“Oooh, you live in California?” “Wow, Colorado, that’s so cool.” “DC? What was that like?”
“Oklahoma, huh. I’ve never been there.”
I can still smell the salt in the air. I can feel the last warm fingers of orange sun cupping my face before they stretch, palm open, below the horizon of Monterey Bay. I can feel the unevenness of the earth under my feet in our little front yard — a relief map of the JD vs. Gopher battle that raged for three of the seven months we lived in our little blue house in Santa Cruz.
I can picture ‘Pleasure Point Pam’ waving from a giant plastic float that gently knocks from side to side of the inflatable swimming pool colonizing half of her front yard.
I wave hello to Doug, a decades-long Point local living in a multi-million dollar home a block from the ocean. Doug spends every day driving from Pleasure Point to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk packing every square inch of his rusty blue Buick with giant black bags full of cans rescued for recycling. His cheeks are turned to leather by the sun, and his greeting is always cheerful, especially after a holiday weekend that’s filled the beaches with tourists and the park bins with depleted beer cans and designer coffee cups.
I feel the sand packed beneath my feet and hear Jude’s squeal each time he breaks free of my grasp and charges at the waves that lap at the anemone-covered shore at low tide.
And then I remind myself that my feet aren’t on that pock-marked grass of our front yard. That the ocean is hundreds of miles away. That the neighborhood full of front doors thrown wide-open is still existing without us.
I hate change. Loath it, really. It tips me off balance and fills me with “what ifs.” For me — maybe for most of us — it takes years to settle into a place. To fill our circles with friends, to build routines that soothe, to feel at home.
JD and I have spent much of the last 10 years ripping ourselves up by the roots and replanting in new places. The benefits have been the opportunity to live in a lot of beautiful places, to try on different lives and discard the ones that don’t fit. But the cost has been increasingly shallow roots, isolation before it was mandatory, and an ache for more than just a place we love.
Each time we’ve moved, I find myself laying in bed at 2 AM frantically running through a series of diagnostic questions: “Does this change take me further?” “Will it make me better?” “Will it contribute to a life that measures up to my completely arbitrary expectations?”
For many years, I’ve relied on the place itself, the job itself, or the circumstances themselves, to answer those questions for me. When folks have asked where I live, I’ve gotten to list off a shiny, usually new place, name-drop a good job, and let their responses validate the worthiness of the choices I’ve made.
And here I am, back in the place that made me. And the responses have changed. There are no questions about what it’s like to live by the ocean or the mountains. No questions about what brought us to the Bay Area. There’s usually a “Huh. Oklahoma, alright.” and then we move on.
There’s no inherent value placed on my response, and at first, that left me feeling a little hollow — or it amplified a hollowness that had lived there for a long time.
Sometimes the amount of change this year has brought us stops me in my tracks. Often, what follows are deep feelings of joy and thankfulness. Other times, thick, grief-filled tears slide down my cheeks reminding me of what all this change has seen us leave behind. All it has cost.
There’s always work to do, and I think that maybe this is the work I need to do right now. To study those hollows within me, rebuild their foundations, and remove the need for external validation that my choices are enough.