Growing up, Salt Lake City was my worst case scenario. Staying in the city even a minute longer than necessary meant I’d hit rock bottom, that any potential for a happy (or even satisfactory) future was squandered, shot to hell, utterly doomed. Not to be dramatic (but also, yes, to be completely dramatic), being kidnapped by a blood-thirsty leviathan beast and dragged to her cave deep in some dank, dark, and murderous fantasy canyon to be meticulously torn apart, bone by bone, ligament by ligament, over the course of many many months felt like a better life path to me than sticking around my aggressively dry, culturally-void mini-theocracy of a hometown.
Yet here I sit, crouched over my laptop, sneaking glances between the Wasatch Mountains to my left and Downtown Salt Lake to my right, struggling to keep in the steaming giggles the beauty of these views elicits. I’m perched at a table in my alma mater’s library two years out of graduation—twenty-four years out of my mama’s tummy, the campus where I type these words rests less than two miles from the hospital that brought me into being.
And, contrary to everything I ever thought about the future in my adolescence and early 20s, I am thriving.
This city that I was born and raised in, this source of constant get-me-the-hell-out-of-here anguish growing up, might not be as awful as I suspected. Scratch that—and I can’t believe I’m admitting this—I might even like it.
Ah, hell. I’m here, aren’t I? I may as well just tell the whole truth (I’ve resolved to be more honest with myself, finally figuring that by obsessively insisting that, yes, I’m fine, things are fine, everything’s GREAT it probably points more toward everything being explicitly not fine and, in fact, actually pretty terrible), which is this: I goddamn love Salt Lake City.
Excuse me; I’m going to need a moment to process what I just wrote. Give me a minute.
Okay, I’m back, and, naturally, I have questions. First, how did I get here? Second, what the fuck is the source of these affectionate feelings? Third, will I be receiving compensation for those years WASTED yearning to live elsewhere?
Now, I’m going to be frank here (again with the honesty): I don’t think I have answers to these questions. Not yet, anyway. This realization is still fresh—I haven’t had a lot of time to process this intel via my usual means of passionate introspection during a canyon drive blasting Carly Rae Jepsen over my car’s speakers.
But now’s a good a time as ever, eh? Let’s do this:
1. How did I get here?
The hell if I know…!?
I spent so much of my life, eons and eons, wishing I was elsewhere… until one day I just didn’t. First it was California, the object of my desire. My elementary years were tainted by my family’s yearly trips to Hacienda Heights (a cute li’l suburb of L.A. nuzzled in the lush, green hills to the west). These week-or-so-long glimpses into SoCal life ruined my perception of Salt Lake. What about Utah’s furiously snowy winters was attractive or desirable when you could enjoy lax, beachy vibes year round. California had it all: glamour, sun, ocean, culture, fucken Disneyland??? Where else on earth could a baby gay boy conceivably make it big as an actor/popstar/public figure on the Disney Channel, perpetually lounge by the backyard pool, drink buckets of Shirley Temples, be fawned over during trips to some spunky go-kart track, and shop until my skinny little bones dropped onto the searing pavement of Rodeo Drive?
Nowhere, that’s the hell where.
As I grew older, my dream city morphed between various destinations. I matured from my California phase in middle school when New York announced itself to me as the premier destination for anyone serious about comedy/acting/fashion/whatever else landed on the rotation of aspirational fields I’d become transfixed by and desperate to work in. Later it was Chicago, then San Francisco, Seattle, you name it. My last major escape was Portland, Oregon, thanks in part to Portlandia, some deadbeat friends from Sophomore year of college, and lastly an ex-boyfriend hailing from the city. Of all the objects of my aspiration, Portland was the only one I followed through on, mainly because said ex (well, he wasn’t then) transferred schools and moved back to his old stomping grounds.
The nine months I spent in Oregon were turbulent, to be sure, and put a lot of things in perspective for me. The relationship I followed out there fell apart, along with it some significant conceptions and perceived understandings of my identity, desires, and dreams for the future. Coming home, I felt like an awkward, less-majestic phoenix rising from its ashes. I faced the overwhelming task of rebuilding myself after destroying the inflated, false sense of self I touted around pre-Portland. I placed my value and self-satisfaction on external, hardly controllable factors. When I internalized the realization that a dramatic move away from home wasn’t an automatic fix for the frustration I had with my life, the notion of Salt Lake’s terrible nature sort of just melted away. Finally able to recognize that Salt Lake wasn’t the source of my dissatisfaction made room for me to, you know, love it for the beauty that it is.
And it is a real beauty… which leads us to Question Two.
2. What the f**k is the source of these affectionate feelings?
I find myself nearly incapable of translating Utah’s beauty into words. I’ve written and rewritten descriptive paragraph after paragraph—my ode to Utah—probably eight times, but none of them have felt like enough. Just google image search Wasatch Mountains, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Mount Timpanogos, any natural landmark of the area. Better yet, just come visit. Believe me: It’s i n c r e d i b l e.
Anyway, the love doesn’t stop at the area’s physical beauty. There are a million reasons why I love Utah, and I’m frankly overwhelmed by the prospect of naming them all here… So instead I’ll give you a highlight reel:
- Salt Lake isn’t as small of a town as I always thought. It’s modest, yes, but modest is good. I don’t feel drowned here as I do in cities any bigger.
- It’s a 30-minute drive to any trailhead in the canyons decorating the Wasatch Front. If I want to spend time with mother nature, all I have to do is hop in my car and drive for a few minutes and boom.
- I’ve amassed a pretty incredible support system here, a fact that became painfully clear when I was alone in an unfamiliar city dealing with anxiety, isolation, and proactive heartbreak.
- Utah’s is dazzling, and I’ve finally made sense of the state’s tagline “The greatest snow on earth!!”
- Flights out of SLC are typically pretty affordable, not to mention far-reaching (it’s a Delta hub, after all).
- Cost of living? Nothing compared to the other places on my radar.
Now, on to Question Three.
3. Will I be receiving any sort of compensation for those years WASTED yearning to live elsewhere?
Dude…? Living here is compensation enough.