Fourteen Days in a Desert Oasis
Or, going home to a home that’s not home
Early in the morning on 25 September, after four hours sleep, we began to make our way to the US. As an expat, this was a trip home. It wasn’t just a trip home, though, it was a trip to my native state. It was going back to California.
To skip ahead a bit, and provide the basic summary, the trip was great, it was lovely to see people, and, yes, the weather was hot.
Now then, where was I?
Not in California. My last time in the state was around 2005 or so. I had gone back to pack up some remaining items at my childhood home. Though I had grown up there, I moved away in 1997. Almost immediately, New York became my home. By the time I moved to Vermont, which wasn’t entirely home itself, California was no longer in the running for that title. By that time I did feel fairly homeless.
This isn’t ‘homeless’ in the sense of having no shelter. This is the type of homeless that is just a lack of rootedness. After my mom’s death, I had nothing left in California. (I should clarify this, though. I do have friends, family, and friends so closer they are family, many of whom are in California. It was just no longer the place I would return to as home. It became, instead, the place I was from.) Since then, I’ve lived a variety of places. In the moment, they have been my home. They haven’t always been places I like, but I don’t know that liking a place is required for it to be home.
Now, years later, I have become to consider England home. Here, I have family and friends, and though we might not be entirely settled in one precise location, it is where I call home.
So going to California wasn’t going home, even though it was. Within the first few days, it became more and more apparent that the California I knew was no longer there. I didn’t remember all the roads, and stores had closed. Local news anchors looked so very old.
Though I still comfortably weaved through freeway traffic, I no longer knew where to go when I exited. I got confused. I got lost. My house was a different colour.
This was the place I grew up, and many things hadn’t changed. There was still a true violence to the place that is so basic to it that it isn’t news. ‘Three people have been murdered on this street already this week, and somebody left a baby in a dumpster,’ stated with no shock or horror on a Wednesday afternoon.
The signs, full of shockingly open racism, warning you not to pick up Mexicans weren’t there anymore. The Border Patrol use car chase tactics.
Being in California wasn’t being home. It was a brutal reminder that my home isn’t my home anymore. It is a place where I was never an adult. I don’t know where to find a bar with live music. My best offering was a coffee shop that, honestly, I was amazed was still around.
The reasons for going, the tourism, the introductions, can all be left for now. I’ll write about them later.
For now, it is necessary to write about the emptiness and tears that come when you realise your home is gone. The feeling of being orphaned, of being 33 and having no base. Of clinging to the identification for so long, only to realise that the world moved on.
We drove up the coast earlier than planned. There were a few reasons, not all of which are even worth mentioning. I had to get away, though. I couldn’t spend any more time in Southern California, that place I didn’t know, that I should have known, that I did know once.
So we left, we drove, drove away as fast as we could and didn’t stop until Morro Bay. I became a tourist there. I allowed myself to be a tourist. I didn’t need to know the turns, the streets, where to go. I only had to look at the sea lions as they tried to scratch themselves on the cement.