Nine years ago today, I was in a car with four cats and no humans, somewhere between Billings, Montana and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was moving back from Seattle to Cleveland, to the house I couldn't sell, leaving Microsoft for who knows what. I was doing in four days solo what I did with Diana in reverse in five just two years earlier.
I regretted that move before it even started.
The decision was based on two things: social perceptions and financial realities. As I've written countless times, the social nostalgia was frankly overrated and never really materialized. We were building a solid social circle in Seattle. The financial shift was very real, and very fast. I ultimately took a minor pay cut but reduced my total housing expense, since I still had the Cleveland house, by about $25k a year. When I got tired of working for a health insurance company, I took contract work that was worth almost twice as much as the salaried job. In just 18 months from the time I got on I-90, we had no debt and enough money in the bank to move anywhere, job or not. And the housing market finally stopped sucking, so I could finally sell my house.
So why all the regret, lasting for years? I felt like leaving Seattle, the only place I ever lived that wasn't Cleveland, was somehow like admitting defeat. If I stayed there, I imagine I would have done what many of my friends did, which is leave Microsoft for awhile, then return at a higher salary. I would have likely shook off my house in another year or two, and the economic healing could have begun after that. Above all though, Seattle just felt "better" and Cleveland had little left to offer me. I can't overstate seeing mountains every single day. That's why leaving felt shitty even before the actual move.
Once we were back in Cleveland, certainly the baggage of it didn't help. My house in Brunswick was adequate, but all of my adult damage happened there, pre-Diana, and I was back in it with my new child. Throw winter on top of that and I spent a lot of time feeling depressed. I remember feeling out of place almost every single day, and wishing I could reverse it all.
In the last few years, I've been able to mostly let go of the regret. The reality that came out of the move-back has been good. We were in CLE for about 18 months when we decided to move somewhere else. I feel comfortable living in Central Florida. I can get to two coasts in relatively short order, take my kid to the best theme parks in the world (normally), afford a lot of space to live in and weather rarely causes depression. Working for local companies has been a mixed bag, but I finally landed a proper dotcom again, working remotely. The home ownership story would not likely be the same if we stayed in Seattle, but it would have been I think an equally lovely existence, just different.
If I learned anything from those years of moving around, it's that we are free to move again if we want. At this point, we don't have deep roots. I don't imagine we'll be in Orange County forever, but it's not a bad gig right now. We've almost been in this house for three years, and next spring, it will be the longest that Diana and I have lived anywhere together. I just keep asking myself when it's OK to live on the beach and why we should wait.