Hazy Shade of Memory

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities
I was so hard to please

I often feel like I live in two different worlds. When I am at work, in a suit, talking LIBOR rates and workouts and foreclosures, I am one of them. When I am here, at Starbucks on my days off, in my yoga pants, I am one of us, a mother and a writer.

One day I was sitting in my yoga pants, typing away and I was sitting by another lone guy, computer set up, papers spread out. We caught each other’s eye and smiled, two creative types struggling through. On the other side of me sat down three men in suits. They were loud and trying to out-impress the other, shouting about interest rates and hedging and real estate.  The lone guy looked at me and rolled his eyes in a “aren’t they obnoxious and aren’t we glad we aren’t them” way. The thing is, somedays, I am them. I don’t talk loud or try to impress, because I really don’t care, but I have been in a Starbucks in a suit, meeting with clients and discussing such things. We often make judgments about people based on simple things. What they are wearing. Where they are at 10 am on a weekday. I float between both.

Sometimes I feel like my life is like Sliding Doors, that Gwyneth Paltrow movie where in one existence she made the train and her life went in one direction, and in the other she didn’t and her life went another. Except in mine, I flash back and forth between the two. And I don’t have that fabulous pixie haircut.

A few weeks ago, the husband and I took O back to California for the first time. The husband is from California, and I lived there for 10 years so it’s “home” to both of us in different ways. We stepped off the plane and walked out into the California sunshine. (Well, we disembarked, waited for our luggage, waited for our rental car, watched O marvel at the massive John Wayne statue in the lobby of the airport, waited some more and THEN walked outside into the California sunshine).

The sliding doors swished open and instantly I felt like I was “home”. There is a certain indefinable smell and feel to the air in California- dry, cool, smelling of gasoline and a hint of ocean, a smell of infinite possibility.  Instantly, I was 18 years old again, walking around the open-air mall in Century City with my parents.  California seemed so wide-open, not in space but in possibility, in living, in experience.  Meandering around an open-air mall in late-afternoon sunshine seemed impossibly glamorous and somehow right for California. My dad bought me this luscious cigar-colored leather backpack, a grown-up backpack, a sophisticated backpack for my college days.  I felt very cool, and very very far away from Texas. I felt like I belonged there, I easily slipped into being a Californian. I kept that backpack all through my college days, and I still have it, somewhere. It is soft with use now, has a big navy blue inkspot on it, and looks very used. Yet I can’t bear to throw it away.

I had forgotten about this backpack, but stepping out into the sunshine it came rushing back at me. Except, instead of feeling like a memory, I felt exactly like that 18 year old girl. Time slipped away, and I was her. I am her. I felt a yearning for something, so deep that it brought tears to my eyes. It was a yearning for home, for California, for who I used to be and who I still am.

In many many ways, we are different, she and I. She was brash, fearless, a bit bossy. She was scared of nothing and believed that she could do anything. She was also immature, unaware of consequences, self-centered and impulsive. She made a LOT of bad decisions. She wasted opportunities, stole boyfriends, took things for granted. She never would have chosen this life, never would have moved away and become a lawyer, married the right guy. She was also so full of life, always up for an adventure, always saying yes to impossible things. She was stubborn and hard to please. She was exactly what an 18 year old girl should be.

I am not fearless anymore and I am very aware of the consequences of decisions. I am also a lot nicer and calmer, a better friend, a better listener. I am more at peace in my skin, in my life, more able to live in the moment and appreciate the now, because I know how fast it moves. I marvel everyday that I have become a person who chose the absolute best guy to marry, that I grew up enough to be smart enough to marry someone kind and wise and thoughtful, someone who makes me laugh and who always always has my back, someone who I never for one moment doubt. I am proud of my grown up self, because knowing her, I wasn’t sure we would ever get here.

I was born and raised in Texas. There is much about me that is pure Texan. Texas is not a place that you can drift through without it leaving its mark. Its too big, too brash, too charming. But I grew up in California. From 18 to 28, the formative years of one’s grown up existence, I lived and absorbed California. There is much about me that is California.

My grandmother’s family is from California and my grandmother grew up in Fullerton, when it was still all orange groves and farmland. Her mother was the first woman superintendent in California and her father was a beekeeper.  My grandparents met at Stanford, before the war and other things drew them out of California and they ended up in Texas. When I decided to go to school in California, my grandmother nodded knowingly and told my mom that I had California in my blood.

Now, in my thirties, I live in Texas, but not in a city that is familiar or home to me. And I struggle with what “home” means, not only to me, but what it will mean to O. I am not sure that I want this to be home for him.

On our visit, O saw the ocean for the first time and met my best friends for the first time. My best friends that live out there are so close we are like family. When we see each other again, we don’t skip a beat and it’s like I never left. It’s so normal and so easy. I feel at home with them in a way that I never feel in my new hometown.

Home: Place where one lives.

At home: In harmony with the surroundings.

So I wonder, what is home? Is it place? Is it where your family and loved ones are? Is it where you feel the most harmonious with the surroundings, the terrain and the weather and the people and the customs? For me, the easy answer is home is where my husband and son are. But where I am at home is still up in the air. And that’s okay.

For now, I live in between two worlds. Texas has my head- it is where my family is, it is where my husband and I work, it is where we live in a beautiful house in an amazing neighborhood, amongst neighbors that we actually know. Taxes are reasonable, schools are good. It’s a great place for O to grow up. It’s real summer and cicadas and good Tex-Mex and BBQ, it’s long drives under a limitless sky, football mania and easy access to Target. It’s safe and predictable and full of the best people I know, people with open arms and open hearts, people that know how to tell good stories, people that know what is important in life.

But California still has my heart. It is where I became who I am, it is where my other family, my best friends are. It is where the ocean is, and the sunshine all year long, and where possibility lives. I want O to grow up surfing and live among beauty, between the ocean and mountains.

I wish I could find the words to describe the simultaneous yearning and disillusionment I feel for California. But it’s still too close for me to view objectively. The artist Liz Kubal summed up California perfectly:

And you’d think that, after all this, you’d become disillusioned and go back home, and some do, of course, but many more of us stay and instead of growing bitter, we hang on to a world that, to us, is even more fantastic than the one we thought we’d find, because it’s real in its absurdity and because we have stories to tell.”

Link to her photographs: http://www.20×200.com/art/2009/09/untitled-santa-barbara-2009.html

Soundtrack to this post:

Hazy Shade of Winter– Simon and Garfunkel

Goin to California– Led Zeppelin

California Dreamin’– Mamas & Papas

California Love– Dr Dre featuring Tupac

What I Got– Sublime

Estimated Prophet– Grateful Dead


1 Comment

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One response to “Hazy Shade of Memory

  1. This is lovely. I grew up in Toronto to the age of 30 but have lived near NYC for many years since. I return to Toronto always filled with nostalgia for the me at 20 or 25 or 28, full of hope and excitement — never having hit a wall of failure. Boom! I don’t miss the city that much but I treasure going back to my old haunts and catching up with the ghosts there.


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