In November of 1995 we moved into a small house with a half-acre of land, and in September of 2001 we left. We painted the garage doors, handrails, and the light post in the front yard and left. We left the gardens we had dug up and planted; the dying cherry tree we had sat in for hours on end in the summers eating ice cream. We left the field behind our house that belonged to our neighbors that we had made trails through as kids and all the walls that creaked at night with age.
I'd moved before, about 10 times, but this time it was different. I was a sophomore in high school; I had friends, favorite stores in the mall, and thousands of memories in this one spot. Tiny little Highland, Maryland. We exchanged the family run Borman's meat market on the corner for a chain grocery store called "VONS" that I’d never heard of. Our sledding hills, the pond that would ice over in the winter just enough for us to run around on, and the spot we were attacked by a dog on a picnic would stay there lost and without meaning to everyone else. The towering pine trees that we had named "headquarters" and hid in for hours were still there, but no one would see them the way they were to us. We left the snow and the humid heat--sold the big, puffy coats and mosquito candles. Everything I had held onto in hope of never leaving was gone to me, left for others. The new owners of the house would see the same spots on the carpet that I spilt polish remover on, the stupid screen door that never opened without derailing, the two light switches set for the same light and were never both right at the same time. and I would be 2,692 miles away. Over the course of a three-hour plane ride my world was flipped over in so many ways I could hardly tell which way was up.
We landed in the San Diego airport. The huge windows revealed a blue sky entirely void of clouds, and a view of the densest concentration of palm trees I had ever seen. Tall, but not intimidating-- graceful and casual--the palm trees defined the California attitude. The atmosphere. Looking at them brought visions of blondes in convertibles with sunglasses in their hair; beaches with clear blue water and fine white sand. It was everything they pictured in that magazines- from the skateboarders to the outdoor malls- and I hated it. People all over the world wanted live here--to wear shorts in December and surf. I wanted nothing more in the world to be back--to continue the life that ended the minute they signed the papers.
As we made the drive from the airport to El Cajon, I watched images fly past the windows. Webs of freeways going over and on top of each other; red convertibles; In N Out burger; palm trees; and the weirdest little dotted lines on the roads. I felt that I could never get used to the whether, the bad drivers, or the bumpy lane dividers that didn't reflect headlights at night. In my heart, however, I knew that someday these things wouldn't be a novelty to me. I would know these tangled streets and I would talk about them by name and with familiarity.
After driving through a maze of unrecognizable roads and freeways we sunk into the familiar. Slowly I began to realize that we were getting closer to my uncle's house- the house I had visited as a child living in Los Angeles and later in Santa Clara. I remembered the S-curve on which my cousin wrecked his mustang, the "bridges crossing" on 8, the restaurant we would visit all the time. and then, suddenly, everything. The odd shaped hedges we would sit under and throw tanbark; the trees with crazy flowers that were full of bees; the dying grass. I could see the teal couch through the tinted windows. We had arrived. Once I digested the sight, I realized I had to stay in this place of perpetual childhood until we found a house. The inside was unadulterated nostalgia. Every room of the house was exactly they way I remembered it, except the kitchen. After walking through the rest of the house, I was shocked walking into the remodeled kitchen. The dim lighting, 70's appliances, and cupboard handles that caught rings and t-shirts were gone. New paint and lights; streamlined white appliances; modern tile; a vaulted ceiling, and light cupboards made it seem a totally different room. I found nothing left unchanged, save that the windows had remained stationary.
After about a week I was used to the new kitchen, and by the end of the three months we stayed there I could barely remember the old one.
On the day the movers came, we left to move into the house that we had searched for, discovered, bought, and waited ages for escrow to close on. After the tile and carpet selection and the slow, messy demise of the popcorn ceiling, we drove down the hill for the ten thousandth time--to live there. We had bought a house with two palm trees in the back yard, situated on the same road I had been driven up as a child; a road with dotted dividers. I was going to live in the same house I'd spent ours scraping hideous wallpaper off of. As scary as it sounded, one day I would refer to this place as home. I watched as movers rolled box after box into the house. I walked into the room I had claimed. I took one long last look at it with the blank floor, bare walls, and empty closet before the first box was wheeled in. I watched as many more brown, taped up, cubes identical to the first made their way to obstruct he view of the brand new carpet. I was anxious to open them, but apprehensive and unsure of what would happen. After eons of living out of a suitcase I would have everything back; but how would I react? I wondered how I could put all of the stuff that was in my room into this foreign space. I hauled in a mattress so I could spend my first night "at home;" surrounded by the stacked empty boxes and homeless trinkets that littered the carpet. I lay on the bed unsure of what to do; so I cried. Overwhelmed and tired tears.
Every night that I can remember from then until December 6, I cried myself to sleep. I often didn't know why, but it seemed like I had to. I kept going to school because I had to. I had no other choice but to put one foot in front of the other, but each day I searched for a good reason. Thoughts of religion and my beliefs were more or less absent; I didn't know what to do. The one thing I had dreaded and prayed for the Lord to stop had happened. I was here. So I sat in the back of my classes and marveled at the people in front of me. Their existence was puzzling to me--the drama was just as complex and the conflicts every bit as intense as it was at home. It was fascinating that life was the same out here. It sounds silly, but I had seen life like a video game; beyond certain limits that weren't of use to the player, the programmers hadn't bothered to place anything of interest. Why were some people put in this area and no where else? And, more importantly, why was I? What on earth was I doing here? I was the most central subject of my own thoughts. If God had this excellent, perfect plan, where was I? Why did He rip me out of my old life so violently and suddenly? Why didn't He answer me? Why was I so different? Why did I look, act, and dress differently than the California wierdos around me?
Eventually, I decided that it was a fruitless endeavor to attempt to fit in with the majority. I unconsciously made up my mind to fit in with the others that didn't fit in. I saw what they did -- it was easy. And it worked. Acting unhappy and distant came naturally, as some would say. The whole time I was wondering where the line I had once seen so clearly had gone off to. How far can you go before you aren't faking it anymore?
On December 6 2001 I found out. I had just finished one of the worst school days I'd had in a while. On top of the usual homework and school stress, a teacher of mine had said something in class that I couldn't stop thinking about. Whether intentional or unintentional, the comment hurt me and my self-esteem took a huge dive. I was on my way home drowning in my selfish thoughts. One of the problems with self centered thinking is that when you begin to think nothing of yourself everything falls through. Suddenly, I looked up and saw a long line of tall palms that lined a street a few blocks away. For some reason, I suddenly discovered the location of that line. It was way behind me.
So there I was on a bus, pondering anorexia and suicide, when I was rescued. It would be ridiculous to say I had saved myself, because I simply hadn't. Regardless of what others say, I know it was God who saved me that day. It took him only a second to change my perspective. At that moment I started, for the first time to think about Him outside of church and occasional devotions. I prayed and prayed. I quickly realized where I was where I was in relation to where I needed to be. I saw that I could do nothing about the move or my body, and that everything was planned out. At that moment I knew that if I was given the option to change either of those two things I wouldn't do it- God had given me each of them for a reason--a good one. He had answered those late night prayers to stay in Maryland. He said "no, I've got something better," and He did.
The rest of that day I was more than simply happy. I was elated--the best word to describe it is joy. It was less of a feeling, and more of a state of being. I couldn't stop smiling; I had an affirmation and hope I had never known before. A long conversation with God had taught me that I really did matter. That my life had a future, a purpose, and that I was fortunate. I had forgotten about people who live on the streets, people who have no freedoms, people dying of AIDS--I had it all and I was feeling sorry for myself? One person's opinion and off hand comments meant nothing in the big picture, they were wrong! God made me just the way I am for a reason.
I won't say that my life was happily ever after, or that I haven't been humbled or sad since, but my life has changed. I accept and embrace what the Lord has done for me. I realized quickly that, for many reasons, the move was the best thing to happen to me. I know now that there is no old life or new--just changes. My uncle's kitchen changed dramatically, unrecognizably at first, but it was merely changed, not replaced.
Right now, as I sit outside, I can see the same cloudless sky that I saw getting off that plane. I am reminded of Holden's composition about his dead brother's baseball glove. Reading it I had wondered why he had written it. Why would he write something so involved and personal for a simple high school composition? Now I can understand.
The last things I see before I stand up to leave are our two lanky palm trees. I watch their slowly shifting outlines against the blue the sky, and we belong here.