Southern California was home for the first 19 years of my life. It witnessed my formation and, of course, it helped to form me. The area that saw you grow up always has a special place deep within you. It is an identity.
My boyfriend Jesse and I met over twelve years ago while living in the same apartment building in Milford, CT. As we were getting acquainted we learned that we both lived in Southern California as kids. He and his family moved there from Connecticut when he was eight years old and stayed there until he was thirteen.
This California connection gives us a shared knowing of a place that was integral to our lives. We both listened to the Mighty 690 radio station, body surfed in the Pacific Ocean and loved Chocolate Malt Krunch ice cream from Thrifty. Not many people in Connecticut have those reference points.
We recently visited California for a family wedding. Part of our plans had us driving from Riverside to Ventura on a beautiful Friday morning. We began the drive with no set agenda, but an openness to stop along the way anywhere that called to us.
Our route took us through Pasadena and we pulled off the Freeway to walk around Pasadena City College. I went to PCC for one year following high school. It was a year filled with music and theatre and fast friendships, a time when I stood proudly in my dreams and had endless thoughts of possibility. Being back allowed me to touch that place again and remember how well it suited me.
Further along our drive Jesse noted signs for Burbank. Burbank, he told me, was right near where he lived in Studio City. Unsure that he would be able to find their old house, he told me to set the navigation for Carney’s, a famous hot dog institution housed in an old train. This was a place of many meals and memories for him, so he thought he could find his way from there. He did.
His house was no longer there, replaced by condos, but other recognizable landmarks were present, one of them being an old motel. By sheer coincidence I had stayed at that very motel, now updated to be retro-chic, when I was there in February.
Because of my recent stay I knew that there was a Rite Aid drugstore up the street. I also knew that some Rite Aids in California sell Thrifty ice cream.
Moments later we were walking along the street of his adolescence, eating our treasured Chocolate Malt Krunch ice cream (which tasted as good as ever), in the blazing California sunshine. We were reveling in the nostalgia of a time so long ago and yet so richly familiar, each with our own memories, both mournful and sweet.
The entire three-day visit was wonderful. Dinner with my three dearest high school friends, time with my Sister, a trip to the beach to hear the roar of those Pacific waves, a beautiful wedding seeing family members we rarely get to see.
When we boarded the plane for home I felt something unusual. Deep within me there was a poignant sadness. I didn’t want to leave. Without saying a word, I sensed that Jesse felt that too.
Though I find myself wistful for California, it is comforting to know that my partner in life gets it. We both have cherished experiences of a place that represents part of who we are and the legacy of our families. We hold a bit of Southern California for each other wherever we go. It is a connection formed long before we ever met, and one that continues to grow.