When residents in Armenia ask me where I'm from, I usually expect them to tell me they have a brother or aunt or nephew who now lives in Glendale or Hollywood after I give my whole spiel about being born one place, brought up in another and explain my entire family lineage to them during a game of 20 questions.
But these days, I keep running into former residents of Los Angeles who, after years of living and working in the city, decided to move back. They tell me the streets they lived on (Kenwood, Maple), they describe the work they did (tailor, caretaker) and why they left (not because of a lack of money). No, no, it wasn't the money, or at least, that wasn't the only reason.
It was the soul, the warmth, the lack of daily, normal human contact they missed. This is a common theme in the lives of immigrants from a number of countries who move to the United States, the ongoing lament for the loss of humanity in a new, overwhelming country where often fending for yourself is the norm, not the exception.
This week, I saw my great aunt for the first time in four years, a woman who never married or had children and traveled the world to her heart's content, reasons I am absolutely convinced have contributed to a youthful look and stamina I can barely keep up with.
She spent six months in the United States, more than 10 years ago, and though her nephews tried to convince her to stay, to start a new life in L.A., she vehemently refused.
"There's nowhere I'd rather live than my homeland. There's nowhere sweeter for me to spend the rest of my days," she told me over ice-cold watermelon and coffee. On an excursion out of the city, I met two young women around my age who expressed the same sentiment as my aunt.
They were well-educated, spoke English and could pursue opportunities in other countries, but leaving Armenia was not now, nor ever an end goal. My encounters with people of different age groups and backgrounds who express their desire to stay put often comes as a surprise — given Armenia's startling and well-documented emigration rates.
I admired their tenacity, their willingness to plant their roots in one place, with no desire to flee, even if intermittently. I think of them when I wrestle feelings of wanting to stay in Armenia forever and never wanting to come here again, of missing L.A. and yearning for a Conrad's grilled cheese at 2.a.m (don't judge me), or a peaceful hike at Deukmejian Wilderness Park and knowing that weeks after I arrive, I will want to leave once more.
They come to mind when I spend endless hours researching a new destination that reignites my desire to keep traveling, keep moving forward and discovering. Maybe this restlessness is a result of feeling tied to several places at once, maybe it's stagnation I fear.
I don't have the dreams the generation of my parents had, mostly because I've resigned myself to the fact that my generation can't afford them. Buying a house and living that dream doesn't seem like it's in the cards for me or most Americans my age.
But it's not just about the lack of money. It's about the soul, the warmth, the normal human contact, except my end goals aren't geographically tied to a homeland, but to the possibilities of continuously finding humanity in more than one place, staying long enough to savor the weather, the culture, the people, before getting that terrible itch to leave once again.