an actual human being, in the form of the Mother Of The Guy I Am Currently Dating) limit my choices and dictate how I feel about myself.

And of course, spending the last few months scared to death by a chronic illness that a seemingly endless team of doctors have not been able to treat, nor identify, much less cure, has made me realise there’s no such thing as immortality. There are no extra lives, no extra energy pellets that keep you going. In a way, I’m exactly where I was a decade ago….on the precipice of a huge shift in my life.

I think, should I find myself able to recover from this illness and regain my life and my energy and my independence, I’ll be as elated as the first moment my plane touched down in Atlanta, and I realised “Everything is going to be OK.” I’ve had so many moments that weren’t OK, but also so many that were more than OK, that I don’t think I’d trade a single one for “Nothing special ever happens to me”.

Edith Piaf’s defiant song about regretting nothing rings true to me. I do, of course, have regrets. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve hurt people, I’ve made stupid choices. But in the end, they took me a step closer to where I’m supposed to be, and who I’m supposed to become. I don’t know if I care for Atlanta, after a decade of living here. But even after all the pain and heartache I’ve experienced in this city, getting on the airplane that day was still the best thing that ever happened to me.

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