Remember Me

Today I logged into WordPress to find that my computer or WordPress or some electronic being had forgotten my username and password. I was prompted to login and on the same screen was the small box that resides under most usernames and passwords: “Remember Me.”

Please do.

Granted, this box, if checked, will only remember my login information. Funny how something so simple can really capture it all, isn’t it?

Tomorrow morning Mr. P, Little Girl (I haven’t told you about her yet, but she’s our new addition and quite simply the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen), and I will get in the car and drive away from what has become home to go make a new one far away from here. Mr. P’s medical school adventure begins in just over a week on the other side of the country (and this time I promise to write more so that you don’t get metaphorical whiplash from my telling you I had a baby in a mere parentheses). This week has been filled with goodbye after goodbye. Goodbye sweet midwife who helped bring Little Girl into the world. Goodbye Francisco, you’re the kindest mailman I’ve ever met. Goodbye genuine Nugget grocer who walks my bags to the car. Goodbye church family who  feels like real family. Goodbye friends–no description is great enough for the life-giving you have done. We even said goodbye to our sweet trans-gender cat, Caesar. We’ve been giving away our furniture, our bicycles, blocks of cheese and other things doomed to perish in a week-long car trip. All must go.

Like all things stripped, we await. We try to tie up the loose ends, not knowing they are forever bound to us. The place we were newlyweds. The season of learning what love is and isn’t. The people who witnessed the day I became a mother and trained me up in the gritty beginnings of midnight feedings, bath times, and feeling as though it’s my heart that beats inside that infant’s chest–every time she cries or grins I feel it. There is no proper name for this place with its cloud of romanticism and sobering doses of reality. My sister calls it Baltimore, my mother Sarasota. Davis, California.

We await what comes next, around us, inside of us.

“Remember me.” If there was such a box for this place, I would check it.

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Motherland

“We are going to die.” The sentence matter-of-factly resonated in my brain. “At least I got married first,” a comforting afterthought. Mind you, no one else was white-knuckle clutching the arm rests, but I’m sure that “turbulence” was some drunken pilot’s near attempt at taking all of our lives. I don’t really like flying that much. Sometimes I think I’d rather Oregon Trail it to my destination. Caulk the wagon, ford the river, shoot some bison, shake off a little cholera—anything but turbulence. I find landing the most conflicting aspect of it all. With a terrified smile plastered on my face, I generally grip the seat and stare out the nearest porthole praying that we meet the earth at the perfect rate between swift and crashing. As I am alive to write this account, you can infer that we did successfully land, and in the Motherland at that: The Carolinas.

This was in August, our first visit to our roots since getting married eight months prior. Driving the hour and a half route from the airport to our home was an overwhelming blur of green. The “Golden Hills” you’ve heard so much about in the land of California actually consist of a bunch of dead, “golden” grass. Someone once told me that the grass native to California is endangered and has been replaced with a different kind, one that, unfortunately, is not suited to the dry, cloudless summers and dies each year. I don’t know how true this theory is, but it certainly makes for an explanation. Even months after arriving to the West Coast, I still found myself gloomily taking in my surroundings: the squatty trees, the way people interrupt your sentences if you speak too slowly, the endless rain, then endless sun, that dead, yellow grass.

And then there’s this drive home from the airport: the mountainous, green trees towering mightily on your left and your right as if to create with its canopy open arms ushering you back. My chest took in rich, full breaths of air—the heavy humidity is something every Southerner complains about, but if one was to visit a dry state, he might find that his breath never quite felt complete in such places. And then there were the accents. I spent months learning to identify a Southern accent in a crowd of Californians for the purpose of excitedly seeking out and interrogating fellow Southerners. Surrounded by these accents upon arriving home, though, I found this impulse overloading my thoughts. “Southerner!” I would frequently and uselessly bark in my mind.

What surprised me most of moving to the West Coast was certainly the change in beaches. California is known for great surfing and wonderful coastal towns, so you can imagine my surprise when all locals warned me to bring a sweater if I planned on visiting the coast. Back East I adored the beach with its salty smell, the sun-kissed naps in the sand, and the childlike revelry that ensued with each wave that lifted you off the ocean floor—divine.  Meeting the Pacific Ocean was much like meeting someone else’s mother: a lovely encounter with a kind someone who in no way can nurture or love the way your own mother did. The Pacific was gorgeous—cliffs plunging into a rocky and glorious ocean; but there was no salt smell, the sun hid behind a robe of fog, and the water, moving in currents from the North, was bitterly cold. Needless to say I was ready for our trip to visit Mama Atlantic.

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At each of our parents’ homes, we were escorted to our former bedrooms, still complete with evidence of our younger selves’ ventures: his mounted snakeskin from a successful hunt, my stuffed bear (complete with a top hat), his MVP plaque, mine for most improved. Everything seemed so different compared to life out West—to marriage and real jobs and change change change—the reflections of boyhood accomplishments and girlish dreams seemed so small next to what we actually had.

Being with family, on the other hand, was like getting to speak my native language after far too long: the joys of understanding and being understood. But despite such pleasure, I found something so strange in it all: the simple fact that after talking and talking about South Carolina to all my new friends, I found that I was good for little more during our visit than reporting everything about California, using the phrase “back home” interchangeably for both places depending on which one I was not in.

Our flight back west was funny in this way. When we flew over the Rockies I gathered my nerves to brave lifting the shade of the window and peering out. I saw the endless sky beaming around those fearfully tall mountains and remembered the golden hills that awaited us. I then realized that this was the first time I thought of them as golden hills and not mounds of dead grass.

It’s difficult—even now—to know if “home” is the place you visit on holidays or if it’s where you’re headed on the return flight.

Behind the Counter

The problem I could have never foreseen with perfect weather nine months out of the year is that it gives you just three months to write that novel you’ve always thought about pursuing (and nine to look out the window, at your computer, and back out the window). Today though, all of Davis is questioning an upcoming apocalypse as it is scheduled to rain. And I am here, writing again.

There is something unusual about knowing the next month’s weather in advance (with today as an exception). There is no day in February that requires a weather app. You grab some pants and a rain jacket and find the sunshine in your heart to keep you warm. It seems that June is no different. Shorts, no sleeves, water bottle: check. In South Carolina, on the other hand, it’s a wonder anyone ever dressed successfully without the weather channel. Muggy morning, midday rain, sunny afternoon, comfortable evening—the weather is as dynamic as human emotion itself. 

I often imagine what kind of people cities would be. Davis would be a woman. She would have her masters in some science-related area and would be working on her doctorate. She’d enjoy reading global news, wearing Toms, doing pottery on the weekends, and drinking fair trade organic coffee. She would love her coffee. She’d shop local and not coupon cut. She would most definitely be a runner, and while she would not run fast she would run very long. She wouldn’t have cellulite and if she did she would ensure it remained unseen. If her clothes required it, they would be ironed. She’d be fashionable, but not daring. She’d hike but not cliff jump, date but not love, give but not fully. She would wear a little makeup at the gym. When a cashier or the doctor or a friend or her mother would ask how she is doing, she is good, she would answer without the realization that she could be any other way. She would support a child from Tanzania for $32 a month. She would never actually go to Tanzania.

Working behind a counter in Davis is a revealing place to be. I often wonder how it would be different if we sold lunch or coffee, our customers coming to us hungry and under-caffeinated. Rather, people come to me with full bellies ready for sweets to appease their happy mouths. They come excited for birthdays and parties. They come in the spirit of exploration. And occasionally they come looking for something we don’t sell: sugar-free ice cream, hot coffee, bubble gum flavor, happiness itself. Many come in looking for the latter.Image

“How’s it going?” I ask, even making eye contact. A few look uncomfortable, but most recover without hiccup: “Good.” Occasionally one will crack: “Good—I guess. Long day already.” Sometimes, even, break: “Awful,” “I hate my boss,”  “Are there any good guys out there?” You hear a lot of things from behind a counter, particularly when you’re hunched over with tongs arranging cupcakes, disappearing into the background. “Ladies, this one’s on me,” this one middle-aged woman said, pulling out her credit card, “this is the one he doesn’t know about!” She sported a glistening left ring finger and it’s difficult to imagine how much money she’s allowed to spend, no less how much she spends in secret. “It’s up to $900,” she giggled. “That’s not too bad!” one of her friends commented. It’s amazing how many women comment on how they would like cupcakes to be on the credit card their husbands can’t see. There’s shamelessness of all different kinds in the shop: the lactose intolerant customers who can’t stay away from our ice cream, the high school love affair manifesting itself in the shared tasting spoon, the office employee who wants to “slaughter” her boss with kindness, the weight-lifter who loves his small cone of cupcake-flavored ice cream (with sprinkles).

A group of my friends were recently discussing the needs of our city. “Does Davis have needs?” was the general question. You don’t exactly write a monthly check to provide clean drinking water and an education to the PHD student who loves fair trade coffee and pottery. Somehow working behind the counter provides a glimpse into the idea that needs do not have to be physiological to be important (and desperate). Jake, a friend in said discussion, works with international students at the university. No matter the country or culture, it is without fail that at some point during the school year each and every student will complain to him about one thing: the inability of locals to pursue deeper relationships. International students continually find that despite the friendliness of locals, there is a distinct social boundary that inhibits the making of real friends. It’s fascinating and true. 

It’s fun and difficult developing a relationship with a city with no vulnerability, a city that is always doing “good.” Being behind the counter lets me catch glimpses of her when she forgets her makeup at the gym or missed a spot while ironing. It’s kind of nice. 

Snowman

Writing a blog is a lot like rolling the base of a snowman together. You collect a tiny bit of idea, nothing much, and begin to roll it. The trick is to stop rolling at just the right time. If you stop too soon, your idea is so hardly ready that it’s not worth much notice. Worse yet, if you roll too long, your base is unmanageable–it’s too much to work with. 

So I finished what I thought to be a funny little blog entry in February and began rolling around in the snow until I was surrounded by abandoned, oversized snowballs. Every time I try to write I find myself attempting to fill a page with updates, thus usurping every entry of its playfulness. So I must do the only thing left to be done and purge a bullet-style list of updates. I apologize in advance.

 

1. The kitten is a boy again. 

We’re sure this time and we have settled on the name Caesar. Much of my waiting to write another entry had much to do with the humiliation of failing multiple times to figure out that that was, in fact, a ball sack. Boo. 

2. When I grow up I want to be Katniss Everdeen (in the first book, not the third, of course). 

I am quite sure that shooting arrows and refusing to shave my legs will be invigorating. The state of California has promised not to kick me out if I don’t kill anything and so long as my arrows are made of at least 60% recycled material. 

3. My full time profession right now has something to do with cupcakes. 

I understand your jealousy. I really do.  

4. Yesterday I ran my first half marathon. 

It was awesome, but it might explain the utter lack of motivation to write a full-length blog entry. A little something called the post-race blues: when your body is depleted from a race, particularly of the neurotransmitter choline, resulting in “the blues.” 

5. The other day I saw a woman at the Farmer’s Market with her incredibly fat cat… on a leash. 

The poor thing was even the same color as Garfield. I think I could write a whole blog entry about how hilariously wrong and wonderful it is to see that tiny woman walking her haughty, little feline around while sizing up produce. I might have taken a picture… ok, yes, yes I did. 

 

Ok there. Now I can come to you soon with a full-sized snowman of a story. 

Deception

I recall the first Saturday we spent in Davis after returning from our honeymoon: Cardboard boxes litter the living room; suitcases have spilled their contents onto the carpet; shoe couples grieve their separation in the kind of severance that only occurs when you have yet to own a dresser, hangars, or any sort of organizational tools. Hardened crumb pebbles are sticking to the bottoms of my feet in our quaint, 1 ½-person kitchen. With black and white tiles and a window looking out, it really is just one apron short of adorable.

We’ve tossed around the idea of getting a pet since engagement. Technically our apartment complex does not allow it. I’m sure that policy’s purpose is to avoid soiled carpets or noise pollution, which is also why I am sure that by “pets” they mean dogs and ferrets. It’s a painful realization that where man is welcome his best friend is forbidden, but cats, being creatures that prefer to lash out at you in ways that will forever be a mystery to your landlord, perhaps are a doable replacement. I sweetly wrap my arms around Mr. P when he asks me what I’d like to do this particular sunny Saturday and in the most undeniable tone I can muster say, “Can we look at kittens?” I imagine their unblinking eyes taking up the majority of their fur-covered faces and do my best imitation. It becomes obvious that without the fur, my wide eyes must look more maniacal than precious, for his response is, “Sweetie, I don’t know if we should do that just yet.” Unlocking my arms, I note that I must practice this look in the mirror tonight before bed.

We settle on a bike ride around town ending at the Farmer’s Market. This is how Mr. P bribes me to bike “for fun.” The fun is the Farmer’s Market and the hour of thinking about it beforehand while my thighs catch fire. The Farmer’s Market is one of those areas of cultural fuzziness for me. I am not sure what they are supposed to be like, but I do know what they are like back home and I have heard what they are like here. Back home it was a place to talk to farmers and get fresh, cheap melons out of the back of their pickups while gaining exposure to a new intensity of the Southern accent. It was nice, but the stories I have heard about the Davis market fill me with equal wonder and disbelief. Upon the end of our bike ride (which actually was quite pleasant, thankyouverymuch) I learn that not all hype is meant to lead to letdown. It is incredible.

Mobs of young families and college students (the general makeup of this town) meander through the most gorgeous selections of produce, meats, cheeses, fresh breads, and flowers. At one end is a cluster of venders sampling dishes served at local restaurants. It is here that the smell of curry and sausage creep up your nostrils and awaken your senses. The smells are intoxicating and I am sure that it is not an empty stomach that creates hunger but the fumes radiating from the hot skillets. The other end of the market is stationed with a face-painting tent, a field of jubilantly screaming children, and a bicycle-powered carousel (this town would). Smack dab in the middle of all this madness, though, stands a glorious white sign. Colorless and free of image, it does not fail to attract my eye. The handwriting is scraggly, functional at best. And it is glorious.

FREE KITTENS.

I am jumping up and down like the four-year-old in the tutu next to me, clutching Mr. P’s arm. Small yelping noises of excitement escape me as I point and practically convulse at the sign. My excitement has an impact of about four feet, as everyone in that diameter seems to gaze in the direction of my telling finger. Quickly realizing that there are few souls that can resist a free kitten, I thrust my eager right hand to my side. The kitten is mine and it’s a good thing that girl in the tutu can’t read yet, because I am quite sure she has mastered the big-eyed face that I will be practicing tonight in the bathroom. I am not ready for that level of competition yet.

There are two kittens left and I am praying that one of them meets Mr. P’s only criteria. Having grown up with cats of both genders, his experience has left him appreciating the temperaments of male cats. Having grown up catless, I have no argument. One kitten looks almost wild with alternating stripes of deep charcoal and grey. This one they know to be female, though. The other is almost entirely black with a patch of white on its tiny chest. “Do you know the gender of this one?” I ask. The woman who found these kittens at a construction site gazes at me. The smile lines around her eyes deepen as she responds, “I haven’t checked this one yet.” She gently picks up the quivering thing in her arms. The blue of its eyes rival that of my husband’s, which always attract the attention of strangers, getting comments from grocery cashiers like, “Man alive, you’ve got some blue eyes.”

The woman lifts the tail and peers underneath the belly of the kitten. She furrows her brow in search, lifting a leg and then turning the creature to its side. My heart rate hastens as my future lies between the legs of this terrified animal. “It’s so hard to tell… tiny little ball sacks haven’t dropped yet,” she mutters as Mr. P and I exchanged humorous and slightly nervous glances at the term “ball sack.” A knowing look crosses her face and she hands the kitten to me. “I believe this one’s a boy.”

All the children on the carousel side of the market flock around us as we hold our furry prize. One small girl insists we name him Bandit. Perhaps it’s the perfect name, for his elusive ball sack won his way into our custody where he steals our affection. Regardless, we agree that his name will be decided once we better understand his personality. It would be a tragedy to name a cat that intends on growing fat and sleeping at the foot of your bed “Bandit.”

In the coming week the list of names forms.

“Huck! Like Huckleberry Finn.”
“Don’t like it. What about Clark? Lewis and Clark. Explorers. It’s perfect.”
“My cousin’s name is Clark. You can’t name your cat after your cousin. It’s kind of insulting.”
“Santa Claws! C-L-A-W-S. Hahaha!”
“Ok, I’m adding it to the list, but it won’t win.”
“Shaquille!”
“Gracious. They’ll think we’re being racist!”
“Uncle Tom?”
“Very funny. What about Kiwi? It’s funny because it doesn’t make sense!”
“Add it to the list, I guess.”

Others make an appearance on the list: Newton, The Doctor, Yazzo, Atlas, Hutch. But in the end it’s “Luther” that wins. And for a week, that is what we call him, as well as “little man,” “buddy,” “dude,” and occasionally “bro.” Yes, it was one week, several strangely prominent nipples, and a “how to determine cat gender” article later that I had to determine how to break the news to Mr. P.

“Hey baby…” I raise the pitch at the end of “baby” as if to say “I’m proceeding with caution because I have something bad to tell you, so please go easy on me as I crush your dreams.” Noting this pitch, he gives me his full attention and with a patient face asks, “What is it?” “I have some bad news for you.” His face remains unchanged. “Luther… Luther is a girl.”

It took three days of passive protest at the gross deception before Mr. P would call it a “she,” a week or so until we settled on the name “Bella,” a week and a half before my sister made even more fun of “Bella” than “Luther,” reminding me that I named our fur ball after the protagonist of teen vampire series, Twilight, and two weeks of pondering this potential mistake to decide I still liked our name choice. Bella Swan and Bella the cat share zero characteristics. Plus there is no evidence in our apartment that I poured over the entire book series. I can easily fake that I have no idea who Bella Swan is should someone point out the shared name. “Oh Twilight, I think I’ve heard of that,” I’ll say. “Not really into steamy vampire teen reads, though.” A chuckle will escape between words, communicating, “you really should be embarrassed for even bringing it up.” Yeah, Bella suits her.

From SC to Cali

Telling people in South Carolina I was moving to California evoked a similar reaction every time. “You are going to fit in so well!” “That is so you!” “You would.” And the occasional, “watch out for all those liberals!” Because Los Angeles and the entire state of California are basically the same thing anyway. I was quite convinced that moving to Cali (“Cali,” I mean, just look at how local I sound!) meant going on a two-year beach town vacation. I found the world’s greatest bikini and I was going to live in it. My lunch breaks would consist of grabbing my surfboard (note to self: scour Craigslist for a surfboard… and a longboard… definitely need a longboard) and catching some waves. I’d survive on exotic vegan dishes like quinoa. When I visited SC I would have to endure an unending flow of compliments on my bronze complexion and all my fans, I mean friends, would seek my counsel on the latest indie bands, to which I would sadly reply that without a record player all was pointless for they only released their albums on LPs. Mark and I would lead a happy life in a constantly warm and relentlessly sunny town and our hair would start coming in blonde. Obviously.

Well, at least I was right about the abundance of quinoa.

What I have come to learn quickly is that there is Northern California (where we live) and Southern California and neither can quite live up to the expectation that all of South Carolina has (that it is either a dangerously liberal place with ideas that will seep through your windows and infect your opinions or that it is the best of Big Sur and Los Angeles – a sort of promised land, minus the promise). It is important to note that we South Carolinians tend to forget about the existence of Northern California. A brief summary of Northern Cali: organic food, vineyards, redwoods, hippies (real ones), huge coffee culture, sustainable energy, farmers markets, and a notably slower pace than Southern Cali (or “SoCal”).

As Mark drove me from the Sacramento airport to Davis for the first time, I wondered at the endless farmland beyond the car windows. “And those are rice fields, and those, oh you’ll love those in the summer, sunflower fields!” Mark excitedly identified each field to me as I traded in my Pacific Ocean paradise for an ocean of sunflowers. Didn’t seem a fair trade. My only pre-marital visit to Davis gave me time to let my preconceived notions dissipate: it turned out that, despite what everyone in SC insisted, homosexuals do not attack Christians on the street here with pointed sticks (as there are no guns in all of California). In all actuality, Northern California has a sort of Bible Belt, slower pace, and farming culture. Not too different from the South after all.

Well, sort of. Any Southerner would feel overwhelmingly out of place upon approaching a public trashcan here. I’m rather used to the simple concept of taking my trash and neatly dropping it in the bin. I’m not totally uncivilized; we do recycle in the South. I’m a fan, promise. But it’s so much more than that here. There aren’t trash cans, but trash stations. With bins for everything from recycling to composting (don’t worry, there are pictures of what qualifies for each category), you may be overwhelmingly tempted to take your small paper bag and empty coffee cup and just toss them until you notice that the last option isn’t labeled “garbage,” “rubbish,” or “trash,” but “LANDFILL,” complete with a horrifying picture of Mother Nature weeping (ok, it’s just a picture of a landfill, but I’m pretty sure I can hear the sound of crying when I look at it). So you naturally spend the next five minutes guiltily matching your items to the ones displayed over each bin while making audible realizations like, “You can compost that!?” It’s a bit awkward knowing what to ask when eating dinner at a local’s home: “Excuse me, where is your—er—landfill box?” This is when I try to lay the accent on thick in hopes that my cluelessness will be found endearing.

The biggest adjustment so far has been that of transportation. Getting from A to B here (“here” being specific to Davis) involves two wheels, not four. Biking. It sounds so classic, I know. I could see myself wearing a little scarf around my neck blowing in the wind on a sunny Davis day as I pedal around the city. The first few times weren’t short of that, either. But as it turns out, winter is the Davis rainy season. (California lesson #523: Rainy seasons aren’t reserved for third world countries.) On the first proper rainy day we had I vowed to stay in the apartment. The sound of wind whipping around the building worked to solidify my certainty for about an hour before I started to feel the apartment walls growing smaller. After much restless pacing, I grabbed a sweater, my North Face “windwall” jacket, a pashmina to wrap around my head, winter gloves, and boots and pedaled through the seeming downpour. Two miles later, I locked my bike and hustled to the nearest awning where I watched in amazement as students happily bobbed along—no umbrella, no pashmina, no hustling as though the rain was made of acid. Tough as nails, they are. I’ve since invested in a rain jacket and a better attitude, but I will say that the latter can be hard to find some days. I’m learning.