Lost in the Fog

I half rolled, half dragged my heavy bags across the resistant carpet at San Francisco International Airport. “I knew I should have packed less,” I muttered to myself. I had just moved from North Carolina to San Francisco to be a flight attendant. I use the word “move” lightly. I had arrived homeless and would be living out of a hotel room with four other people that first week. Justin, my soon to be friend and roommate, picked me up from the airport. We struggled to fit my bags and his in the small car. With the rear window blocked by suitcases we drove off in search of food. In-N-Out Burger….Welcome to California.

My first few weeks in San Francisco flew by in a blur of basic orientation, calls from crew scheduling, and 5am check-ins. I slowly settled into the two bedroom apartment I shared with three friends from training and learned that a key element to being a flight attendant is to hate privacy. I shared a room, I shared a bedroom, I shared rides to work. I was never alone, but I sometimes felt lonely and lost.

The City by the Bay is an exhilarating, comforting, and romantic place, but I found myself lost there in many ways. Physically lost when I took a wrong turn walking in the Financial District and found myself in the dodgey part of the Tenderloin neighborhood. Emotionally lost when torn between feeling longing and homesickness and feeling a growing love for and life in my new home. And mentally lost not feeling intellectually challenged at work and craving a creative outlet. Lost and searching, San Francisco found me. And I, in turn, found myself.

I spent my first holidays away from home because of work. Thanksgiving, I was on call all day but managed a quaint dinner at a dim sum restaurant with my makeshift work family. We were the only ones in the restaurant. It could have been a scene straight out of “A Christmas Story.” I spend Christmas on a plane and alone in hotel rooms wondering,”What have I gotten myself into?” But come January, I began to find my way. On my days off, I took the train into the city armed with a map and a metro card. By deliberately getting lost, I let myself explore and learn the quirks and characteristics of each San Francisco neighborhood. After a few weeks of this, I didn’t feel so lost anymore.

This was not my first time moving away from my home and my family. I left for college, I lived abroad twice, and I had a stint living in New York City. But this was the first time I had ever moved away indefinitely, and I felt emotionally pulled in two directions. I am an only child, and I’m close with my family,so missing holidays, birthdays, and graduations wore on my resolve to make it in my new city… in my new life. I flew home to visit whenever possible. But I realized that I was not meeting people or making friends because I was either traveling for work or traveling to visit familiar faces. I decided that to find my way emotionally, I needed to create a balance of incorporating new relationships into my life while maintaining the established ones. I started socializing with work friends outside of work, and I met people with similar interests by joining an open water swim group. I had long time friends fly out to visit me and introduced them to new friends and before long, all the people I cared about began to know and care about each other. Emotionally, I began to feel stable and content with the balance I had found.

Before becoming a flight attendant, I was a high school English teacher. I love being able to travel, but I missed the creativity and mental stimulation of the classroom. Pouring a coke 35,000 feet somewhere above Texas, I realized I was feeling intellectually lost and unstimulated. I needed a challenge, an outlet. As soon as I got home, I started my own travel blog because, well..”Write what you know.” I started using my writing and editing skills I had spent so much time and money to learn. I was using my creativity to think up new topics on which to write, and I was using my travel experiences to teach others what I had learned and observed while traveling. I combined my passion for travel and love for writing to create a productive outlet that led to published articles and professional opportunities.

Being lost in any sense of the word is scary. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s uncertain how or if you’ll find your way. But it can also be a humbling learning experience. I have never felt more lost than in this period of my life, but I learned a lot about myself and my ability to get creative, find solutions, and persevere. Being lost is not always a bad thing, especially if you can find the humor and perspective of the situation. And maybe, just maybe, we’re never really lost. As Yogi Berra says, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Wintemberg Alves

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