Travel Essay

By Lydia Whitman (@lydiaawhit on Instagram!)

*CONTEST WINNER*


It was shortly after the Woolsey fires that I first visited what I decided would someday be my home.


When I am asked what my goal in life is, I must first evaluate the person and therefore choose which goal to tell them. There is my “good person, higher-power, spiritual goal” which is to be happy with my life and myself and then my surprisingly more personal “materialistic” goal which is to someday live in Paradise Cove. Now I had passed by this place, which I will loosely refer to as a “town”, many times throughout my childhood to get to the tide pools when they were low in the winter. Much had changed since those trips, however. The Sea Star Wasting disease, with origins just as vague as its name, had in recent years eradicated most of the sea star population on the West Coast. The rocks in the tides were vacant where they had once been filled with life. A similar observation could be said about the canyon surrounding Kanan-Dume road. I drove that route long enough after the fires that I pronounced them Woolsey instead of woozly but close enough that the damage was still very much fresh.


After jumping the 101 freeway outside my city, the fire’s pathway could be traced along the canyon in long black scars. The once-proud hills were now ashy, littered with scorched carcasses of trees and melted telephone lines. The first time I had driven through it I cried. But this particular drive was in fact not the first and I knew when not to look at those vacant spots that had similarly once been filled with life. These changes were the reason we were visiting the “town” not for a walk along the tides but to visit friends who had recently been displaced.


***

I follow my mom and her friend Joanne through a maze of trailer homes so at odds with their usual stereotypes as each was flanked with cars so expensive I could not even pronounce their foreign names. Locals in golf carts would drive by and wave as they passed. In my ten minutes there I came to find that they were not acknowledging others out of common decency but because they truly knew everyone that lived there. For me, it was as if I had just stumbled upon a west coast Stars Hollow where instead of an eternal fall it is always summer, but it is similarly filled with a community of people who really know one another. This sort of place seemed rather unbelievable to me as I could not even name the people who lived in the houses on either side of me in my own neighborhood.


As I stepped into Joanne’s home, I was soon met with a large window that almost covered the entire wall. While her and my mom caught up, I stared out the window at the tides quietly brushing against the rocks and at the residents walking along the beach. The sand was tinted a dull black from fallen ash but they continued their stroll. Even amongst such destruction, these people continued on and grew even closer. Friends opened up their homes, others donated toys that had been lost, schools hosted Thanksgivings, teachers created book drives. It seemed to me as though their physical houses might have been taken but a sense of home was so real in the air I felt I could reach out and touch it.


Walking back down the sloped hill towards the salt-corroded park structure, I clutched my jacket to my chest and looked down. I have come to find (and later come to accept about myself) that vocally expressing feelings is for me difficult and akin to nails on a chalkboard or an individual biting into a popsicle with their two front teeth. So if I was going to share, as I was pretty sure I was about to, I would do so on my own terms with my eyes down.


“I’m going to live here someday”. This seemed to get my mother’s attention. Even with my eyes averted away, I could see her stop and look in my direction.


“Joanne... you know who we just met,” as if I had suddenly forgotten the name of the woman whose home we had just spent the better part of an hour in, “works in real estate and told me those houses go for millions of dollars. You’re going to have to marry a millionaire”.


At this, I looked up.


“Mom, I will be the millionaire”.


***

I do not have very many memories of moving houses as a child. And the ones I do have I suspect are actually borrowed from stories told by those old enough to remember the details from those months. But the one memory that is vivid and that I am sure is my own, happened shortly after buying the house. I remember clearly that there was not yet any furniture in the house as my dad was de-popcorning the ceilings. The house looked, like the tide pools would later grow to be, vacant. I remember more clearly sitting in the entryway, on the wood parquet floor with my longtime friend, eating Taco Bell. This act, the lone memory that I hold from the one move in my life, has come to symbolize a sort of christening to me. For I believe it was in that moment that I actively switched from thinking of it as a house to a home. Those words are not synonymous to me.


***

When I try to explain this “materialistic” goal to others, I cannot help but feel as if I do not do it justice. For when these people ask of your goals, they expect a succinct answer of a few words and do not wish to hear more. They do not truly care to listen to one that surpasses their prescribed length and seem to write it off as shallow. In my mind, however, when I think of this “materialistic” goal, it consists of more than two words. The reality of the goal implies years of education to get a job. It implies more years of working to earn the appropriate sums of money. It means proving to others, but most importantly to myself, that I am capable. It means independence. It consists of me walking into a small vacant house, sitting on the blank floor in the entryway, eating a taco, and creating a home.

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