I spent junior high and high school in Point Loma, an upper-middle-class suburb of San Diego that sits between Shelter Island and Ocean Beach.
Some of my friends’ parents had sailboats, and most of my friends got cars for their 16th birthdays. (I didn’t, and to this day I’m glad because I surely would have been arrested for drunk driving or worse.)
We did drugs and drank any kind of alcohol we could sneak from our parents or get some guy to buy for us at the liquor store. We lived lives of utter privilege. I became a cheerleader, got my heart broken, launched a decade-long eating disorder, and saw my relationship with my father hit the first of what would be three devastating lows we’ve never recovered from.
I have mixed feelings about San Diego.
I hadn’t been back in years, and visited only a few times since I escaped in my early 20s. But my good friends and San Diegans Bonnie and Roger were going on a long trip, and I wanted to see them before they left. When I was planning the long weekend, I envisioned the good – spending time with friends, some I hadn’t seen in years or even decades – and the less so, which probably meant me cruising my old neighborhood and weeping uncontrollably in my car. You know, a typical hometown visit.
The nostalgia began at the border. Crossing through Yuma, AZ to California, I saw signs for towns on my father’s old route as a Greyhound bus driver – El Centro, Campo, Descanso, Jamul. Plus “Mexico Next Exit” and “Elevation Sea Level,” all those California license plates and palm trees, cars marked CHP and CalTrans, the smog (“haze” to the locals) hanging over the horizon, the bear on the state park signs.
Everything in California seems softer – the air, the land, the light – and the quality of the late afternoon sun triggered a flood of melancholy. For something I’d lost? Something I still yearned for? I wasn’t sure, but the weight of the past settled in and stayed.
I had booked meals and drinks with other friends, and since I wasn’t staying long the schedule was tight. People were doing shifts – 5 – 8 p.m. with one friend, 8 – 11 p.m. with another – and around that I planned to go sightseeing and cruise my old neighborhood.
I got to Bonnie and Roger’s Thursday night, and the next day started coughing. During the second shift with a friend Friday night, my back started aching. I’d been sitting on bar stools for four hours at that point, and figured that was the problem. I vowed to start bringing my own camp chair, insuring endless comfortable bar time, and carried on.
Ha ha! Not really. Maybe just one of those collapsible stools.
By the time I left the bar I was sweating and shivering with fever. I got home, crawled into bed, and spent the night trying to sleep and failing.
I haven’t had flu like that in years, but still, I managed to make every one of my dates. (It’s the German in me.) I gave air hugs so I wouldn’t infect anyone, went through boxes of Kleenex, and was overwhelmed by just how special each friend still is to me. The deep connection I felt as a kid or young adult is still there, and years and miles of distance have done nothing to change it.
Bonnie, Roger, and I went to the Hotel Del Coronado, my one moment of sightseeing. The Del is a spectacular beachfront resort, home away from home for movie stars and presidents:
Temperatures were in the high 70s, but people were skating yards from the Pacific:
The inside was decked out for Christmas:
We ended up sitting at the bay, watching the sun set on downtown San Diego:
Despite the illness I had a wonderful weekend, but didn’t get to my old neighborhood. I had blocked out my one free afternoon to hang in Point Loma, but because of the flu spent it home in pajamas. Coincidence? I don’t know.
I do know there are few people I feel deeply connected to. I realized I had locked the San Diego friends in a box because they were “from that time in my life,” and keeping them at a distance felt safer. We’d all grown up, moved on, changed too much to stay in touch. It was best.
But I was wrong. We had deep connections then, and we have them now. There’s no reason for me to keep these people away. So I plan to go back to San Diego later next year and see my dear friends, people I’ve missed but didn’t know it. And even if I come down with another heinous flu bug, I’m cruising my old neighborhood. The Kleenex can do double-duty.