Memories of my childhood feel sweet and hazy. I recall going to the beach for hours on end, collecting seashells and building flimsy sandcastles. I think of my neighborhood friends with whom I’d create elaborate fictional universes, all of us acting as characters in the quiet corners of our cul de sac. I remember the smell of fresh-cut dewy grass at my elementary school, and how each day felt unique and special. I loved being a kid in Oceanside, California. The sun was always out, the air always tasted a little salty and I always felt surrounded by love.
As is typical with much of childlike wonder, my enamorment with Oceanside faded with time. Suddenly living near the beach was less about building sandcastles and more about being the last girl in my seventh-grade class to start wearing bikinis. It became uncool to create fictional universes, and the days began to feel longer and unceremonious. As a kid, everything in my world felt huge and important. As the years went on, I began to notice how small Oceanside really was. By the time I reached high school, Being surrounded by love started to feel like being surrounded by eyes. I drove a friend before having my license and someone who had seen me instantly told my parents. After I had my first kiss, I was peppered by questions from classmates and family members who I hadn’t even told about it. My junior prom date revealed to me after the dance that my mom had asked him to ask me. I was furious but felt powerless within my suburban confines. I would spend my days at school gazing out the window and daydreaming about moving to a big city. I came down with a severe case of Lady Bird Syndrome-I felt that my life was bigger and more important than what Oceanside could offer me. As corny as it was, I would spend hours collaging images of New York City or San Francisco or Portland, or anywhere that was far away from me. When I received an offer to attend film school in Chicago after high school, I was thrilled. I had never been to Chicago, but it was a big city 2,000 miles away. Perfect!
When I moved to school in the fall after my senior year, I made a cheesy playlist of songs that reminded me of California. I thought I’d cry to them on the plane, but the tears didn’t come. I felt overcome with excitement to finally be getting away. For a while, this feeling lasted. I loved the bustle of downtown Chicago, I loved taking public transportation everywhere, and I loved feeling anonymous in a sea of people every day. I didn’t feel surrounded by eyes anymore. However, as is typical with much of childlike wonder, my enamorment with the city began to fade. I realized that not being watched and cared for by my community felt incredibly solitary. Anonymity was really a code for loneliness, and I’d often cry on public transportation for no reason at all. I missed my family and friends terribly and questioned what Chicago was really offering me. Then, winter hit. It would be difficult to understate how unprepared I was for true winter. My sweet and salty California sun was replaced by icy rain, -50 degree wind chill, and a type of cold that seems to seep into your bones. On my saddest days, I’d look at photos of home and think about giving anything to be collecting seashells once more. A combination of school/career changes, the horrible winter, and some personal struggles led me to make the decision to move home after my freshman year was over.
Part of me felt embarrassed to come home. I wondered if I’d failed. I didn’t understand how leaving home could make me feel so suffocated and alone at the same time. However, what actually happened when I came home was rather magical. I got a job at the local cafe, where I met friends of all ages and from all walks of life. I attended community college and worked hard at my studies. I learned to surf and roller skate and felt like a little kid in awe again. I realized not only how much Oceanside shaped me but provided for me. The community is strong and warm, something I struggled to find in Chicago. I came to appreciate the once overwhelming love of my parents and community, even when it was slightly misplaced. In Oceanside, I could walk to my favorite coffee shops, drive past my elementary school, surf before class in the mornings, run outside during the winter and skate on smooth suburban streets. I discovered new parts of my neighborhood that I hadn’t once explored in my first 18 years. I met people who changed my life for the better. I truly appreciated and welcomed every sunny day, and felt filled to the brim with joy again.
I came to realize that I was far from important or special, but what I actually am is much better than those things. I am part of a warm and loving beach city that helped raise me. I am incredibly grateful for the clarity and perspective I gained from moving away and then moving back home. Though leaving was painful and didn’t last, it taught me not to take for granted the smallest things you love. After a year of living in Oceanside again, I moved to LA for school. I moved to seek out future jobs and expand my community, but not because I was better than home. This time I was finally ready, but I carry Oceanside in my heart with me wherever I go.