it’s a hell of a long way home

I never grew up anywhere.

We moved just about every year to places that I’ll never have the need or the inclination to go back to. Whenever anyone asks where I’m from, I say with no hesitation and no second thoughts: southern California. It is the one place I remember from when I was very little, from the entire time I was growing up, and still go back to now. It’s the only place that feels like home to me.

I had this game growing up. I’d try to think of the thing I’d had the longest, the place I’d lived longer than any place else. I now live in this house longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. I’ve now owned this car longer than I’ve lived anywhere. And on like that. And southern California always won, hands down, as the place I’d known the longest.

This weekend, I was driving to my sister’s house from the Long Beach airport, thinking — hey, this is the town where I was born. I got off the 91 at Harbor and drove by the building where I had my first job after college, and by the bar where we used to hang out after work. And later, when we went to Fashion Island, we drove by the apartments I lived in with my boyfriend when I first moved to Newport Beach.

It all feels like home to me. No place has ever felt like home, not like this.

What feels like home more than anything else at all is the ocean. All I have to do is look at it and I feel a peace I can get no other way.

This time, I nearly didn’t get to see the ocean. But I was so close. I couldn’t not see it. I ignored the people in the car with me and drove over the bridge to Balboa Island, the closest water I could think of on short notice. I headed to one of the piers, walked over to a bench and watched the water. The sun was just setting and the colors danced as the boats floated by. The ferris wheel was lit up in the distance. P. hates Balboa Island and my mom, well, is just generally crazy to be around, but I was in my own bubble of peace, watching the water.

It was painful to move away, back in 1995. It’s not that I regret it. I try not to regret much of anything, really. I certainly wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t moved. Maybe my life would be better; maybe it would be worse. It would absolutely be different. But those last few times just before I moved that I drove down Superior over that hill and saw the ocean unfold in front of me, my heart ached, just a little.

There’s this scene in Office Space where the guy asks what his neighbor would do with a million dollars. The idea being that maybe that’s what you should really be doing with your life. For me, there’s no question. There’s never been a question for as long as I can remember. I’d have a house overlooking the ocean, and I would write. When I was younger, I’d plan it all out in my head — did I want a house on a cliff or on the beach? I defintely wanted a wraparound porch, so I could go out early in the morning, sit in a chair with a blanket and coffee, watch the water and write. What could be better than that?

I try not to think of that dream much anymore. The older me doesn’t quite believe as much as the younger me did that anything is possible.

But this weekend, I had my moment of peace and maybe it’ll last me for a while.

I didn’t get anywhere near enough time with my grandparents this weekend. I never do, and I could tell that they were sad for me to leave. Just being in their house is comforting. The house I’ve always known.

I worry I don’t see my niece enough for her to remember me. When I was a kid, we went back to southern California a couple of times a year and it just wasn’t often enough for me to really know my aunts and uncles. I’m trying to see her more often than that. She’s only two and I had last seen her in October, but so far, she does remember me. This weekend, she would call me from across the house by name, or at least using the shortened version of my name that I’m not sure how she picked up, since my sister doesn’t even call me that. She’d call and call and when I came to find her, she’d pat the spot next to her and hand me a book.

I bought her books that were too old for her this year for Christmas, thinking she would grow into them, and she seems to like them already. She sometimes likes you to read to her, but what she likes even more is to hand you a book to read while she reads another. I can’t help but think that she’s taking after me, since that’s one of my favorite things too.

I don’t know if I’ll ever live in Southern California again, the only place that feels like home. It wouldn’t be all peaceful, of course. I try very hard to avoid getting sucked into family drama and that’s much easier when I live far away. It’s even hard to be down there for a few days without feeling a sadness in my heart.

But I don’t like being away too long, especially from the ocean, and the peace of it.

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