Sweet Home California
Eleven months ago I arrived back in my childhood bedroom with a decade of my life in New Zealand stuffed into an old tramping pack and a laptop carry-on bag. The landscape outside the window on this late May day - green alfalfa fields backed by brown, sun-scorched hills - looks almost like it did last July when I threw my bags down and collapsed on the bed.
Except today this bedroom is filled with moving boxes. My year - my beautiful year - of being a free-bird is coming to an end (something just twisted up in my chest as I wrote that sentence) and I am doing all the things that you do when you are packing up a time in your life you have loved and are having a hard time letting go of.
Greenie, the car I bought last month with money I had saved in Montana over the winter, has been checked over multiple times by my father, and is sitting in the driveway, ready to go. I have Annie Proulx's Wyoming Stories on a six-CD set. My mother has loaded up kitchen bits - olive oils and expensive pottery and wine glasses from our neighbour of 30 years, who moved to Hawaii last month - and has given them to me, to be placed carefully in the boot of the car. They are all pieces that will be part of my own kitchen in my new home that I am setting out for Thursday morning.
By next Monday I will be in a new newsroom, in a new small town in the far northwest corner of Montana. I will have tiny yellow kitchen and a backyard shadowed by a mountain range. Pets are negotiable.
Last Sunday I caught the foam of a wave, slowly stood up, wiped the hair that was plastered across my face from my eyes, and spread my arms out on either side of me.
I lasted about six seconds before crashing into the water and straight onto the sand. The first thing I did after grabbing my board, and disentangling myself from the seaweed that was dragging me back out, was look around for my mom to check if she had seen me. ''Did you see that?'' I wanted to yell. ''Did you?''
I am a 36-year-old woman, trying to teach herself to surf. It's pathetic and awkward, but - I imagine - extremely entertaining to watch. I am sure people who have homes at this beach now time their happy hour drinks on the deck to coincide with my evening collisions with the Pacific (''Brad! Hurry up with the martinis! She's starting!).
But last Sunday my mom raised both arms over her head like I'd just scored a touchdown against insurmountable odds. I felt myself inflate with pride. Then I was back in the water again, to show her it was no big deal.
Last Sunday was, of course, Mother's Day. Mom didn't want to spend the day getting a manicure or going out to a fancy lunch. At the beginning of May she announced that her big request for Mother's Day - besides rice pudding for dessert - was to watch my brother and I surf together.
This morning I throw an orange ball for Captain to retrieve and wince as the black lab twists his body to leap up and catch it at an angle, like an aging sports star reliving his glory days.
He lands with a thud and limps back to dump the ball at my feet.
"Sorry old man,'' I say to him, picking up the slobbery ball, thinking maybe just one last time. I'm scared that he will die of a heart attack on my watch. I have a sip of coffee from the cup in my hand and watch the 7am sun creep just a little bit more up the dry, brown hills. Meanwhile Captain's face just looks up at me like 'more, more, more'.
This is the highlight of Captain's day. This has always been the highlight of Captain's day for more than a decade now.
Last week I set out on a road trip that did not have a super clear destination, nor did it have a super clear purpose.
What it did have was 900 miles of wild scenery, winding roads through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Colorado, at least three snow storms and a 12-track album that I am listening to right now, in the spring sun of California as I write. I'm still not entirely sure what kind of road trip I've just come back from when people ask. My response is fuzzy: I guess I just wanted to visit people.
The journey was probably one of the most ill-planned, last-minute, fingers-crossed-I-hope-this-is-the-right-highway trips I've ever set out for. It was a map of the United States on the dining room table, a finger on Denver as a destination, and three minutes later a rental car reservation with unlimited mileage and the hope that friends I had left messages for would get back to me before I arrived on their doorstep with my pjs and a toothbrush that night.
After a week back in California, I decided to do this trip because there were a few key things I didn't have in my life. Steady employment was a big one. In April, there was a job I was so confident I had in the bag, back in Montana, I was already breezily telling friends to come out for a visit.
That position was, in the final negotiation process, not in the bag, and was given to someone else. I arrived back in California for what was supposed to be a quick triumphant visit before starting this sparkling new job, but instead, landed in Los Angeles morose and plan-less, a state of mind I have become all too familiar with in the ten months since I left Invercargill.
Ten months ago, on a rainy Invercargill weeknight, I sat at a Thai restaurant in Dee St and made a list.
There was no numbering of items according to their importance. It was a free-writing exercise with a glass of wine, a plate of curry pushed out of the way, and my work iPhone for reference.
It had to do with habits.
The list went under a title that read something like I Need New Ones.
This year that I am living in now was just a seed of an idea that night.
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