In late June of 2012, at the age of 57, my partner Robert, our yorkie terrier Max and myself undertook a major life change by moving from our native New England states to Fresno, CA. This was not an impulsive move but was the culmination of several years of taking vacations in Fresno to visit Robert’s sister, talking it over, saving some money and then making the final decision to move. I loved Burlington, VT where I lived for over 25 years. But it was time to move on from the long cold, dreary winters, and frequent overcast summers. Don’t get me wrong, Burlington is an awesome small city, and the diverse, liberal culture there was a major turning point in my life; this is where I came out of the closet and began living my life fully as a gay man. But it was time to make a change; I needed more sunshine and warm temperatures. We sold most of our furniture and stuff and loaded up my Ford F150 with a cap and the 3 of us embarked on a journey across the country, the biggest adventure yet in our lives. After nearly 10 years I can still feel the trepidation and anxiety I felt as we left Vermont, our families and everything we were familiar with in life.
The trip took several days, and it was a truly memorable experience driving across the country and watching the landscape change from state to state was something I will never forget. Once we were on the road, we were able to get away from all the voices and opinions of family and friends that sowed the seed of doubt, wondering if we would make it so far away from home. We could now be with ourselves and go with the flow of our decision no matter how uncertain the future would be. Robert did well, I am a worry wort and remember a deep feeling of anxiety that I would try to hide and show a brave face as Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado flew by the truck window. I found comfort in watching the flat land became rolling hills that grew into the Rocky Mountains. It was the beginning of what felt like an extended vacation. We had no deadline to be in Fresno, no jobs lined up, just a place to land at Robert’s sister’s house. I felt a strange combination of excitement and uncertainty as the reality of what we had done set in. I was 57 after all, Robert 49, we weren’t young men on a coming into manhood adventure; this was our adult lives!
We landed in Fresno in early July and tried to settle into a routine. After years of living in my own apartment alone and later with Robert, we were now living in his sister’s house and adapting to her schedule and habits. After a month or so of feeling like we were on vacation, the reality of money running out and needing to find a job hit hard. I had worked at a family-owned natural food store in Burlington and hoped to continue in that line of work. Robert has hospital administration experience and lands a job quickly. I, on the other hand, had a terrible, frustrating, anxiety inducing time. I could barely even get a person to talk to at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or any of the smaller health food stores. I finally got a seasonal job at a silly retail store in River Park that for me was awful and depressing. I tried to keep repeating to myself, at least it’s a job and fell deeper into depression as this life change was not at all what I wanted it to be. We were not prepared for the culture shock that California and Fresno had for us. Everything here was different to what we grew up with and was ingrained in our psyche. The weather was hot and dry; it never rains! The trees, flowers, sky and clouds all different! The streets, traffic, food, people, all different!
In February of 2013 we got our own apartment and this helped us to get a sense of being on our own. In May of that year, I finally had what we both call “the breakdown” and in retrospect a breakthrough. The homesickness and frustration of my job came to a head over a period of a few weeks, and we almost decided to leave Fresno and move back East. My soul felt crushed, and I lost all sense of self. Fortunately, Robert had a level-headed approach, and in the end, we decided to stay and make it work. I needed this breakdown to start all over again. I realized I was fighting to hold onto the past and afraid to face the future. I needed to take a hard inventory of where I had been in my life and jump out of my comfort zone, perhaps one of the hardest things for me to do. It did work, we got better jobs and slowly settled into a day-to-day routine. The months and years went by, and I now have made peace with Fresno.
Here is what I have learned over the last 10 years about Fresno. It is hot in the summertime! The triple digit temperatures are unheard of in Vermont. It doesn’t rain very much. Rainy spring and summer months are common back east; long very cold and snowy winters are inevitable. We do have an interstate highway, but most roads are simple two lane and wind through small towns. Fresno has wide 4 and 6 lane streets that flow north and south, east, and west. I still need to ask Siri on my phone how to get to where I am going sometimes. Fresno is big compared to Burlington, VT, a college town of perhaps 60,000 residents. Burlington is the epitome of laid back, hippie, socialist living and thinking.
Being an out gay man was easy in this forward-thinking college town of coffee shops and natural food stores nestled among high price gift and clothing stores. Buskers thrived on the closed off marketplace in the warmer months. Fresno sprawls and has although it has the alternative leaning Tower District, haven’t felt the same sense of belonging there. Maybe I’m just getting old! Maybe I need to spend more time there. It would be fun to check out some of the gay bars in Fresno I see advertised. I have gone to Fresno’s Pride celebrations and feel that old sense of belonging to something bigger than myself come back to me. I know my community is out there and the longer I live in Fresno the old feeling of who I am is coming back. I love the sunny days and hot temperatures because the ocean is a 2.5-hour drive away. The mountains too.
I am finding peace in California; it feels good to write those words. It just seems like it should rain a little more!