I am headed to California this week. Today. I’m writing from the American Airlines lounge at JFK, actually.
People have been saying: Are you excited to go home to Cali? This is like nails on a chalkboard to me. What is this mythical Cali of which you speak? Is it somewhere near Frisco, which, from what I understand, is a city in Texas?
I used to live in California. I used to live in Los Angeles. I was terrible at Los Angeles. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the rhythm; the flow. I spent a lot of time with hurt feelings. I was intimidated by the tall, blonde girls from the beach communities, with their thick blonde ponytails hanging down their backs, and their blindingly white veneers glinting in the perpetual sunshine. I was put off by the unintelligible slang, which I never deciphered.
Dudes calling each other…bra? What in the name of all that is good is that?
In my Los Angeles days, I had short, red hair, and I was a pricklier, more standoffish person than I am now. Basically, a New Yorker.
That, gentle readers, is what I spent most of my life looking like.
This is what I look like now:
Long blonde hair, and a closet-full of shifts, wraps, and flats. Sartorially, a native daughter of nowhere, but as easily confused for a Los Angelena as anywhere else, I suppose.
Living a fast-paced lifestyle and spending a lot of time in London, this is what I hope to look like in a few years:
This is a roundabout and confusing way to say, I have mixed feelings about California right now, but I am excited for my trip this weekend.
I am excited to see my family. I am desperate to see my West Coast friends, and to hold and kiss the many babies that have been born while I’ve been busy waiting in airport lounges, and passport control queues, and trying to decipher the many quirks of the fortysomething-year-old British man-child.
But life is never so simple, nor is going back to the places where life has been lived. For instance, a few years ago, when my brother’s best friend died and I was leaving my husband, the place took on a different cast, and I haven’t been able to shake that view:
Today, I sat in a church and listen to songs played in memory of a young man with a six-month old son. The saddest songs in the world are those played for a fallen young man.
I stood in the sunshine outside of the church before the service, the late spring wind in the air. Blue dress; blonde hair. Cigarette smoke from my brother and his friends curling from around where Shane’s surfer van was parked.
In the church, they asked if we would accept Jesus if we hadn’t already. Heads were bowed; tongues silently confessed. Tears were wiped away from faces; but the pentecostal fire was one of glowing cigarette butts and the praise song was “Under Pressure.” That’s how Jesus would have rolled, you know–just the way Shane came and went. Shane the Evangelist.
We left the church as a family after the funeral was done.
Later, I went to Jade’s house where she made me shrimp quesadillas and I sat reading British tabloids while she watched the Laker game. I am scared of death and dying and my own mortality and I am scared for my brother’s sobriety and I am angry that Shane is dead and that makes food seem…unpalatable.
But she didn’t ask any questions. She just made me a shrimp quesadilla.
Then my father-in-law called, and I went outside to take the call; have the conversation I never though I’d have to be having. I stood barefoot in the driveway of the house; foxtails clinging to me; the words coming out of my mouth sounding as foreign to me as they must have to my father-in-law. I wanted to apologize; to say ‘I’m sorry. I’ve never had to travel this road before.’
Then I went back inside–back to Jade, and Zed, and Phil, and the Lakers; back to safer spaces.
And after the game, I drove home back through the pass in my father’s big German car that I love to drive. Paul Simon singing through the stereo, ‘Losing love is like a window in your heart/Everyone can see you’re blow apart/Everyone can see the wind blow…’
People ask: Are you excited to go home to California? And I look at them quizzically, as if so strange a place could ever be; could ever have been home. As if the place where I was educated and married; where my brother fell apart; where all of the things in my life that have broken me and disappointed me are safely contained — as if a foreign destination such as failure could ever be one’s home!
I’m excited to see my family; my friends. I want to watch the sunsets, and put my feet in the Pacific, and let the water soothe my soul. I love California. But this girl is a New York City girl, and after falling, flying, tumbling in turmoil, I’ve figured out exactly what that means.