Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together. You can read the other entries in the series here.
When we took the tour with Thomas, the overly confident associate from the office, he told us that we couldn’t have pets unless they were “non-carnivorous fish.” I laughed out loud because I remembered the phrase from my days in college residence life. He apparently thought I was upset about the news, so he comforted us by telling us that we could probably sneak in any quiet pets we’d like to have, like, for example, his giant exotic tarantula.
When we had considered moving to the area, an opportunity came up for a cottage in a camp town in Santa Cruz. When we saw that it was entrenched on the side of a steep hill with rickety steps leading up and down, we decided it wasn’t the best option for a mother of two little ones. I was thankful we’d made this decision when I heard the traffic report telling of frequent accidents on the twisty, treacherous road over the mountain. If you hadn’t been in an accident, you would have been in three-hour traffic jams trying to get around the ones that did occur.
The apartment complex in Fremont was by far the most diverse place we’d ever lived. Northern California is that way, and it was great for us. Our neighbors spoke Arabic, Hindi, and other languages we couldn’t recognize. The smell of curry hung in the air often. I adjusted poorly to the apartment lifestyle and bought far too many groceries weekly instead of making smaller trips more often. We parked in the lot behind the buildings and trekked in past all the fountains, which Cameron called “baffs.”
We moved in November, which meant that it rained for the first two months we were there. I was not aware before then that Northern California had a rainy season. We crammed all the books we couldn’t unpack into the exterior storage on our patio, a choice we would later regret as we unpacked mouse souvenirs for years to come.
The movers were perplexed by our giant hutch, which we came to own in Massachusetts. “You don’t see things like that around here much,” they said as they glanced at each other. I found this to be true; people in California don’t use open display shelving for dishes often. It puts a real damper on your china collection when you have frequent earthquakes. I thumbed my nose at tradition and set everything out on the hutch anyway. I had enough to adjust to — I wasn’t going to give up my teacup collection, darn it.
I learned to cook on a gas stove and quickly fell in love with it. I discovered that tile countertops are a pain to clean but are handy when you want to set down something hot. We both scratched our heads at the pervasiveness of textured walls on the West Coast. We stuffed our desk into an extra closet and made it an “office,” never mind that you couldn’t open the drawers anymore.
We experienced sweet church community as people made the long drive to our place. As long as they’d make the trip, we said, we’d feed them. I used up countless inexpensive avocadoes learning to make decent guacamole. We had a crowd for Cameron’s third birthday party, even though we’d only arrived two months earlier.
We went to the City — never called by name or (cringe) San Fran — as often as possible. One visit led us to the Fog City Diner, which we knew from the movie “So I Married An Axe-Murderer.” We blustered in out of the rain with our two toddlers, only to discover that it wasn’t so much “diner” as “fine dining establishment with white tablecloths.” We soldiered on anyway and enjoyed our meal.
When my mom came to visit for Ben’s first birthday, war began in the Middle East. We watched the massive protests in San Francisco and wondered about the safety of friends in the military. Mom wondered if she would make it home, and we were all relieved when she touched down in Boston.
Later in the spring, I trained on our treadmill for a 10K in Santa Cruz. It was one morning, just after I stepped off the treadmill, that I heard what would be the only earthquake we’d experience in our two years in California. The apartment rolled slightly, and the glass doors made a loud pop in protest. Nothing broke, the kids didn’t wake, and I patted myself on the back for being an “earthquake survivor.”
That summer the complex held a karaoke contest for a free month’s rent. I scrambled to choose a song, landing on 10,000 Maniac’s “Candy Everybody Wants.” I did it cold, and Cameron performed his air guitar solo like a trooper. We placed second, behind the teenager who belted out LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue.”
We saw the writing on the wall when your program was cancelled and you were now reporting to a group in Southern California. We just wondered how long it would take. Sure enough, we were getting packed up again after ten months’ stay in Fremont. The church threw us a huge killer goodbye party with a make-your-own pizza bar.