Snarky Behavior

Trapped in a Liminal Space

August 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

While filling out a security clearance for my previous job, I was required to complete a comprehensive list of all of my addresses of residence over the previous seven years of my life, for any stint over 4 weeks (note: this is something you should try for yourself sometime… it’s quite an interesting exercise).

By the time I had finished the form, I was shocked. During the seven year span, I had moved 15(!) times, living in 12 different residences, in 6 different cities — Irvine, Santa Ana (x4), LA (x5), DC (x2), Havana, and now, once again, NYC (x2). I had lived in a dirty tenement; an even dirtier co-op; on the floor of my friends’ apartment; a hotel; two dorms; four different apartments; and, during five excruciatingly painful episodes, at my parent’s house(s).

Looking back at all of those moving experiences– all of the boxes and bags I carried around; the sentimental trinkets I had unpacked onto my desks (only to repack months later); the layers of tape on the backs of the photos I stuck on the walls above my various beds (air mattresses included)– I recognized that, there were some goodbyes that were substantially more difficult for me to make than others, including my most recent goodbye to DC.

Now: as a child of divorce, I of course have my requisite attachment issues, and am no fan of goodbyes, in general. But the emotions I experienced when leaving DC were only comparable to three other experiences in my life:

1) Coming back from summer camp in Catalina (very first kiss!) to find out that my dad had got a new job in Orange County and that we were moving away from San Diego (my parents broke the news over dinner at Carl’s Jr. and I bawled like an abandoned bride on her wedding day);

2.) Saying goodbye, flight by flight, to all of the friends I had made in Cuba, as our planes departed from Cancun back to our respective corners of the US, (I was such an inconsolable wreck that I almost got detained in customs for getting smart with a border agent);

3.) Moving out of my apartment after senior year of college (playing foosball by myself in an empty apartment and weeping softly).

In between the frantic process of packing up all of my worldly belongings in DC and dumping them in some sketchy closet in Harlem, I had a serene 4-hour drive up the eastern sea-board in which to reflect on what made these particular goodbyes so much more painful than the others. (Note: This is where the post starts becoming relevant to YOU.)

The painful goodbyes are the goodbyes of liminality… the transitional state between two phases in our lives, the “in-betwixt and in-between” periods when we make our rites of passage metaphysically that are tangled and coupled with the actual physical moves themselves, compounding the associated emotions.


The liminal state is “characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.”

During my housing search I liked to joke that I was homeless and unemployed, because I felt trapped in this liminal space between young professional and student, between DCist and New Yorker, between post-college and mid-twenties, between the things that could’ve been in my future had I not shifted my life’s rudder hard to the right, and the actual path that now lies ahead because I did.

The actual physical process of MOVING… of seeing my room completely empty, of saying goodbye to the people who had become my world over the last two years… is jarring enough in and of itself. But the self-realization of maturation that accompanies this move, of the opportunity costs of heading in a new and different (and presumably upward) direction, is pretty hard to swallow… especially when you’re driving in Delaware and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” comes on the radio.

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1 response so far ↓

  • Rohit // August 27, 2007 at 10:34 pm | Reply

    Well said! And I concur completely. Leaving SF was a very emotional process for me as well (and one which I almost didn’t go through with, given my option to return to Berkeley), especially since I was essentially saying goodbye to the past six years since I moved up for college (i.e., my entire adult life).

    For me, the one thing that helped was that my roommates and I had the good fortune to know early on that we were parting ways with each other (and for two of us, SF), and as such, took appropriate measures to gain closure (e.g., the goodbye party, the last [roommate] supper, etc.). Even still, doing the final walk-through of my empty apartment, I couldn’t help but feel choked up (and I rarely get that way): Two years of my life had elapsed in this place, and there was nothing to show for it besides my memories—and some substandard photographs on my web site.

    God, I hope I made the right decision.

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