Twenty twenty-one

After contracting it in late 2020, I started 2021 suffering from long-covid and didn’t know when I was going to get better. For almost six weeks my energy level was so low that I never left home. For those that know me well, I typically walk six to eight miles per day and love to spend hours talking and cooking with friends.

I don’t know what did it, but I eventually recovered. The low-grade fever that was pushing 40 days subsided, and I remember walking to the doctor for some blood work and loving it again. My calves burned walking those three blocks.

Recovery continued quickly and with this new lease on life, I built my ideal day. During long-covid, I eliminated caffeine for the first time since I was a teenager; and in doing so, found my natural sleep cycle. I retired around 8pm and woke sometime after 5am—without an alarm. The highlight of this time was watching the sun rise above Council Bluffs and the Missouri River.

I expanded this to include a brisk two to three mile walk in the morning and eventually added a stop for avocado toast at Rally Coffee. I can’t overstate how much I loved this routine. Fresh air, active movement, quiet stillness, and focused, creative time in the morning brought back my life-force.

I usually worked at Rally for three hours every morning and spent this time reading, sketching, writing, thinking; and sometimes, coding. It’s nearly impossible to find establishments capable of engineering such focus and creativity. Whether it’s bad wifi, acoustics, food, or tea, Rally was like striking gold.

Around this same time my partner of five years, Thaddeus, and I decided to move to Los Angeles. It was a bucket list item to live in a megapolis, and Thaddeus wanted to explore song-writing and queerness in LA. While it was bittersweet realizing I’d lose my morning routine, I figured I could recreate something similar. After all, Californians are famously mocked for their avocado toast.

We would move in July.

The winter thawed, daylight savings started, and we inched closer to our cross-country move. In March though, my parents announced their divorce. I wrote When it rains the next morning. On my way home from Rally, I listened to i love you by Billie Eilish. It was raining; and looking back, Sufjan Stevens must have engineered this.

I was at a friend’s for dinner when my parents shared the news over FaceTime. After ending the call, my friend Julia was there to embrace me. I’ll never forget looking up from my hands in my lap, making eye contact with her from across the room, and then balling. She was the only person there and held me like I needed my parents to hold me.

I’ve cried hard before—that pit in your stomach and frog in your throat. Except this time, the pit and the frog stayed there for weeks. They took up residence in the new hollow recesses that my childhood and family had occupied. Repeatedly over the past twelve months, I expected they would leave but they held on. I’m an incredibly introspective person, and I expected to process this trauma like previous life-altering moments.

Time didn’t slow, and Thaddeus and I began packing for LA. We sold most of our belongings and the 60 house plants in our apartment.

These two parallel tracks—losing my childhood family and preparing to leave the community that supported me—was a bewildering amount of change. Because that wasn’t enough, Hellodeco was getting up and running, and I began talking with investors.

At the end of July, Thaddeus, Claude (meow), and I embarked cross-country in our Kia Soul. By way of I-70, we stayed in Frisco, CO and then Sedona, AZ, before shooting across I-10 to Los Angeles. Waking up in Frisco after our first night on the road, we learned that a mudslide had closed I-70, so we took state highways and mountain passes as we winded our way down through New Mexico and Arizona.

I’ll never forget seeing the looming mesas in the distance when we arrived into Sedona. Their hugeness and history pulled me into the present moment more than I had felt in months. Sitting there for millions of years, nothing moved them. This resonated, and for the first time in months, I realized I would be okay. With this revelation, the tears poured. The beautiful “I love you” kind of tears. This release felt like the linchpin of my ego letting go of my childhood and gingerly stepping forward into adulthood.

We arrived in LA, and it was exactly what I thought it would be. The weather was incredible, the traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as people describe it (although you absolutely must plan ahead), and being healthy became an afterthought. Juice, smoothie, and salad bars abound.

We live near Tartine in Silverlake, and I tried to recreate my morning walk and Rally routine there. Tartine opened an hour later than Rally and with the time difference, my morning focused, creative time was lost. Meetings started earlier, and there was something amiss. Good food, good tea, good wifi, and comfortable seating but something didn’t hit quite right. Over six months later, I haven’t been able to find Rally in LA.

A few months into living here, a friend invited me to Lisbon, Portugal. I hoped some solo travel and a change of scenery would help me reflect on 2021. The escape was exactly what I needed: I extended my stay from two to six weeks and spent nearly a month in Prague, Czechia. Prague is my favorite city in Europe. There’s something inviting about it there that I haven’t found in other European cities. In fact, for the first time since my move, I had found Rally again. The cafes, parks, and river in Prague immersed me in my morning routine. I didn’t want to leave.

I returned from Europe just before the holidays and spent an awkward Christmas and New Years in Minnesota with family. Thaddeus spent this entire time in LA, getting to know the neighbors, discovering Equinox, and thinking about what he wanted from life. This was the most time we had ever spent apart in our almost six years together.

When I finally landed back at our apartment in East Hollywood, we talked endlessly for days about what we wanted from life. There were times when it felt like we were on opposite ends of the world and others when it felt like we were in one body together. We converged and diverged from these two places often—each time discovering more about ourselves and our relationship.

The most substantial change from the last year has been the loss of a principal backstop—my childhood home on Wedgewood Drive and the family that lived there. This backstop was there to catch me when I fell or needed a reset. It provided a supreme sense of security for my subconscious that made it easy to take risks. I noticed myself beginning to pull back from ambitious ideas.

Early on, Thaddeus and I realized LA would not be the place where we would build our backstop. While the city is full of opportunity, its pace and ambivalence towards tenderness was pushing us away. We looked all over the United States. From Burlington, VT to San Diego, CA, we struggled to find something that looked like home.

We thought deeply about where we wanted to be. We considered affordability, climate, culture, politics, and the local economy. It seemed no place had everything we wanted. As we evaluated each place by each dimension, we began to realize that all this data were proxies for the one thing we were missing: community. Community was what we wanted from a good climate, good culture, good politics, and a good economy.

Encountering community is a gift—it’s like striking gold. It’s impossible to know how close you are to finding it or how close you are to losing it. After such an uncertain year, the one thing I knew for certain was Omaha. Thinking back to Julia and to Rally, it was the one place throughout 2021 where I felt home.

Home is where I can go and know I’ll be held. It’s where I can be tender. Where I can tap into creativity and wonder about the future. It’s the place to build a life and connect with real humans. Home is where you invite friends over for dinner and talk for hours. Put simply, home is where they’re excited to see you.

Omaha in 2020