Although it really does seem like yesterday, it was actually 20 years ago this week that I moved from here:
It was no small move, I assure you, to head from a place where my skateboard got me everywhere to a place with probably 1 mile of total combined sidewalk and getting to said sidewalk was a 5-mile highway drive. (In hindsight, I should have had my father help build me a halfpipe in our backyard…)
We landed in Willow just a few days before I started high school. I knew one person: my cousin, who would also be starting as a freshman that year. Our high school had it’s opening day assembly and there I was, the definitive new kid from California. I didn’t look all that out of place: typical white boy, wearing an oversized orangeish white-washed shirt with some dog printed on it, saying something or other. (Nor was I the only kid in that shirt that day – must have been something picked up by mom at a quick pre-school-staring-Wal-Mart shopping run.) I’m sure I had on a ball cap. In those days, my head without a baseball hat was about as unlikely a sight as Don Draper without a whiskey in hand.
And I stood there, looking up into the gymnasium bleachers, a veritable sea of unknown faces, and experienced a sort of mini culture shock. Mind you, I had come from an insanely diverse place: black, white, mexican, filipino, guamanian, samoan, puerto rican, chinese, japanese…my middle school was a crazy mix of race and culture. And it was fantastic. Those few years in that truly American middle school were more formative to my sense of self and my understanding of the world then any time or place since. So I stood looking up, saw my cousin, and walked toward her. She was pleasant and introduced me to her friends. And then I took a seat and listened, the principal’s speech getting remixed in my head with Too $hort. I listened and thought about how I’d get by there, so far removed from concrete and public transportation and the ocean and all my old friends…I’d moved plenty of times before then, but the older I got, the harder the moves were.
But I got by, eventually. I met some truly incredible people, caused more trouble than I should’ve, had a fair share of high school drama and retardation, and learned to love getting lost down old, gravel roads, playing around in acres of forests, and finding swimming holes ridiculously removed from everything I thought mattered. (So much so, that I took my wife down that way to propose many moons after I moved.)
I’ve since reconnected on Facebook with damned near everybody from my Alameda life, people I was certain at the time of leaving that I’d never see again unless I made my way back to the Bay Area (which I haven’t yet…). And I wonder if that sense of longing for lost friends and places has been somewhat mitigated by technology. If that feeling I had that I had to keep a piece of my California friends within me in some way – with music, skateboards, or slang – would have been unncessary if I could have daily watched them grow up from afar, seen the photos from the parties they threw, watched them date each other, simply been a part of their daily conversations…
My kids probably will likely never know what it’s like to have to leave a friend. And I don’t know if that’s an advantage.
2 thoughts on “20 years ago…”
Hey man this is a great blog. Like you I believe my formative years were spent in Cali. Unlike a lot of my cousins who remained trapped in the south and restricted by all the things that go along with growing up down there (little cultural diversity, not much racial mixing, only growing up eating soul food, etc.) I thank God for the advantage of being able to spend time with people like you and all my other friends from Alameda.
Thanks, Ben. Yeah, I would really, really love to get together with all our old friends again some day.