On our house hunting trip, we flew to Oakland and headed straight for Santa Cruz. We weren't meeting with our relocation agent until the following morning, so we wanted to take advantage of some of the free time we would have during the trip to see friends and maybe ride a roller coaster or two. I was prepared to enjoy the time in Santa Cruz. I didn't expect it to make me so sad.
At first it was just the pleasant nostalgia I always feel as we drive into town. On our first trip back to Santa Cruz after moving across the country, we turned onto Mission Street and pulled up beside a hybrid car with Nader and rainbow bumper stickers. It made us smile and feel at home. As we drove along Mission on this trip, I commented to Brian that everything always looked pretty much the same and that no matter what the restaurant was at the corner of Mission and Bay, I'd always be stuck calling it "that place that used to be Marcelo's." I was smiling and felt at home once again. It's kind of like seeing a beautiful young woman on the street as opposed to seeing my sister: when I see the beautiful woman I don't know, I'm struck by her appearance, but with my sister people tell me she's pretty, and of course I think so, but when I look at her, she just looks like herself to me. When I came over a hill after getting off the freeway in Laguna Beach in April, my breath was taken away by the sight of the ocean, but Santa Cruz just looked like itself to me as we drove into town. Santa Cruz in comfortable and familiar even after five years of being away.
(I'm sorry, did that simile not really work? It's the first thing that comes to mind and that's the best I can do on a Sunday morning, I'm afraid.)
Later on in the day, as I walked into Natural Bridges from the park's back entrance on Delaware, enjoying the mingling scents of the ocean and the eucalyptus trees, I suddenly wanted to cry. That was when it hit me that we really weren't going to be moving back to Santa Cruz. I've know that for some time, and I also know it doesn't make sense for us to move back: houses are expensive there, there aren't really jobs for either of us, and pretty much all of our friends have moved on. Still, that knowledge didn't really hit me until I was walking down a path to my favorite beach, a path I'd walked countless times in the past: to go lie in the sun with Brian on the weekends when he lived on Beachview; to have picnics and fly kites with friends on holiday weekends; on long walks from campus to home as I was training for my marathon. Then I realized that that path, that beach weren't going to be part of my day-to-day life the way they were five years back. It was somehow easier to accept the loss of that when I was on the other side of the country.
I know we're making the right decision with where we're moving, but it's hard to realize that moving back to California doesn't mean walking to the lighthouse to watch the surfers at Steamer Lane, or getting our burritos from Taqueria Vallarta. We won't just make an impromptu trip to the Boardwalk to ride the Giant Dipper once, or spend the afternoon wandering up and down Pacific Avenue. I've been away from those things for some time now, and I'd stopped missing them the way I did when we first left California, but I'm missing them again now I'll be much closer but not getting them back. I suppose I've idealized Santa Cruz to a certain extent, because I don't find myself feeling the same attachment to Martinez, where I spent my entire life up until college. Maybe it's because Santa Cruz is where I "grew up" and found an identity apart from my parents. It's where Brian and I met and fell in love. It's beautiful in both immense and minute ways. It was gorgeous when we were there last week--sunny and warm, with nice waves out on the bay. But it had seemed perfect to me in November, too, on the grey day when we drove up the coast for lunch and that evening when we went up to campus in a misty rain. I suppose that a lot of the beauty of the area for me isn't just in the actual surroundings, but in the familiarity and memories.