My mattress, an enormous, padded rectangle, somehow fit through the door. It landed, with a muted thud on the floor. The mattress was the primary concern: It was heavy, and the stairs leading up to my new apartment were narrow and curved around at 90-degree angles. Other furniture wasn’t as heavy or had nooks we could grasp on to.
There really isn’t any reason to move with a mattress. They’re bulky, difficult, heavy, and new ones can be obtained relatively easily. But there is a sort of emotional connection with where one has slept, and I couldn’t bear to leave it behind. I always feel a twinge of sadness seeing abandoned mattresses on the street, their covers stained with who knows what, stuffing spilling out of the torn seams.
I was moved in. My furniture lay haphazardly about, dresser drawers stacked precariously, filled with odds and ends—nails, yarn, dishtowels, a lighter, bottled water. Patterned bed sheets and cream cotton curtains curled in the corner. The mattress sprawled like a dramatic centerpiece, the bed frame had yet to be assembled. The metal laid like branches snapped clean from a tree.
It was humid, people tell me “unseasonably so.” The oppressive heat was compounded with the closeness of the city. Everywhere felt as if it was filled with the breath of neighbors, weighed down by music drifting out of windows and garbled Spanish. Flinging open my own windows, hoping for an ever-so-slight breeze, I startled a nesting pigeon on the bird shit-covered window ledge across the alley. It fluttered its wings, revealing a tiny, cream-colored egg beneath its downy underside. Its alien orange eyes stared at me disapprovingly.
Los Angeles is many things to many people. It is the definition of sprawling suburbia, pressing up against the coast and climbing into distant realms like Thousand Oaks and “The Valley.” Each neighborhood has a distinct character and attitude: West Hollywood is completely different from Highland Park, whereas downtown is a far cry from Silverlake, despite only being a short drive away. The neighborhoods rub against each other, pushing against their borders and overlapping. Boundaries between neighborhoods and otherwise become blurred, linked by the constant stream of highway.
This city is simultaneously strikingly beautiful and nauseating. Plants flourish, completely untamed; impressive succulents and greenery line the sidewalks. Flowers display themselves in every color of the rainbow. There's nothing quite like seeing the sparkling downtown skyline at night for the first time. Yet, there are also immense piles of garbage to reason with: overflowing dumpsters and abandoned heaps of trash. The stench of rotting refuse intermingles with occasional ocean breezes. Smog perpetually coats the city in a dusty beige and settles on everything from cars to skin. Sometimes, after a long day, I find myself hopelessly scrubbing grime from my skin—the dirtier parts of the city clinging to me.
I return to a small corner of the city every night. My apartment is in a predominantly El Salvadoran neighborhood. It is common to hear Latin music spilling from my neighbor’s window, or from across the street, or from a stereo on the sidewalk. The air is filled with a constant hum of activity: grandmothers sit out on the sidewalk with small dogs who bark and nip at passing strangers. Children unceasingly ride bikes and scooters up and down the street or trail behind in too-big sandals that smack against the pavement. A van advertising fresh fruit sags against the curb—I wonder if it has ever budged from its station on the corner?
A few blocks north of my building is a home with a bird cage out front. Inside the cage are a multitude of doves, resting against each other, cooing softly. There are more settled on the eaves of the home, on the tree branches. I stopped one day, in awe of the sight. The owner of the home, a man, came out, stood on the porch and watched me suspiciously. I kept walking, but the image of the flock, claiming the home as their own, was unforgettable.
There is nothing better than an enormous, difficult city like Los Angeles to humble one's perspective. It's overwhelming, yet impossibly intriguing. I don't know if I can call this sprawling metropolis home yet, but it has reeled me in and continues to tease me with its mystery. I’m still wondering what Los Angeles will mean to me. I’m not in any rush to find out.