You’re Allowed to Leave

You’re Allowed to Leave

The quotation "Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento" attributed to Joan Didion appears in pale lettering on a black background.
The opening frame from Lady Bird (2017)

Like everyone else away at school, I was sent home in March without a plan or even an idea of what I was getting myself into. It all felt so unfair. I had classes that I loved, an internship I worked my ass off to get, and consistently great friends for the first time since I had moved to New York six months before, and then, just like that, it was all gone. I spent almost the entire duration of my five-hour flight home sobbing and bewailing my fate, imagining my return to the place I had worked so hard to leave.

Being back in Henderson (a suburb fifteen minutes outside of Las Vegas, Nevada) was­ . . . eerie, to say the least. Even though everyone was in quarantine, just the fact that everyone was back home prompted my high school friends to reach out and start up the old group chat again. I had left for college with most of my high school friendships in ambiguous positions, and even though we had seen each other over winter break, now we weren’t just people with whom to get drunk with and ring in the New Year. We couldn’t see each other, but we all had this connection because we were in the same place. We were all back “home.”

My life became one sentient contradiction. I was in the same city as old friends, but I couldn’t see them. I was doing college-level work in my middle-school sized bed. I was an adult forced to take out the trash before I could take the car, a mandate brought back from adolescence. I loved seeing my family and pets, but if my dad tried to talk to me about politics one more time, I would have lost my mind entirely. 

In this dichotomous life of mine, in limbo between this pseudo-childhood and my adult existence, I needed to find a way to get by. While some people’s quarantine coping experiences were filled with sourdough bread starters and learning an instrument, mine was filled with movies. I’d had a “Stuff to Watch” iCloud note on my phone for as long as I could remember, and this was my chance to check it off. After a weekend binge of Booksmart and Little Women, I determined that I had to watch Lady Bird next, if for nothing else to complete the coming-of-age, Gerwigian quest I had embarked upon.

Screenshot of an iPhone notes app titled "Stuff to Watch" with only about a third of the titles checked off. Some of the checked off titles include Lady Bird, Booksmart, Little Women, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
A screenshot of the “Stuff to Watch” note I started in March

Some movies are movies, and some movies are so specific a retelling of your lived experiences that you look over your shoulder to make sure Greta Gerwig isn’t there, writing it all down. I swiftly texted practically everyone I knew to tell them how much I had loved the movie and talk about the teary eyes and aching heart that came along with it. However, despite my admiration for the film, I didn’t cry while watching. It was not until months later, after I had finally left home and returned to New York, that I was unpacking my suitcase and began to weep quietly, and I knew the reason why.

There are many big, momentous scenes in Lady Bird, such as the title character jumping out of a moving car in the opening scene to escape an argument with her mother (an action I could write an entire paper on as a metaphor), but it was the smaller, more subtle scenes that fractured my heart into pieces and made clear to me the specific universality of my experience.

Lady Bird and Her Mother

The most poignant and biting relationship throughout the film is the mother-daughter duo of Lady Bird (given name Christine) and her mother Marion. Like most young women who are just as stubborn and driven as the women who raised them, to say that Lady Bird “butts heads” with her mother would be a terrible understatement. This scene (below) between the two of them resonated so deeply with me that even now, watching Lady Bird again to write this piece, my eyes fill with tears and my heart quietly yearns for a bond I never had.

Lady Bird comes out again. The dress kind of fits her. It’s bright pink and
frilly. She looks happy:


I love it. 

Smiles up at her Mom, looking for approval:

MARION (considering)

Is it too pink?

*Lady Bird silently goes back into the dressing room. Her Mom just crushed
something that she liked and was very “her.”*

Marion picks up that she’s upset:




Why can’t you say I look nice?


I thought you didn’t even care what I think.


I still want you to think I look good.


I’m sorry, I was telling you the truth. Do you want me to lie?


No, I just wish... I wish that you liked me.


Of course I love you.

*Lady Bird comes out. Looks at Marion with the pure question:*


But do you like me?


(faltering) ...I want you to be the very best version of yourself you can be.


What if this is the best version?1

My mother and I always have been and always will be two opposite individuals. Where she’s emotional, I’m logical. Where she’s passive-aggressive, I’m blatantly aggressive. Where she’s brutally honest, I’m sensitive. Where we love each other, sometimes we disagree so vehemently that I wonder if she ever liked me. She appreciates my intellect yet abhors me for using it to pursue dreams that are not hers. I appreciate everything she has done for me but begrudge her when she lords it over me. We have both always been stubborn, defiant women, and while I know that she wishes I didn’t use these strengths I learned from her against her, I love her for bestowing them onto me all the same.

Lady Bird and New York (and her mother and her family)

“I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast. I want to go where culture is like New York.”2 I wish I could say that my departure from the west coast was any less bitter and angst-ridden than Lady Bird’s from Sacramento, but it might have been even more so. And like Lady Bird, New York kicked my ass. Hard. And it was during these moments—throwing up in my dorm room, existential walks on a Sunday morning, crying softly so that my roommates would not hear—that I realized moving 2,500 miles across the country was the right thing to do.

*She [Lady Bird] ducks into the entry-way of the church. Gets out her phone,
calls her home phone. It rings and rings. She leaves a message*


Hi Mom and Dad, it’s me. Christine. It’s the name you gave me. It’s a good one.
Dad, this is more for Mom - Hey Mom: did you feel emotional the first time that
you drove in Sacramento? I did and I wanted to tell you, but we weren’t really
talking when it happened. All those bends I’ve known my whole life, and stores,
and the whole thing. But I wanted to tell you. I love you. Thank you, I’m...
thank you.3

I love my mother, I love my family, and loving them most at a distance doesn’t make that love any less strong or valid. Where family dinners became hostile, family FaceTime calls have become a pleasant surprise. Where my parents and I would argue for hours upon hours (none of us knew when to stop) has been replaced with “I have to go, class is starting!” We are different people in every way, from our politics and dreams down to our preferred music and style, and that is okay. It took moving to the opposite coast last August to realize that I harbored feelings of hurt, and it took quarantine and an unfinished “Stuff to Watch” list to realize that I had forgiven them for it all the same.

Lady Bird, more than anything else, taught me that I was allowed to feel the way I felt. It reached out to me and embraced me, told me that I was allowed to hold all of these truths. It told me that you’re allowed to want more, that you’re not selfish for leaving. You’re allowed to reconcile with your family and still know that escaping was the right thing to do. My family and I will always love each other, but we “like” each other most at a distance, punctuated by holidays spreads and birthday wishes. And that is okay.

  1. Gerwig, Greta. 'Lady Bird'. Film manuscript, 2017.
  2. Gerwig, Greta. ‘Lady Bird’. Film manuscript, 2017.
  3. Gerwig, Greta. 'Lady Bird'. Film manuscript, 2017.
Back to Top