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Palm trees freeway rose bush camellias storefront churches liquor stores on ramps exits sidewalks empty stores vacant lots cars potholes cars cars empty houses houses for sale boarded up storefronts men on stoops people pushing shopping carts people looking through trash garbage abandoned under the freeway roads small houses chain link fences dogs gardens trees fog a chicken wandering children with their mothers kids coming home from school homeless people cars old men on porches giggling teens goodwill drop off boxes yard sale signs tattoo parlors bible stores grocery store liquor store Sunday worshippers Saturday shoppers neighbors who never speak
When I left my husband, I knew I wasnít coming back. I think he did, too. We called it a separation, though. We kissed goodbye as we had so many times before, but we knew this time was different. An observer would not, I think, have been able to tell the difference. We watched each other until the cab turned the corner, and our lives along with it. I was overcome with emotion as the cab climbed the steep hills in the cold early morning light. I knew I was leaving the city I loved for an unknown future.
I didnít imagine it would be this hard. And now Iím faced with another decision: whether to move to the depths of the country. My siblings and I grew up in the country, and only moved to a medium-sized city when I was in my early teens. My brother and sister love living in the country, whereas I am a city girl through and through. Iím uncomfortable being somewhere where I canít get a cab . I hate bugs. I generally find Nature pretty gross. But I canít go on like this, in this place.
My brother has moved (more or less) into our late motherís trailer, which is now on the property he and my sister are paying off. His house is vacant-ish, and he doesnít want to pay for both his house and the land. The idea is that my sister and her husband would move into his, and Iíd move into hers. The rent would be a third of what Iím paying here, and includes water and utilities. It would be great to be close to them, but Iím not sure I can handle the isolation.
There are definite drawbacks: no garbage collection, so you have to haul it to the dump. The power goes out once or twice in the winter, which is colder and rainier than it is in the Bay Area. The one road that goes to San Francisco floods and is closed a couple of times during the winter. The house is teeny-tiny, maybe the half the size of what I have now, and itís surrounded by dusty dirt in the summer and mud in the winter. The closest store is five miles away, and you have to drive everywhere.
But there are good things, too. Iíd be close to family and friends, and have a real support system for a change. The house is never too hot in the summer and always cool at night, and you can go swimming in the river. There are no locks on the doors, and you leave your car keys in the ignition, so you know where they are. Itís beautiful: towering redwoods and wild, rocky ocean. The cats can play outside to their heartsí content. The garden is already established, all in containers, so no weeding is necessary. It's quiet.
I wish there was someone who could tell me what to do. It seems like every decision I have made since Dad died has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. When he was alive, I could always ask him what to do and he always knew, whether it was professional or personal. And he was always right. I should be like George on ďSeinfeldĒ and do the opposite of what my instincts are and see how that works out. It canít be any worse. Or can it? Maybe just moving to the country is the opposite for me.
The house smells like hot dust, like my grandmotherís attic, only without the trunks and mysterious delights. It looks like weíre in for a long, hot week Ė the dog days of summer, indeed. The coolness of my sisterís little tree-shaded house is very appealing on a hot Sunday afternoon. My house is usually hotter inside than it is outside, and it has a magical ability to retain heat long after the relentless sun has set. Itís also cold and drafty in the winter. I wonder why insulation is such a foreign concept for California architects?
There was a frenzy of lawnmowers early this morning, as my neighbors got their chores out of the way before the heat of the day set in. The house was hot before noon, and the effects of my cold shower wore off by the time I got dressed. The blinds are all closed in a vain effort to keep the house cooler, so Iím living in hot gloom as I await the passage of the latest heat wave. People always talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, but what about the summer? Too hot is worse than cold.
My beautiful diamond ring finally sold. It was a hundred years old, with a lacy platinum setting. The center stone was close to two carats. I loved that ring, but necessity overrode accessories. I only received about a quarter of the appraised value, but apparently, thatís pretty much par for the course in these cases. I thought Iíd feel relieved as I deposited the check, but I didnít. A third of it was slated for overdue bills, exchanging beauty for necessity yet again. It made me almost as sad as parting with it in the first place.
After paying the overdue bills, I planned to buy a couple of books which I wanted to read and the library didnít have. But when it came to checking out on Amazon, I was so horrified by the shipping costs that I returned them to their virtual shelves. Iíve been so broke and so desperate for so long that even the thought of spending that money was unthinkable to me. I had thought Iíd enjoy the novel sensation of purchasing a novel, but even that has been beaten out of me. I hope itís not forever.
As I got ready to go to the city to see the jeweler, I put make-up on. I only wear make-up now when I go to the city, which isnít that often. How the glamorous have fallen! As I smoothed foundation on, my fingers glided over a small vertical line beside my left eyebrow. ďI got that from Mom,Ē I thought, as I continued making up my face. That wrinkle appeared during our long vigil at Momís bedside. I remember noticing it and being surprised. I must have been frowning or looking anxious without realizing it.
As I drove across the Bay Bridge, passing the ďCity and County of San FranciscoĒ sign, the silvery fog begins to wisp around the car. The cooling sea breeze whips in the open window, a relief from the stifling heat on the wrong side of the bay. As I pull up at the jewelerís, thereís a parking space right in front. I can see my ring sparkling beautifully in the window, beside an eight carat beauty priced at a mere $195,000. Imagine! After I deposit the check, I get back on the freeway to return to exile.
New development: the house which formerly belonged to the landlord, neighbor, and friend of my siblings is empty. He and his longtime girlfriend passed away recently, and her daughter is looking to rent the house out. She likes the idea of having someone there who knew and cared for her mother, and who she knows as well. Itís a much bigger house than my sisterís, and may well be bigger than the house Iím currently living in. I feel like itís all falling into place. I still have to talk to my boss about it, though.
My boss came by to drop off some work and pick up some articles I had copied for him on Goldman Sachs and the Madoff scandal. Just when I was ready to broach the topic, my phone rang. It was our combination finance and IT person, who was outside with my check. For some reason, she refuses to mail it to me, so I either have to wait around for her, or she shows up unexpectedly. By the time I got back in the house, my boss was on the phone and on his way out. So much for that.
I was eating hummus and watching a re-run of ďMonkĒ when my landlords appeared at the front door. Since the doorbell doesn't work, they actually said, "Knock, knock". I failed to ask who was there, being fully occupied by being totally surprised. They had come to operate on the poor, sickly lawn. They brought a sprinkler with a timer and a bunch of seed, so the already insane water bill will go up. Hopefully the transfusion will help the grass regain its youth and vigor. Plastic surgery is never cheap. I felt weird, like I was cheating on them.
I think of my father nearly every day, but today, the anniversary of his death, I think of him a little more than usual, and a little differently. I wish he was here to advise me. I wish I could see his face light up when he first spotted me arriving at Heathrow, reaching across the barrier to hug and kiss me. I wish I could walk with him and his beloved dog Jesse on Wimbledon Common. I wish I could feed the birds in St. Jamesís Park with him. I wish we could make dinner together. I wish.
I finally talked to my boss about the move. He was so supportive that I wondered what on earth I had been so worried about. After all, heís been my friend for many years, and we are also business partners. He agreed that I could come to the city once or twice a month, and since his wife manages a hotel, I could stay there at a discounted rate, and best of all, the firm would pick up my tab. I was so relieved. I think this could really work. Sometimes you have to find a surprising, unexpected solution.
It was time to go and look at my possible house-to-be. The trip didnít start off well: I missed the exit for the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. I got off the freeway at the next exit and turned around to go back, only to find that traffic was horrendously slow in that direction. All in all, it took me a good half hour to make up for that one mistake. Sigh. Though I would be driving more in the country, Iíd be driving on scenic Highway 1 instead of the madness of 580, a real improvement.
I stopped off in Boonville to see Erica and her daughter Jessica. my traffic-induced crankiness vanished as Jessica ran toward me yelling my name and jumped into my arms. I swear sheís taller than she was last month. I asked about her recent trip to San Francisco, whether she liked having dinner with her mother and her Momís friends. She said ďThe hotel was the nicest one Iíve stayed at in a long timeĒ and confided that ďThe lamb was a little disappointing. And by the way, it was too salty.Ē The six year old epicure.
My sister knew I couldnít wait to see the house, so as soon as we hugged hello, we went to take a look. Itís a quirky James house, but it has a new bathroom, a living/kitchen area, and a sleeping loft. The loft has a door to the balcony, which wraps around the side of the house. The garage, attached to the house, was converted to an art studio, so there will be room for Peterís paintings and drums. Weíre jokingly calling it the ďPeter HutĒ. It has a good feeling Ė I really like it.
It was a beautiful day at the farmersí market, and it doesnít get more picturesque than the one in Mendocino. The stalls are set up on a village street lined with quaint Victorian houses, overlooking the ocean, startlingly blue on this cloudless day. Tourists mix with locals, kids and dogs, Baskets over our arms like the Victoriansí original residents, we wander among the stalls, choosing strawberries for a pie; spicy Korean garlic, streaked with lavender stripes; crimson lipstick peppers; juicy peaches; perfectly ripe tomatoes. As we walk together through the sunlit crowds, I think, ďThis will be my life.Ē
After the market, we go to the pound to play with three week old puppies. My sister and her dear friend Lu both walk and socialize pit bulls at the shelter to help prepare them for a successful adoption, They do this once a week, and I admire their dedication. A mother dog was rescued and brought to the shelter with her eight puppies. The puppies were a little nervous around people, so we were going to help socialize them and make them more adoptable. Itís no hardship to spend an hour playing with puppies! It made my day.
We had a barbecue that night. Lu came over, Rob was in charge of the Ďcue, and a good time was had by all, mosquitoes notwithstanding. We had turkey burgers, corn and salad from the farmersí market, and the pie Megan had made from the four baskets of market strawberries. She doesnít hold back when she makes a pie (or does anything else, for that matter). A good time was had by all. As we sat in the garden, I looked up at the starry sky and thought how lucky I was to have such loving family and friends.
Iíve been visiting there for many years, probably close to twenty. But visiting somewhere and living there are two different things. Even though I camped out in Meganís garden one August to help take care of Mom, and stayed with her one January to do the same, I always knew Iíd be heading back to the city at some point. When youíre thinking of moving somewhere, you definitely look at it differently. This will be home now, and when I leave it, Iíll probably be going to the city. Iíve just flipped my life.
Itís a real pleasure to go out to the garden and snip some herbs for a salad, or for a finishing touch on a dish. And to unearth potatoes, pull carrots and onions from the warm, summer earth, to harvest peas. Every year, my sister grows heirloom sweet peas in memory of our father. It was his favorite flower, and she went to some trouble to get just the right variety. It towers over the vegetables every year, a fitting tribute from one gardener to another. They both love their gardens so much, though their gardens are very different.
Dadís garden was very big by London standards. He had a herb garden, a greenhouse, and a lawn with a sundial in the middle. The plants around the sundial varied by the season. In the back part of the garden, there was a small terrace with a table and chairs overlooking a koi pond. There was a patio which you stepped onto from the French doors. The flowerbeds were a profusion of color. Gardening also was a passion for Dadís mother, whose much more modest plot was just as lovely, and I think Dad inherited her green thumb.
Megan inherited Dadís green thumb. She and Rob have put a tremendous amount of time and money into their garden. Itís mostly in containers, since the soil is so poor, but itís beautiful and dramatic. They have a vegetable garden, a herb garden, some fruit trees, roses and lilies and many exotic plants I donít know the names of. Hummingbirds flutter around the fuchsias. The skeleton of a piano has jasmine climbing over it, and the house has a passion flower vine climbing the walls. They dress a live tree in lights and ornaments every Christmas.
It looks like the people next door have moved out, taking their endlessly yapping dogs with them. Hooray! To be fair, the poor dogs were trapped in a cement back yard and never taken for walks, so they had every reason to protest their terrible living conditions, but man, that barking got on my nerves! I was amazed by what a difference it made not having that constant noise in the background. It was like suddenly being relieved of a chronic pain you were used to enduring and realizing how much better you felt without it. A nice surprise gift!
Well, itís official. The country landlords and I have agreed on a price for the rent, which includes electricity. I still have to pay for propane to heat the house and cook with, but Iím hoping it will be less expensive than the utilities here. I wonít have to pay for water or storage, and my car insurance will be less than half the price it is here. I sent a note to my city landlords with my rent check, telling them Iíll be moving out on November 1, so thereís no backing out now.
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