My morning walk last Friday was unspectacular. At 5 a.m., not surprisingly, the neighborhood was quiet. I jaywalked with impunity and sang the John Prine songs I was listening to a little louder than I would have later in the day. Nothing distinguished this walk from a hundred other walks I have taken on similar mornings. Until it occurred to me that this would be my last walk. My last walk to get coffee from the Starbucks on Whipple Avenue in Redwood City. The last time I would chit-chat with the baristas, who automatically write “Kim” on my latte cup, before I sit in one of the leather chairs to read or work on my laptop while I drink my coffee.
When this notion occurred to me, the corners of my mouth pulled down in the funny way that my daughter hates because it means I am about to cry. I looked more closely at the houses, driveways and flowers that I have seen many times. And, I could feel myself letting them go.
Later that day, I hugged the owner and staff of the sushi restaurant we have frequented for at least 10 years – and I let them go as well. It was a special place. My daughter explains with pride that when she was three she was the only small child permitted to sit by the koi pond because she never got out of her chair. Luckily for her, she doesn’t seem to recall the stream of threats that kept her glued in place.
Monday was wearying, physically and emotionally, because the movers came to pack the house. As one room after another was emptied, I could feel a corresponding emptiness growing in me. The worst was the trees. I can’t explain it, but, for some reason, my strongest attachments centered on our trees. The sprawling fig tree that hid the neighbors behind us and consistently produced two crops of figs every year. What a treat to spread homemade fig preserves on Stilton cheese. The red maple that my ex-husband planted in the front yard with our daughter’s “help.” In my favorite picture of the two of them they are lying next to the tree, head to head, just after he planted it. And, the palm tree. I loved the palm tree. It provided no shade and cost a fortune to maintain. But a girl from Kentucky never could have imagined that she would have a palm tree (actually two) growing in her yard. It kind of made me feel like a movie star.
My daughter, the dogs and I started the first leg of our journey today (Thursday), which brought us to Barstow, California. Tomorrow morning when we cross the Arizona border, I will let go of California itself. We had almost 14 years together. I would like to say that our relationship was all sunshine and rainbows. After all, California is the Golden State. However, if I believed any relationship could be that simple when I arrived in California in 2000, I certainly don’t believe that now.
California’s most important lesson to me was, like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, it is possible to crawl through five football fields of sludge and emerge clean and whole on the other side. In fact, the wisdom gained from the crawling can create gratitude for the sludge.
When we do cross into Arizona tomorrow, the one thing that I will hold close to me, and jealously guard against releasing, are the beautiful, encouraging, loving Californians who were my friends. Sometimes the interactions were frequent and substantive, and sometimes they were more limited, perhaps a few hours spent together once a year. Or, maybe it was only a couple of evenings over the entire 14 year period. But even brief interactions have the power to alter our sense of who we are. Even the fleeting touch of a cool hand on a fevered forehead can bring comfort and, perhaps, hope.
In a few days, I will sit on my porch in Kentucky and enjoy that company of other loving companions. But I know that I will find myself periodically glancing west. Like Jay Gatsby, I will be searching for a green light symbolizing the hope that I can forever hold close those dear ones that are absent from me.
Goodbye, California. You gave me many gifts and changed me for the better. Although I will relish reacquainting myself with warm evenings, thunderstorms and fireflies, I will miss you.