(This is the final in my travel series.)

Southern California appears to me through a sepia-tone haze, not from the smog, but from the nostalgia. I spent some years commuting from the Antelope to the San Fernando Valley, saw shows and rode on the backs of Harleys in Hollywood, and formed a family with Bobby in Long Beach. 

That was the first place Bobby and I shared an apartment. Before then, we’d danced around SoCal not quite in step. When I lived in Long Beach, he lived in Palm Desert. When I lived in San Diego, he lived in Palm Desert. When, pregnant, I moved up to Palmdale, he moved to Long Beach. Six months after giving birth to our daughter, I moved back. We lived there for four years, all in the same building, but in four different apartments, calling dibs each time a bigger, better one opened up. By the time we moved out, we’d made it to the largest, the one with a garage. The one directly across the street from the park where we’d celebrated Chelsea’s first birthday party and spent countless afternoons. 

The Art Theatre, home of the $5 double-feature. We’d bring our own pillows because the seats were so uncomfortable. I saw Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth here.

The same park where I went to a Farmers Market last month while housesitting for some friends away in Mexico for Thanksgiving. Unlike the nightclub and the Italian restaurant where I waitressed, the Appleton Arms apartment building was still there, 28 years after we’d moved out. Long enough ago that my memories of that time are more like stories pieced together from the photos falling out of the album encompassing those years. 

I never felt young then – two decades would pass before people would say, “You were such a baby!” when hearing I had my first child at age 20. Bobby and I got married in Long Beach at El Dorado Country Club. I’d forgotten the name and had to look it up. Chelsea, age two, wore a white dress and tossed flowers from a basket as she walked down the aisle. At some point during the recessional, she plopped down in the path. I don’t remember why, I only know the moment happened due to the wedding photographer documenting it. 

The salon where my bridesmaids and I had our hair done, now a Peruvian restaurant. Next door, one-time home of Portfolio coffee, where every table was covered in paper and had a can of crayons – perfect for a toddler while mom drank a cappuccino.

The two weeks I spent housesitting included a day trip to Brentwood, a night jaunt to Westlake, excursions to Orange County, often soundtracked by KROQ playing the same songs I grew up on – GenX nostalgia in bloom. My entry into motherhood coincided with the birth of grunge, the latter manifesting at the club where I waitressed.

I’d take Chelsea during the day when I helped out answering phones, selling tickets and welcoming bands to sound checks. We tooled around in a 1973 VW Super Beetle playing cassette tapes that would eventually met their demise when I forgot to move the case from in front of the floor heater, inadvertently melting Concrete Blonde and Nirvana and Tom Petty together into an unplayable morass. 

Driving north on the 405 – taking the Blue Line, I remember taking the Blue Line when it was new – walking around the neighborhoods – forgotten scenes popped into my brain – past overlaying on present – the time we – the time I – the time Chelsea – the places we used to go before they became the places they are now – the bars I didn’t enter because I don’t drink any more – I go to a yoga studio on Third Street and marvel how the downtown of my experience has been completely erased. 

To be back in what was home nearly three decades ago was to inhabit the known and not-known simultaneously. Standing in the park looking at our old apartment was to risk falling into regret for all the mistakes made, to remember how desperately I wanted to do right by my daughter and, later, by her sister and brother, too. Not everything in life can be redone or fixed. To be in Southern California is to watch the first half of my life unspool. I send my love to my past self, to the little family we once were and step forward back into the now.