The first time I came to California was when we landed in America. I was 11 years old and the trip was a blur… We stopped in Los Angeles for a quick layover before flying to Vegas. It was the first time I breathed American air and all I remember is the piercing blue sky and spiky palm trees waving in the breeze like skater boys nodding to us with their tussled mops of hair.
I didn’t get to see the ocean until a few years later when my grandparents moved to LA. Nothing can compare to seeing that all-encompassing mass of water spread out infinitely in front of you… its strength and power overwhelming yet not frightening…the impression softened by the gentle lull of the waves hitting the sand.
That sound…I’ll give anything for that sound to be the first thing I wake up to every day.
California immediately became my love, as I imagine it does for most people who see it. And despite being so familiar, has remained effusive and, dare I say it, unattainable. Perhaps my love life is the root. Over the years I have traversed the desert hundreds of times…first to visit family…then a string of boyfriends who have all, strangely enough, originated or ended up in CA.
Driving down the immaculately groomed streets of Newport I always try to memorize every detail …the whimsical street art, the colorful doors, the names of the tiny stores that manage to exist despite selling plain items at inflated prices. I hungrily absorb the fit moms clad in Lululemon as they push their precious cargoes in designer strollers; the preppy teens, too blond and too tan from their daily sun worship; the retirees who leisurely sit in small cafes and savor their coffee…Everything is illuminated in golden sunlight and the roar of the ocean is never far away…the air is saturated with sea salt and a light breeze beckons towards the water.
LA always feels hot and saturated…with people, cars and buildings upon buildings upon buildings. So many landmarks fly by. So many memories of days past and times well spent. The city feels like a giant animal belly filled to the brim with tiny insects..all scurrying along to accomplish their tasks for the day, trampling and crawling over each other to get closer to the sun. Up on the hills the mansions turn their cold facades towards the ocean and raise their gates high so that no one can disturb the expensive peace of their inhabitants. The hipsters and the cool kids duck in an out of galleries and obscure studios…I am mesmerized by their patterns. I wonder what that life would’ve been like. I love it still.
I drive down PCH. The car glides along the edge, so close that I pretend I’m driving on the water. It curves and pivots in a symmetry reminiscent of a waltz…and takes me down the most beautiful coves and valleys. Malibu is it’s own world. So achingly posh and deceptively casual that one can start to believe one belongs. But Californians always recognize a stranger. The see the eyes thirsting for the salty water…the hands nervously grasping grains of sand…those little granules running through my hands like minutes slipping away…How do these people live here? How did they manage to stay in Nirvana? Do they have unhappy days? Is that even possible when you have the beach at your command whenever you wish? I grasp at straws.
This life…this beach life in this perfect place… I wonder why it can’t be mine. I’ve wondered that since I first met you.
My love for this place is irrevocably tied to my love for you. The places I see are colored by my memories… they are the precious jewels saved in a far away corner of my mind. Like an avid collector I have stored them and locked them away yet, once in a while, I summon them and tenderly relieve the moments, taking care to polish the details…to clean the crevices, so that they’re strengthened and protected…so that they last forever.
The secret beaches we snuck into…the wild roar of the ocean at night that accompanied many of our adventures..the smell of steaks sizzling on the grill and the deep red wine decanting on the table..Beast of Burden and 2 AM…sunblock covered hands and pervasive sand in my carryon…I taste the sun on your skin…I run my fingers along your tendons and bones and trace your life as I fall asleep next to you.
Time mercilessly flies and before I blink the weekend’s over. And I am forced out. It’s time to leave and California expels me again.
I want to stay! Why can’t I ever stay? Why can’t I stay forever? But no, career, taxes, family and friends.. all perfectly valid reasons to return home.
I have an almost primal need to be near that water. To walk along the edge as water licks my toes. To fall asleep as the waves enter the bedroom through open windows.
To hear the ocean crash against the cliffs and retreat back again…
....to fall asleep next to you again curled up and scratching at your heart to let me in.