It was a coup, we learned later, landing an apartment in that neighborhood. You happened to call the leasing office during a week when they were done filling spots with faculty for Cal State Channel Islands. There were a few townhouses left, and we jumped on the one available. It was a three-bedroom with a den — spacious compared to where we’d just been. And, we heard, it was in that part of California where people from LA vacation: Camarillo. We loved the view over the hill as we came down the 101 from Thousand Oaks. Strawberry fields stretched out to the ocean, with terracotta-roofed neighborhoods between tall oak trees. The greenness of the valley was a stark change from the brown on the other side of the mountain.
A rumor existed that the campus of CSUCI was the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” It was a state mental institution earlier in its history, before it was shut down for repurposing as a campus. There were stories of haunted bell towers and courtyards. We found out later that the Hotel California wasn’t based on the place after all, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t jog around the campus without the song in my head.
The only weather that existed in that part of the world was the “June Gloom.” On the first day of June each year, the clouds would roll in. They would hover over the valley until month’s end, and then be on their way. Every other day was predictably between 70 and 85 degrees, and sunny. We kept our windows open frequently. No screens were needed.
Through the open windows, on the hour, we heard the mission bells from the tower on campus. After dinner, we would frequently walk down to the campus coffee shop and buy ice cream for the boys. On the way back, we’d take the long way around and visit “tunnel rock,” the kids’ favorite place to play. The low-hanging tree had embedded itself around a rock, leaving a tunnel in between — precisely the right size for little boys.
We had a garage at this address — what a luxury for a pregnant mother of two toddlers. The house backed up to an alley that ran behind our row of townhomes. When we first moved, I was disoriented a few times and went up the wrong alley. It was then that I discovered that our garage door opener worked with our neighbors’ garage. Good thing they weren’t home.
I never saw a live rattlesnake, though the signs were everywhere. I remember seeing a dead one in the road one night. Our neighbor’s dog was on the losing end of a battle with one. The dog survived, though it was touch and go from the vet for a while.
The real highlight of this address was the community we found. We were at the pastor’s home the first Sunday we were in town — he was the dad of a friend from Northern California. His wife kept me stocked with avocadoes from their backyard tree, and she doted on the boys. We celebrated Thanksgiving with two other families. We were made welcome and a part of things right from the beginning. When you expressed a desire to learn Greek, Rick made time for you, traveling the half hour to our home weekly. Penny and I walked the neighborhood while you two studied. Everyone seemed to have a sense that we had landed there alone — we had no family locally. They became our family, and fast.
Andrew came along a little early after my failed Kramer impersonation. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, really — we left from church, the older boys got to go home with friends, and he was born by 7pm. The day after he was born, it was over 100 degrees in Thousand Oaks. Everyone who came to see us complained of the heat. It reminded me of Ben’s birthweek in Massachusetts. Andrew was born on Palm Sunday; we went to church on Easter because I felt great.
That fall, the Santa Ana winds kicked up pretty badly, and the fires began. I closed all the windows and doors up tight, but the ash still coated everything every morning when we awoke. Sunsets were terrifyingly beautiful — cast in deep blood reds and oranges. One fire was on the other side of the mountain, and we were in the watch zone for evacuation. We never had to leave, though. Eventually the weary firemen gained the upper hand and the air cleared. We drove over the hill to LA one Sunday and saw where the fire had stripped the landscape black, jumping the highway and tearing down the hillside.
Our sad little antenna never pulled in any TV stations in that area. The mountains were too high and the winds too unpredictable. We were too cheap to buy cable, but once the Red Sox made the ALCS, you decided it would be smarter to buy cable than to buy dinner at the sports bar every time there was a game on. We drank Sam Adams, you bought subs at Jersey Mike’s (to break the curse, you claimed later), and the Sox staged the greatest comeback in baseball history. Then they won the series. We celebrated after the game, and felt sorry for our east coast friends who’d been up ‘til early morning. We were still in bed at a reasonable hour.
You worked long hours under the authority of a demanding, unkind boss. Much of your work was courier work, really. You drove parts around. One time you flew them across the country and came back the next day. The stress caught up with you, leaving you unhealthy and your nerves stretched taut. You passed out in your office one day. As much as we loved where we’d landed and who we’d grown to know, we understood that we had to do something else.
We left on Thanksgiving Day, leaving a few bags of groceries for friends on the front step.