Home is where one starts from.
– T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets
My parents sold their house a few weeks ago. So at the end of June, I flew to Los Angeles to complete that weird milestone of Going Home For The Last Time. It sounds so grim when written out, but I’m talking about that thing where people go through their parents’ cupboards and rummage through their childhood home, and ask and are asked: Do you still want this? Can I have this? Can I throw that away? Should we ship this to you?
It’s just what you do when people move house or die: You put a price on your nostalgia and see if it’s worth the cost of checking an extra bag full of teddy bears and high school trophies, or shipping yourself a box of letters from your high school friends.
So I flew to Los Angeles, which I always think of as being familiar because I am technically “from” there, and then was completely startled when I arrived and it was like a different planet. Half of the radio stations were in Spanish. The men in white dress shirts and skinny black ties were not doormen – they were Mormons. Los Angeles is the kind of vortex where young women look old from the sun, and the old women look young from the surgery.
It’s a really weird place.
My parents live in a suburban Los Angeles town that is 35 miles from Downtown, and 70 miles from Santa Barbara. On a bad traffic day in LA and a good traffic day on the coast, they are essentially equidistant from either place, since everyone knows that distance in Los Angeles is measured in travel time, not in miles. Their town used to be nothing but onion fields and spinach farms, and now, it consists of cul-de-sacs and identical, high-end strip malls as far as the eye can see.
And the evolution of the town makes sense, really. The place was founded as a junction point for California’s railroads, and the development of real estate in the area has been the primary industry of the valley since the 1870s. That it would grow from onion fields to strip malls was practically written into the town charter.
Until a few weeks ago, my parents were among the dwindling minority of their friends who still owned or lived in the same house where their kids grew up. They lived in a canyon that went up in flames every summer with the forest fires, and the hills slid with every major rainstorm. Because they were in a canyon, the coyotes and owls would come down from the hills and steal household pets. That there were earthquakes went without saying.
Essentially, they lived in Australia. If it wasn’t the land trying to take them out on the regular, the encroaching wildlife was unrelenting.
My friends remember my parents’ house as a safe haven of pool parties, and co-ed sleepovers, and a garage refrigerator full of sodas and later, beer, that the middle school boys would sneak through our doggie door to steal while we were away. Our house was a fun place to be.
But I am not sure I will miss it.
I am not sure I will miss the place where I used to have to lock up my credit cards when I came to visit from school, because my brother was using, and he’d steal them. I am not sure I want to ever go back and sit under the skylight in my parents’ massive master suite where I got ready for my first wedding. I won’t miss slinking back to that house in defeat, when it was clear my marriage was ending. I won’t miss the room I painstakingly painted to my liking when I was a tween, only to have my mother whitewash it the minute I left for school.
I will miss the memories of pool parties, and being kissed under the maple tree in the front yard, and disarming the house alarm so I could sneak out in the wee hours to go running at dawn and be back before anyone accused me of sneaking out at all.
I am not sure I will miss that house. Because we all deserve more than just our memories. Where we began is simply where we start from. It is not where we are doomed to stay.