California Dreaming

Do you ever have these vivid little childhood memories pop back into existence? 

Never anything drastic or exciting, but those deeply human moments where the world turns differently or the sky is out of focus and life grows.

For some reason, tonight, I thought of my first trip to California.

When I was small, not yet in school, perhaps 3 or 4, my mom’s best friend lived in California. A place, she explained, very very far away. 

Not long later, she announced we were going to visit this friend – how exciting! – and the two of us piled in the long, angular car for the ride. 

I fell asleep on the way. I still remember waking up as she opened the door to help me out, standing on a strange driveway in front of a strange house. Everything seemed different but sort of the same.

We went into a living room that I only remember as distinctly brown and I distracted myself from the boisterous noise of happy grown-up reunions with a toy kitchen (the mother of this friend gave me Lucky Charms to put in the little blue plastic skillet and I shook them like popcorn over the sticker-burner). 

Until adulthood, I assumed this room, this skillet, these Lucky Charms, were Californian treats. Our friend lived in California and we went to see her. Ergo, we went to California. 

But somewhere in the dim time between learning to drive and learning to file taxes it occurred to me that driving to California from midMichigan should take much longer than the duration of a nap. And come to think of it, why hadn’t dad come with us? (Why didn’t we bring pajamas?)

‘Very, very far away’ is a relative distance. It seems, in reality, this friend came back to Michigan for a visit. We rendez-voued at her mother’s a few towns over.

But to a toddler who has no memories beyond the county line, time and distance and space mean something else entirely.  

And to anyone groggy with car sleep, the world can be strange and muffled-sharp. 

I don’t know this little girl, really. And yet. I hold her like a talisman. Of what it is to think you know something. Of what it is to assume others know what you do. 

To be somewhere entirely foreign and yet nowhere particularly new. 

And I smile at her little Californian kitchen play, and the college degree it took to put two and two together. 


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