Category Archives: places

The Sorrow of What Remains

Yesterday I went down an Internet rabbit hole. An old friend from way back when posted something on Facebook about her son receiving school awards. Seems harmless enough for starters, doesn’t it? Now, this friend still lives in the town I grew up in, but I didn’t recognize the name of the school. Of course, I knew they’d renamed many schools, and that the town had grown and there were also new schools. So out of curiosity, I went Googling.

I’d walked to elementary school as a child, and my chief question was: What did they rename my old school? When I was young and the town was small, the school names were very simple: Westside, Eastside, Central . . . But friends who were still in the area had told me they’d renamed the schools after people like our old superintendent. Fair enough. I wondered which name my old school had received.

First I looked at the school district website for my old town. None of the schools listed looked familiar based on the pictures, but I reasoned that those old buildings had probably been given facelifts. So, remembering that I used to walk, I instead went to a Google map of the town and traced my old route.

No school.


I double checked the area, clicking on various things on the map to see if maybe I’d misremembered something. But no, there was no school anywhere in the vicinity.

Then I made the mistake of going to Street View.

Sometimes I still have dreams set on the street where I grew up. We lived in a cul-de-sac, at the U bend of it, in fact, and behind our house ran a quiet, relatively underutilized road. There was nothing but fields on the other side of that road, and we just called it “the back road.” A skunk had been run over there once, and no one had bothered to clean it up, so there was a spot—my friends and I always looked for it—where you could see its skeleton pressed into the asphalt by the cars that had flattened it into the summer-softened blacktop.

Oh, but that road was no longer a quiet road. The fields were long gone. The land appeared flattened and without shade, the grass all brown around the houses that had sprung up. They hadn’t bothered to save any trees, apparently. It was heart crushing to see.

And my school? It appears to have become a Boys and Girls Club. I guess there could be worse fates.

It’s true that you can never go home again. Because it will never be home again. Even if I moved back, it wouldn’t be the town I grew up in. We’ve all moved on.

There’s something sad about memories. How they only exist in our heads because there is nothing concrete to hold on to. Photographs, maybe, but the truth is: those places are lost to us now and will never exist again.

Six Years: A Reflection

Six years ago today we put our six-year-old, our three-year-old, and our two-year-old on a plane and came to California. Although my husband had visited the state for the job interview, I never set foot in it until it became my home.

That was nothing new, actually. I had a history of moving to places sight unseen. I’d taken a train to Boston for graduate school, never having been anywhere on the Eastern seaboard before, and on the first day of class I met the man I eventually married. And while I didn’t love Massachusetts, it seems there was a destined reason for my having gone there.

Still, twelve years later I was more than ready to leave.

California is, in many ways, easier to love. That’s why so many people live here, I suppose. Which is one of the things not to love: the traffic. Massachusetts had that, too, but it’s worse here.

California does have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year ’round. And it only has snow if you want it. (Here they “go to the snow,” to which I say, “no thank you.”) Of course, it also has droughts, or at least it has in recent years. And earthquakes.

Ever since I was young, I imagined I would live in California some day. I had the opportunity to go to school here, but I couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition. I was offered an internship that I had to turn down because, again, I couldn’t afford to move and get a car and live on no wages. A producer I worked for asked if I’d like to work in the L.A. office, but I foolishly said I’d rather finish my degree. (Maybe not foolishly; I would not have met my husband if I’d taken that path.)

Still, I had faith I’d get here. That I was meant to be here. Maybe the timing just wasn’t right all those other times. Or maybe every path was different and this is just the one I ended up on. Maybe after twelve years of seasonal depression and panic attacks in the Northeast, I’d finally earned this reward.

Well, I didn’t earn it, my husband did. He works hard, and when I finally broke down, he acted quickly to move me to a place that would be better for me mentally, emotionally, and physically.

We landed, six years ago, at 9:00 p.m., which was midnight Eastern time. The kids refused to sleep on the plane ride, so they were punchy and cranky as we made our way to the rental car counter. And we were all hungry. It turned out there was an In-N-Out Burger near our temporary housing, so our first official stop in California was the drive thru.

Now, every year on Pi day, we get In-N-Out and then eat pie. It’s a happy tradition, something we all look forward to. And I look forward to many more happy years here, too.


Every now and then I like to say hello to the visitors from far afield. So this is for you: Scunthorpe and North Shields (UK) and Culverden (NZ). Hope to see you back again soon.

WIPjoy #23

23. Protagonist – Last dream you had?

Nerissa: Well, I describe it pretty clearly in the book, I think. You know, the whole bit with my dead dad coming for a visit? I’ve probably dreamed since then, but if so, I don’t remember. The dad thing took up a lot of headspace.

Hullo again to Southend-on-Sea! Thanks for visiting!

I remember sleeping with the window open.

This was in the trailer—a mobile home—we lived in from the time I could remember (which Mom says was age 3) until I was 11. It was one of those long, skinny numbers with the dining room in the front that had a big bay window looking out at our cul-de-sac, then the kitchen, the living room, and a hallway off which were my bedroom, a laundry closet, the one bathroom, and finally my parents’ room at the back.

My room had a loft bed. Dad had built it himself. First they’d papered the alcove it was in with a mural featuring a rainbow over a field of daffodils. Then Dad had built the bed in. At the foot were shelves for all my stuffed animals and board games and books. My dresser, long a low, was tucked beneath my bed, and on it were an old black-and-white television and an even older alarm clock of the kind where a tiny hammer stuttered between two bells. It was avocado green and a terrible way to wake up.

Mom had chosen the decor. She and Dad had painted the walls a pale yellow. The carpet and window blinds were navy blue. And the ruffly sheers around the window were what was called “Fiesta Red,” more accurately described as “rust.” I didn’t much care for this palette, and I’m not sure where Mom got the idea from anyway. A magazine? Some friends? I suspect she was trying to pick colors I could “grow into,” nothing too young or girly that I’d want to change in a few years. But I don’t know for sure; I’ve never asked her.

I would lie in my loft bed—painted the same yellow as the walls, and the ladder was the same blue as the carpet so that it looked as if it were rising from the depths and clinging to my bed frame—with the window open at night and just breathe in that fresh, clean air. I remember distinctly the buzzing of the street lamp, the rustle of the oak tree when the squirrels crashed through it. The hum of the crickets and cicadas.

There are worse ways to grow up.

I had a ceiling fan that I refused to use because it felt too close to where I was lying. This was a bone of contention between my parents and me; they couldn’t imagine not putting a perfectly good fan to use in the hot Texas summer. But I’d rather sweat it out than have those blades spinning a hand’s reach away. To this day, fans of any kind are not my favorite.

There was a time in my life when I would have been too proud to admit having lived in a trailer (mobile home, whatever) at any point in my childhood. But I find I miss something about it now, the simplicity of it maybe. The smell of fresh mown grass on a Saturday morning. Long summer evenings spent chasing fireflies with my neighborhood friends. We had a big willow tree that overhung the mailbox, and every season the butterflies came by the hundreds to that tree. We had the oak tree outside my bedroom window, and then a circle of seven more oaks that seemed like something sacred—the way they stood in a ring like that, with the land inside them slightly depressed like a bowl in the earth. Our big wedge of back yard (we were at the bottom most part of the “U” in the cul-de-sac), unfenced because it was a small town and a simpler time and we didn’t worry about protecting our property. Our deck, on which Dad and I would set up the telescope and stargaze and talk about books and music.

When we moved away, we moved into first a temporary house and then on to a much bigger house. And I loved the bigger house, too. It would be a place of many more memories, my haven during the storms of adolescence. But life would never be simple again. And I . . . After we moved, I quit sleeping with my window open.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 24

24. Something you miss

London. Walking around Hyde park with my coat and scarf shielding me (ineffectively) from the blustering wind. Regent’s Park in full spring bloom. The Foyle’s on Southbank. The Krispy Kreme in Victoria Station. Long days lost to the V&A.

I know it would be different if I lived there. Familiarity and contempt and all that. I still hope to one day though, even just for a little while. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to live abroad, and that’s a dream still unrealized.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 13

13. Your commute to and from work/school/etc.

My commute to work involves walking downstairs to my office.

My commute to school—or, rather, to my children’s school—involves walking around the corner to the school.

I’ve very lucky (blessed if you prefer) not to have to drive anywhere. That will change when the kids move up to middle school, but even the middle school is less than five minutes away. We chose our house for exactly these reasons: 1. a good home office space for me, 2. walking distance to school and three parks, 3. approximately five minutes from the grocery (and you don’t even have to get on the highway to get there).

Here’s the thing about me and driving. I love long car trips . . . Though when going somewhere with the kids, that love is put to the test. But I don’t really love lots of small trips like errands and such. I’m much rather walk whenever I can. It’s why I enjoy visiting places like London, where walking is so easy. It’s why I lasted so long in Boston, also a largely walkable city; it wasn’t until we’d moved to the suburbs that I really began to melt down.

I won’t say I always love walking; there have been times when the heat or whatever has been too much for me to enjoy it, and I’ll come home crankier than before. But on the average, the fresh air and exercise, especially if accompanied by some good music or an interesting podcast, improves my mood.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 5

5. A place you would live but have never visited

It sounds a bit ridiculous. Would you live somewhere you’ve never at least visited first?

Truth is, I’ve done it. Twice.

I moved to Boston sight unseen for grad school. My thought was I’d only be there a couple years at most, so what did it matter? I ended up living there for 12 years. (Well, six years in Boston and six in the suburbs.)

And then I moved to California also without ever having set foot in the state. That was 3+ years ago. But I do really love it here anyway.

So is there anywhere else I would move without having visited first? A foreign country. I’ve always, always wanted to live abroad. I’ve been to a lot of places I’d love to live, though, so I have to think about someplace I haven’t been but might live. Australia, New Zealand . . . Maybe Japan. Hawaii? Not foreign but I’m sure it would be lovely (if expensive) to live there.

I’d move to the French or English countryside, or to Ireland or Scotland given the chance. I’ve been to France and England, of course, but mostly in the cities, so I figure the countryside counts as somewhere I haven’t visited.

Spectacular Settings

Victoria Street, London, April 2012
Victoria Street, London, April 2012

The above is one of my favorite photos. It’s pretty mundane, I suppose, but it’s the wallpaper on my iPhone. I love London, and I was just walking down this street one day with the idea of going on the Eye, and couldn’t stop myself snapping this shot.

Today I’m participating in the WEP Challenge of “Spectacular Settings”. I think London is a spectacular setting. It’s where The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is largely set (though, being in the 60s, there is no London Eye).

I love this photo because you get the London cabs and the red buses. You get the red phone box, too. It reminds me that what is exotic to a traveler is everyday for a slew of people. When I’m in London, for some people I’m the most interesting thing that happens in their day. (And that’s not me being self-important; I’ve actually been told that several times.) That’s weird to think about, considering I find all of London so very interesting. And of course, to myself I’m mundane.

This all relates to Peter in that he can’t live a regular life, much as he might want to. He’s a spy. What’s normal for him doesn’t translate to the every day. So when he falls in love with a cab driver, trying to straddle those worlds . . . It’s kind of a mess.

Anyway, this picture inspires me because it forces me to see things differently. It gives me perspective. It makes me think from a different direction, which is an exercise I enjoy. “Stranger in a strange land?” Well, it’s not so strange to the people who live there! Stranger in . . . a land. Though the more often I go, the less of a stranger I become.