Saturday, 8/4/01 - Saturday, 8/11/01 - California Dreaming
I spent a month in Aptos, California, or technically it was an enclave called Rio del Mar. My home for this time was a house I subletted, and I had the entire top floor, including a sun deck overlooking a beautiful garden.
My goal was to write at least 100 pages of my next book, all about my RV travels. The mornings along the coast were chillier than I had anticipated, and I used the drop in temperature as my excuse for staying in bed under heavy blankets. The truth was, however, that I was creatively paralyzed and spent the first few days in bed because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to write.
Finally, I took the Berts for a long walk in the neighborhood, the smell of jasmine and roses rising from tangled gardens along the way. We ended up at a small park and a sandy trail leading to the beach.
Not being one to sunbathe, I still found the sun and the ocean calming, almost healing. I remembered the last beach I had visited - along the rocky coast of Maine in October of 2000. At that time, the Apache was under the mechanic's knife, getting a new engine and I was stranded and stressed over the unexpected expense only ten days into my road trip. At that time, the beach and ocean gave me little comfort.
Now, it had been almost eleven months since I left New York City, and I was relieved to be on the opposite end of the continent, at the edge of the country, along the vast, sparkling ocean.
Being near Santa Cruz meant I could spend some time with Elizabeth Carlassare, the author of "Dot Com Divas" who helped me arrange the sublet and who has been encouraging me to move to the area. Being around another writer and such a talented, insightful person and friend was a great help to me and within a few days, I was able to begin writing.
Elizabeth played "Julie the Cruise Director," arranging fun diversions for us including Shakespeare in the Park where we saw "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on a stage that was literally in a grove of beautiful redwoods. She also brought me to a bonfire at the beach, organized by a cool surfer girl and aspiring travel writer named Kim Ruby.
In my search for a place to live, I've made a short list of which Santa Cruz is in the top 5 places along with Bozeman Montana. Part of the appeal is that in both places, I have made amazing friends - strong, talented, incredible women who have let me into their circles and included me in fun events.
Another diversion the following week was an evening at a gathering called "Travel Tribes," organized by Kim Ruby and two other women. The theme of the evening was "East Africa" and the program consisted of half a dozen people who had visited Africa showing slide shows of their travels and sharing their experiences.
On another evening, Elizabeth and I went to hear a writer speak about the heart and soul of writing. I was trying to do everything I could that I though might inspire me to continue to write. For some reason, a book about my RV travels was the hardest writing I had ever attempted.
I explored Aptos by bicycle, struggling up steep hills, willing myself to pedal, pushing myself physically because I was feeling so weak creatively. I tried to be productive, then tried not to be so hard on myself.
By the second weekend in California, I decided to take a drive down the coast to Monterey. My goal was to find the house where I lived when I was in kindergarten and my dad was stationed at the Naval Post Graduate School.
I confirmed that the neighborhood we had lived in was called La Mesa Village, so I got directions from the tourist information center in Monterey. As I drove up Camino Aguajito to the housing area, everything began to feel familiar. I drove into the neighborhood and soonafter came upon the La Mesa Elementary School - my school.
Leaving the Berts in the RV, I walked to toward the school, noticing an open classroom door. I walked inside, startling the teacher who was hanging decorations from the ceiling.
"I used to go to school here. Kindergarten." I told her after apologizing for scaring her.
She guessed my age then told me she started teaching there a year or two after I was in school there. Then, after I told her what I could remember about my kindergarten class, she told me she knew my teacher - Pat Spencer. The main clue was that in class, all the students used to create beautiful works of art with paint, chalk, rice, macaroni, string, glitter and glue. Then, they were displayed at an independent bookstore called the Thunderbird in Carmel, California.
After talking a little while longer, we said goodbye and I went out into the schoolyard and tried to feel the vibe, seeing if any flashes of memory came to me. I actually remembered the larger schoolyard adjacent to the smaller one, which makes sense because even though I was in kindergarten, I spent most of my days in first grade classes and the larger yard was for first graders and older kids.
Then I got back into the RV and headed up Lahey until it turned into Revere Road. Almost immediately on the right, I saw 30 Revere Road and felt that it was the house. I drove a little more, then looped back around to double check. For a moment, I thought 38 Revere Road could be it and asked the man working in his yard if I could check out the backyard.
I remember two distinct things about our yard - at least I thought I did. In the front, I thought there were dense, tall bushes where I used to crawl inside and hide. In the back yard, I remember a slope covered with ice plant where deer used to stand at night and eat.
The bushes were in front of 38 Revere Road but the ice plant was behind 30 Revere Road. I spoke to the couple living in 32 Revere Road, the unit adjacent to 30, with side-by-side carports dividing the houses. I told them what I was hoping to see and asked them if they thought their neighbors - in 30 - would let me peek inside.
"They're Muslim," they told me, "The woman is always covered up and hardly speaks English. You never know though, it's worth a try."
I was so nervous as I knocked on the door. A little boy, about 9 or 10 answered. I asked to speak to his mother or father. He closed the door and a moment later returned.
"And what please can I say it is about?"
I explained that I used to live in their house when I was a little girl and I was hoping to see inside. He returned a few minutes later with his mother.
"You used to live here?" she asked in accented English.
"Yes, when I was five."
"And how old are you now?"
I told her and she smiled and laughed and said "Many years!" Then she invited me inside and asked me if I wanted to take photographs. I said I did and snapped a few, then she offered that her son take a photo of me, and he did, in the backyard.
"You are married now?" the woman asked. She must have been in her late 20s or early 30s and had three children, the boy and two girls, around 6 and 3.
"No," I said and shock registered in her eyes.
"I have a teacher who is old and is not married," said the 6 year old girl.
"Yes, I'm old, too!" I told her and we all laughed.
As I stood in the foyer, I could look into the kitchen and remembered how my Mom stood at the window above the sink, watching my Dad teach me how to ride a 2-wheeler.
Beyond the kitchen was the laundry room and another door before it led into the dining area. From the foyer and main door, the living room was straight ahead and I knew that the hallway leading to the bedrooms was behind the closed door to my left.
Although I wanted to see my childhood bedroom, I didn't want to push my luck. Finally, we said goodbye and I returned to the RV, excited about having seen the house of my childhood.
As I drove away, I remembered riding my bike around the neighborhood. Once, after taking a hill at a high speed, I fell, a painful tangle of bike and limbs. I also had that feeling all adults get when they return to childhood places - everything was so small, so compact, so close together. I sure have grown!