Dear Southern California,
Like I would an old friend with whom I have shared many a laugh that rose from deep within my belly, I miss you. Quite a few years have passed since we have shared the same space. The last time I saw you, I was still focused on growing apart from you. On claiming my own space for you were all I had ever known. I would not have believed then that I would one day ache for your teal white-capped ocean tides that cleanse one’s spirit or the tartness of your açaí bowls that taste best after a dip in the sea. I spent 22 years basking in your golden sun rays, breathing in your warm Mediterranean breezes…and taking you deeply for granted. But that is how it seems to go with one’s hometown, right?
My mom and dad purposefully chose a hospital overlooking your golden brown coast for me to arrive earth-side at. We wanted you to be born by the ocean, they would later explain to me. And ever since that arid August day 25 years ago, I have been drawn back to that spot. That spot where I could see even the most complicated puzzles of life with clarity. Where I could fall even more deeply in love with the person leaving footprints in your coarse buttery sand alongside my own. Where life’s joys seemed sweeter and its problems, smaller. It was there, on your beaches where I squinted my eyes to seek the outline of Catalina Island against the horizon many a time, that I fell in love with life itself.
California, you taught me acceptance as a child by tossing me around like a rag doll in your ocean currents and spitting me back up onto the sand like I was nothing. It was then during those moments that I learned that letting go didn’t equate giving up. You ignited a love within me for nature through the schools of fish and baby sea lions that swam beside me in your turquoise waters. You gifted me the experience of eating rich and chunky guacamole laden with sweet tomatoes and burritos so delicately handcrafted that they would melt in your mouth. Because of you, I partook in the earth-shattering joy that comes with the first bite of In-N-Out after a long day at work. California, as much if not more than my heart, my stomach longs for you.
California, you will always hold a special place in my heart — not just because of your beauty or your unparalleled cuisine but because of the friends and family who I left behind with you. My community. My tribe. The circle of loved ones that I spent a lifetime building memories with. The people who know me holistically — as a shy little girl, an awkward teen with braces and acne, and as a young woman trying to carve out her place in the world. My story, although much more colorful after I left, began with you. It’s shaped by you. No matter where I end up residing in this world, I am forever a California girl. This love letter may confuse you. Maybe even lead you on.
I admit I sound like a past lover full of regret. Like I would return to you given the chance. To be able to gaze upon your million shades of green, gold, and blue each and every day. To star in my own imaginary music videos during your burdensome rush hour traffic. But I wouldn’t. At least not now. And not because you aren’t beautiful. Not because I don’t miss you and all the pieces of my heart that you rightfully own. But because within me you have sparked a deep and fervent longing to be a part of somewhere bigger than myself.
Somewhere where I feel small again. Where I feel out of place. Where I am new. California, you molded me into a woman who dares to seek adventure in the driest of deserts. The most unforgiving of forests. The wildest of seas. A woman who feels at home all around the world. It is because of you that I want to be someone great. And to be someone great, I had to spread my wings — even if that meant leaving you.
Today, I reside in your yang. An eccentric city known for its impenetrable layer of clouds and scattered rainstorms. Its lack of BMW’s and dressing to impress. A city where people rarely ask, what do you do? Basically, a place that is everything you’re not and nothing that you are. And it’s because of this stark contrast that I know I don’t belong here. That I don’t thrive without the vitamin D that you so generously soaked my golden skin with for 22 years. That I need your summer days that are only survived by wearing Daisy Dukes and a sloppy mom bun.
I may spend the rest of my life looking for the place that makes me feel as vibrant as you do. That sparks a need to float in the sea in the middle of a Tuesday as you do. I have already accepted that I may never find that place. That I may find myself old and wrinkly at some dive bar in the middle nowhere talking to anyone who will listen about how I used to live in a bikini part-time. Or maybe some day, whether it be one year from now or 50, I will find myself yet again perched on your sun-roasted canyon hills overlooking the very horizon that I have loved my entire life. And if that time comes, just know that, unlike in the past, I will know just how truly special you are. Until then, come what may.
Love you always,
Your forever California girl