When I was three years old, my family moved to Southern California. We settled into a rented three bedroom ranch on Zapata Avenue in Meri Mesa, thirty three miles from the U.S. Mexican border. Our neighborhood, surrounded cozily in between the hills of nearby Los Penasquitos Canyon, was quiet. The streets were lined with palms, and 1960s’ track homes, mostly small ranches. Nearly all of the homes were shades of sandy brown and white. Depending on the time of year, the yards varied in color from green to parched brown. Our front yard was filled with crushed white stone, no grass.
The alien landscape of Southern California was a departure for my parents, who managed to fly us across the country from their small town in Maine. Their church, The Bible Speaks, was experiencing a diaspora from members of their congregation located in Lenox, Massachusetts. My father had left the church after discovering widespread corruption, which was caused by the lead pastor. After confronting the pastor, who threatened my parents with retaliation, they decided to move far away. My parents were under the illusion that my father, who was a young pastor, would be able to start his own congregation in San Diego. Little did they know, the lead pastor back in Maine, who was one of the most powerful and charismatic pastor’s in New England, was never going to let that happen. The dream of California was vanquished before they even arrived.
After several years of problems within the church, my parents and several of their friends moved to California. My younger brother had just turned one when my parents left Maine. Unaware that the lead pastor and close members of the church had discovered my parents plans for California, my parents moved us into the ranch on Zapata Avenue. My father got a job driving trucks, where he would be gone for days delivering supplies, sometimes all the way out to Death Valley. Shortly after my father got his job, my parents found out that the pastor had flown to San Diego ahead of them. He contacted friends of theirs who were established church members near Meri Mesa. He spread a plethora of false information about my parents, deliberately harming them and their reputation. Their dream of starting their own church, and finally being free from the clutches of The Bible Speaks, died.
Without much money, but the support of their close friends, my parents struggled to decide whether or not to stay in California, or return to Maine. In the midst of trying to figure out what trajectory their lives would take, they tried to enjoy life. They took us to Dana Point, where we sat on the beach, watching the gentle waves. We drove up to Laguna and would sit for hours, enjoying a family picnic. The glistening sea stretched out endlessly for miles. My older sister and I would chase my baby brother across the sand on La Jolla, completely oblivious to the stress our parents were dealing with.
Once, they took us to the San Diego Zoo. We spent hours wandering around the lush gardens, enjoying the animal exhibitions. Apparently, I was so enamored by the flamingos that I didn’t want to leave. I stood, sucking my thumb, transfixed by the beautiful pink birds. My father later told me that I pleaded, to no avail, to ride in the Skyfari.
The days of sun and sand would fade away. My father and his good friend hatched a plan to open a small seafood restaurant in San Diego, but the plan didn’t work out. After months of worrying about what to do, my father decided to move us back to Maine. I suppose his decision was based primarily on our financial situation. I was too young to know how broken he was from the falling out with the church. My mother later told me that she wanted to stay. It is no wonder why I have issues with organized religion.
When we returned to Maine, my family moved into a small apartment building in Auburn. My father became a pastor at small church that him and his friend built near Lake Auburn. A few years later, our family left the church for good. We moved around quite a bit, and in 1992, moved to New Hampshire, where my dad began work at a cleaning company. Three years later, at the age of seventeen, I left home for California. I arrived in Los Angeles some time in the middle of the night, penniless and drunk. It was a strange, exhilarating rite of passage for me. Unfortunately, I ended up living on the streets for several months before returning to New England. Despite my aversion to cold weather, I always ended up back in New England.
Over the next three years, I traveled back and forth across the country to California. In the spring of 1998, I moved with a boyfriend to Berkeley, right near the border of Oakland. I got a job and settled into a small apartment with a few friends. Quickly, my California dream began to erode. Heavy drug use, and a penchant for escaping my neighborhood via bus, plane, and shopping cart, caused my fractured relationship with my boyfriend to fall apart. Needing to get away, I payed cash for a plane ticket, which was printed out by a small Middle Eastern man in a travel agency off Shattuck Avenue. I was nineteen, and flew down to San Diego to visit my aunt. I hadn’t been there since my parents moved, sixteen years earlier.
While staying with my aunt in Temeluca, she drove me past the neighborhood in Meri Mesa. I stared out at the endless track homes, unremarkable and modest, Edward Scissorhands land. Growing up, I imagined the place to be much different. Perhaps I had glamourized it, hoping if I ever returned, it would be as beautiful and mysterious as I had dreamt it would be. I left San Diego feeling sad and hollow. During the flight home, I wept. Despite living in the state that I adored, I was lost, and had no sense of place.
I arrived at the Oakland airport late at night and took the subway back to Ashby Avenue. Two months later, I left California and moved back to New England. I returned two years later to visit a friend in San Francisco. He lived on Polk Street, off Market Street. We woke up early and drank bloody marys at a nearby bar. At night, we danced to Lee Rocker at a Rockabilly bar downtown. He tried to talk me into staying, but like always, I left. A year later I flew to Los Angeles to see Social Distortion at the House of Blues. Two years later I returned to San Francisco on another trip with a boyfriend. I stayed a week. Six years ago, I traveled to the Redwoods for a wedding.
After a lifetime of being fascinated with California, it remains very much a part of me. I have been sober for thirteen years, and now work in the field of substance abuse. As a small child, I believe hidden somewhere in my subconscious was a dream that took root in my brain. It was a dream that was born on those beaches as a small child. I still dream of California.