Friday morning I took Amtrak south — the Surfliner — to visit a friend in Corona del Mar. I had forgotten how charming and idyllic some of those southern beach communities are; I’ve been going north, and only north, for so many years. I have given my heart to the central coast, but there is much to be said for the beaches carved out of the cliffs and rolling hills just north of San Diego.
When I was growing up and before I went away to college in San Luis Obispo, the only beaches I knew were the LA beaches and the southern beaches. We’d often hang out in Santa Monica and Venice, but when we were going somewhere special, we went south. Laguna, Newport, Balboa Island. My dad loved San Diego and La Jolla. We vacationed once in Ventura, but at the time it didn’t even come close to the draw of Orange County and we never went back.
So much of my time here is peppered with remember whens, with memory fragments, and ghosts. I am always taken aback when I hear of a classmate who died young; I am shocked by the notion that we are old enough to die, though I know death has nothing to do with age. When faced with the past, there is no logic, no rhyme or reason to how our memories take shape. Spending time with my junior high and high school friends makes me feel simultaneously young and old, like I’m stuck in a time warp. It’s 1977 and 2016. It’s Peter Frampton and Ryan Adams. The Brady Bunch and Breaking Bad.
My friend and I booked a spa day at Pelican Hill. We sat outside and drank wine as we waited for our appointments. The crystal clear blue of the Pacific filled the horizon below the rolling greens of the golf course. It was an extravagant view.
There are so many reasons why I miss California. The older I get, the closer I feel to my past, to my history, to the remember whens and the memories I’ve left behind here. When I come back to this state for a few weeks every summer, I am immediately reminded of its beauty — the kind of beauty that is unique to the west. The mountains, the beaches, the desert. It’s the total package. A vista at every vantage point. It is what I miss most when I am home on Long Island. And though I am surrounded there too by water and water views, the beaches are flat and smooth and I can’t help but wish for rocks and cliffs and tiny coves carved out of the landscape.
As my train carried me back to LA and to Glendale Saturday night, I thought about how important it is to say yes. To make an effort. To show up and be present. What the last year and a half has taught me is that all of this is a fading moment in time. A memory about to be made. I am a cancer survivor, and I am grateful for the life I have, my family and friends, and this, California to hold me.