Los Angeles and I are in a complicated relationship. As a person who has a really romantic sense of place, I get so emotionally attached to towns that it sometimes gets in the way. L.A. is where my dreaminess really ends up being counterproductive, and I know this from experience.

Four days after I turned 18, after months of California dreaming, my dad drove me away from my mom’s house and in the direction of L.A. It felt like I had just eloped with some thrilling almost-stranger and our honeymoon was 100 percent magical, filled with palm trees and ice cream. Los Angeles was totally foreign—I felt like someone took a hammer and cracked the eggshell I was living in, shattering the world open for me. Anything was possible and everything was happening.

There were a few factors that contributed to this sense of awe. First, I was experiencing all the freedom-feelings of leaving home, which was exciting enough on its own. Second, I was so sick of Seattle’s dreariness, socially and weather-wise, and L.A. remedied that. Third, moving there was an act of impulse over intuition. I chose a school that wasn’t a good fit for me, because I was allured by both the city and the college’s glamorous reputation and promise of opportunity.

That being said, I had built up L.A. in my mind. And it delivered, at least for the first few weeks. I had a lot of awesome experiences taking public transportation and wandering around, exploring neighborhoods with unfamiliar demographics, and tasting everything new I could find. Also, I realized I REALLY LOVE PALM TREES. It was the perfect place for me to be, in the sense that what I needed at age 18 was something completely NEW.

Still, there was a lot about the city’s unfamiliarity that was more challenging than inspiring for me: the car culture and the sprawl were huge shocks, and a lot of L.A. is just so ugly. Through my school, I encountered a lot of bad attitudes and competitive people that made me uncomfortable. Not all of the newness was pleasant. Despite that, when I decided to transfer schools, I felt like my attachment to the city had already formed, and I knew that someday I’d come back and try my hand at living there again.

I’ll never regret leaving L.A., because I love it here in Oakland. But I still feel like I am in denial about L.A.’s disappointments, as if they’re pesky practicalities that are in the way of my romantic vision of the place.

I’m heading there today on a bus, and it’s my first time going back. I feel just like I did two years ago as I prepared to move down there: full of vivid daydreams and uncontrollable excitement, even though this time I should know better. I want to live there again, maybe after graduation…but am I forgetting what it was really like? Is my romanticism leading me to ignore the things about it that disappointed me? I feel like this trip is a test: am I just making up unrealistic visions, or can my life really be filled with indefinite sunshine and tacos? Maybe by the end of my week there, I’ll be able to separate my dreams from reality…unless I’m lucky, and I can have both at the same time. ♦