Life has a way of pulling us back to certain places. Pushing us in certain directions. This is how I found myself in Santa Cruz last month, for almost three weeks. It was how I found myself northbound on a California freeway, on the afternoon of June 5th.
I sat in the backseat of a car, cramped against the window, surrounded by my multiple bags of luggage as well as everyone else’s. My feet had been stuffed in the same position for at least three hours, with no where else to reposition them. Seeing as it was a ride share from craigslist that I had arranged, and I only knew one of the three other people in the car, I opted out of joining the conversation that revolved around medicinal marijuana, and chose rather to look out the window.
I couldn’t help thinking about the first time I had ever made the drive from San Diego to Santa Cruz on an impulsive afternoon in February of 2009. I had just met the guy who was to become my boyfriend that summer, and for the next few to follow. We had both recently applied to multiple UC campuses and were now waiting until Spring to receive our acceptance letters. We had decided that afternoon to drive to the UC Santa Barbara campus to check out one of the schools we had both applied to. After being slightly let down I suggested we continue driving north until we reached Santa Cruz, and spend the weekend there. My brother was in his freshman year at UCSC, and although I had never seen the campus it was on my list of schools I had applied to. I
We called my brother, got the ok, and were on our way.
Looking out the window on June 5th, I remembered how different the first drive had been from this one. The freeways, roads, and side streets you take to get there had all been untraveled land. The geography was foreign and unlike Southern California. The names on the freeway exits were new to me as were the many small agricultural towns we passed during the seven hour journey. These were names that my vocabulary didnt recognize, but would soon be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life.
Three years later, I can safely say that I have done this drive somewhere around twenty times. Now when I look out the window I recognize places that I have memories attached to. There are the pit stops that we always stop at, the towns we drive through and know to keep our windows up (cow country), and the towns that are worth stopping at to get out, stretch our legs, and grab a burrito. It feels odd to have such a familiarity with what is just a long stretch of road. And then to realize that I really only know half the state of that which I belong to.
The weekend I first spent in Santa Cruz was all it took for me to fall in love. It only took two days for me to develop such a strong bond with a town that has the ability to pull me back three years later- a year after my own graduation and departure.
In heading to Santa Cruz this June I was also being pulled back to the person I had first experienced the town with. I was coming to find some type of answer in what had become a lingering relationship. I was being pulled back by him, and pulled back by the town.
This town and my ex had both become magnets in my life. There had been a connection I could not deny and I had to experience it one last time – as I knew my life in Santa Cruz had ended, as had my relationship.
The town and this man have had the same effect on me. In them I have found a different part of my soul. In them I had discovered a level of comfort that I had never felt before. In Santa Cruz I had felt at home, and with him I had never felt more like myself. I have lived in multiple places and have met many guys, but no location or person was ever able to grab me and hold on the way that the two of them had.
But the truth I had to face even before making this last trip to Santa Cruz is that I had outgrown them both. Santa Cruz is by far the most amazing place I have ever had the pleasure of living, and it was the best choice I could have made for college, but it will always be just that- A town that allowed me to grow during my college years. It had its time and place in my life that was necessary for my personal growth. And, although I hadn’t wanted to admit it, that was the same in respect to him. I was meant to meet him, to grow close to him, and then grow apart. He helped me find a part of myself that I hadn’t known. He influenced me in the choices I will pursue in my career. He got me to think about issues globally, and to put my problems into perspective. With him I saw a compassion for humanity that I had never seen in anyone I had ever dated. But our time together had passed, and all the growing I could do with him was done.
I made the trip up to Santa Cruz because in a way I had been fighting what I knew was true. I knew that neither town nor man had any significant place in my life anymore and I would never move forward if I stayed with either. Yet I loved both so much I wanted to see them one last time. I knew that the only way for me to move forward was to leave them both in my past, and I think a part of me wanted to leave my last memories of him in the place that we had fallen in love in and with.
These were all thoughts that raced through my head as I leaned against the window, watching as we raced past varying landscapes, all disappearing behind us.
Rows, and rows, and rows of crops.
Of trees planted in perfect lines, separated by exact amouts of space.
Fields filled with plants that produce food that is shipped all over America to feed the nation.
Miles upon miles that stretch for hours.
“Where are we?” I ask.
Driver answers, “The middle of nowhere.”
I think that surely these crops are taken care of by someone. Farming is someones livlihood. These small isolated towns that smell funny are homes to someone. There must be someone who harvests these crops year round so that each night these fruits and vegetables can make it to my dinner table. The food that feeds me came from somebody’s middle of nowhere.
I dwell on this for a bit and then go back to letting my mind wander. I allow my mind to take control of my road trip as the conversation in the car rolls on about merits between growing marijuana inside and outside.
The landscape doesn’t change much if you’re taking the 5 freeway up the state. For many hours you pass by a variation of the same thing. Expanses of flat land, in every direction. Often a range of mountains off in the distance that make you feel as if you are driving through one great big giant valley. Everything that lies ahead of me soon disappears into my past.
Fields, plots of dirt, farms composed of trees, and ground growing crops. Every so often the tiny house smack dab in the middle. Or the old wooden barn. The farm eqiptment that is sprawled out around a stranger’s property in the middle of nowhere. A reminder that other people exist who are not just passers by on the freeway.
Traveling any amount of distance is good for the soul. It reminds us of our own lives, and by seeing the lives of others, it reminds us of all that we have. The lifestyles that we are fortunate enough to live. I thought to myself how traveling takes us out of our own elements, those which we are familiar with, and moves us in a way that activates our minds. Stimulates something new in the brain.
Imagination gives birth to what could be.
To what is and isn’t.
To all other possibilities.
A small farm house catches my eye and I wonder where these people send their children to school, since we have not passed any other sign of civilization in over a half hour. Do these California farmers even have children, and if so, what is Halloween like when you have no neighbors? Questions like these fill my head and go unanswered, as I do not want to interrupt the conversation which has shifted to the driver’s pet duck and his potty training method.
I wonder if it is just fate that today I am only a passer by? Staring at small houses out in the distance that looked as if they were plopped down from above, I realize that these are more than houses. They are homes. They are occupied by people who live lives that I could never dream of. Lives I would never desire to lead. Why them and not me? These towns are just places on my road trip to the final destination of where I want to be. This middle of nowhere will never be my reality. Has never been.
Hours have gone by and now we pass an artificial river that stretches over a hundred miles. It is how we are able to steal our water from the Hoover dam. I’ve been told the Colorado river doesn’t even make it to the ocean anymore, it’s been so over exhausted. Humanity as a whole, we are in big trouble.