I want to tell you about California, where I more or less grew up. I was born there, then my parents divorced and I moved with my mom and step-dad to Pennsylvania and later Alabama. But California was in my veins, like radioactive sugar—sweet and warm and pulsing. California beckoned to me, and it’s where I eventually ended up for high school and college.
From kindergarten through 8th grade though, I went back to visit every summer because that’s where my dad lived. My grandparents lived in another part of the state, and I would stay with them alternately. Disneyland played a starring role in my summers, as did Sea World and the zoo, where the theme song of It’s A Small World or the Sparkletts-Sponsored Fountain Light Show would temporarily erase the fact that I was away from my father more than I was with him. We all pretended this was normal, living thousands of miles from half of your identity, and I suppose this was normal for many children of the 1970’s. It’s something I regret: divorce.
I always swore I myself would never divorce. I keep my promise.
Several of my friends have divorced. I feel my heart breaking into shards at the pain they must feel, shattered vows. Sometimes one person in the relationship makes the decision about which restaurant or which movie or which house; sometimes one person in a marriage decides that it is over without ever really consulting the other person.
I waited until I was 31 to get married, to avoid the pitfalls of “marrying too young.” Mostly I avoided the pitfall of not knowing who I was in my 20’s.
The Husband and I hold hands. That will never be us, we whisper. We keep our promise.
I look back at my childhood, at the girl on the spinning teacups at Disneyland. My life felt like that sometimes: dizzy.
The Husband and I try hard every day to give our sons a happy and stable life. We made vows once for an hour over a decade ago in front of God and friends and family, but we keep the vows every minute of every day: 'til death do us part.
I miss California. We got married there, in a beautiful chapel in a historic L.A. hotel. I see it in my mind, clear as this morning. We honeymooned in Hawaii. A stereotype.
I miss the ocean. I miss the calm I felt, listening to the waves pounding down, inhaling the salty mist like a necessity, and feeling the dampness of the air as it clung to my hungry skin. I loved the way the ocean looked at different times of day: clear, bumpy, dark, luminescent. But mostly I loved the way the ocean looked at night. Ethereal.
The Husband and I lived across the street from the beach, and we could hear it as our background soundtrack, woosh-woosh-woosh. Listening to it, I could feel the clutter of my mind dissipating. At night, not every night but often enough, we would walk down there to see the blackness, it was like walking into the solar system, suspended by stars and air. So black.
You knew it was there, but you couldn’t see it, yet it went on forever. You could imagine the cold of it, how icy it would feel on your skin. We never swam at night.
I miss the silent energy of the Pacific Ocean. But mostly I miss the me I was in California. She’s still in there, deep inside me. I catch glimpses of her every once in a while under the icy black night.