My oldest daughter goes to the same college I did, UC Santa Cruz. We dropped her off today for her second year of school. We helped her move her stuff into her new rental before walking to lunch downtown. She is very pragmatic and well-adjusted and surrounded by nice friends. This post has nothing to do with her and all to do with the effect visiting Santa Cruz has on me every time I go there.
Santa Cruz is a place out of space and time. It was a beautiful, strange, horrible, wonderful place to decide what kind of person I was going to be. For me the time frame between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one were similar to Santa Cruz the place: beautiful, strange, horrible, wonderful.
Walking through town today freaked me out. Santa Cruz has changed in some huge ways since 1987, but not essentially. I kept expecting to pass seventeen-year-old me with her wild hair on the street, maybe in the moment that:
- My long distance boyfriend from high school and I were walking up Pacific Avenue from the beach to the bus stop, me carrying in my arms a bag full of towels. An old homeless dude looked into the bag and said, “Is this the little nipper? Oh, I thought there was a baby in there.” I secretly thought, I wish.
- I rolled into town on a Greyhound bus the night that I knew my long distance boyfriend from high school and I were going to break up and feeling like a walking snarl of pain with no arms.
- My new friends and I went to Pacific Garden Mall to hear Camper Van Beethoven playing on the sidewalk for free.
- I stayed up all night at a concert in an abandoned warehouse to listen to my friends’ bands play, my neck sore at the end from banging my head because that’s what we did instead of dancing.
- The store windows downtown taunted me with their organic cotton and silk clothes that I could never buy because I was so poor I could rarely afford dinner.
- I stumbled out of a broken building onto a sidewalk piled with bricks and shattered glass while two people I had met that day died on the other side of the wall.
- I sliced off the tip of my finger chopping broccoli at the homeless shelter as I worked on making it worth it that someone’s lover and someone’s dad died on the other side of the wall and not me.
- I clutched the waist of my new friend while we tore down West Cliff Drive on his Harley, the sea air whipping my hair behind us like a flag.
- My roommate and I rode our bikes up West Cliff Drive and I knew we would always be friends and I was right.
- I left a party on my ten speed bike on Halloween night and rode up and down the streets for hours, despairing that I would ever fit anywhere or with anyone ever, and realizing by the time I got home that if I never did, that would be cool too.
- Two days after that Halloween, my old high school boyfriend drove into town in his 1966 Dodge truck and we loved each other again.
That old high school boyfriend and I are married now and we just left off our daughter in her house around the corner from where I used to do my laundry. Santa Cruz is weaving its magic on her in her own happy, peaceful way, and I am so happy for her.
Santa Cruz was the birthplace of the core of my life and for me it wasn’t so peaceful. Santa Cruz shows up in my writing all the time because the impressions it made on me are really deep. It’s a sacred place where I learned who I was, what I believed in, what I was capable of doing.
Santa Cruz is my own private Jerusalem. I carry pieces of the sand, rubble, and music with me forever.