I never believed one, and two, and three weeks would happen like this.
Yesterday, my friend Noam and I met to catch up and celebrate Rosh Hashanah, spending the late afternoon in the UC Davis Arboretum, a place I’d visited twice before. As the clock neared 7, he suggested we return to my apartment for Zoom services. I agreed, saying we should probably go home. And then, I laughed, because –– home?!
I guess this month is the beginning of me, eventually, becoming a Californian, or maybe one of those people who has “New England Transplant in [x]” in all of their bios. Three weeks in, things feel not-quite familiar, but not-quite-strange-anymore; when I wake and see this new bedroom, I don’t feel as startled as I did before, though I’ll still be slightly surprised sometimes to find suitcases in my closet.
My mom and I flew out here the afternoon of August 30th. Mask-usage depended largely on location (we went from Connecticut to Georgia to Sacramento) and I was somewhat surprised to see that, in both Georgia and Sacramento, the overwhelming majority of counter-service/take-out food shops –– including anywhere I could acquire coffee! –– were still shuttered. The only place we ran into any issues was Atlanta, where our flight was multiply-delayed, ultimately resulting in a midnight arrival in Sacramento and a 1:00am collapse into a hotel bed. It was strange to see so many airport passageways, particularly the long, wide hallways with slow-moving tracks, completely empty. My mom had only flown once before this, so she couldn’t join in my marveling. She was, however, appreciative that she could experience her first layover-having, cross-country flight in a less-busy airport.
The following day, we made the quick walk, luggage in tow, to my apartment, retrieving the key from its former occupant. We spent that first day (which, if you can believe it, is already somewhat faded in my memory) unpacking what we could. Some homewares we’d ordered in advance, including, thankfully, my bedding, had already come. We finally satisfied our shared need for coffee at Peet’s, which is objectively better than Dunkin’ Donuts in every conceivable way, except it (and any other superior coffee) will never hit my nostalgia-button in quite the same way.
By that afternoon, I was thoroughly ready never to speak to another human being ever again. My mom returned to the hotel and I stayed in the –– now my –– apartment, alone. I’d never been alone like this, no dorm or friends or anyone, before. When I woke the next morning, still somewhat surprised to be Here, I realized I was still alone, and would be until my mom arrived, and that in several days she would no longer be arriving, and this would be It –– I would be alone until my roommate, currently visiting family before the fall quarter starts, returns.
In the following days, my mom and I tag-teamed unpacking, getting mail, and cleaning the sad remnants of tape and cardboard that crept to every imaginable corner of the living room. We built two Ikea bookcases together, a feat only outdone by my successful SOLO desk-building adventure a week or so ago. There are few things I’ve been prouder of than that, given that I’ve never felt particularly (read: at all, under any circumstances) handy when it comes to actually building things.
During those first days, we made trips to the store between projects. When we could, we walked, attempting (with limited success) to navigate my new neighborhood. Days later, she left for Connecticut. Thinking about that goodbye-moment still makes my heart drop, joy and excitement be damned.
I like to leave the curtains in the living room open so I can see my little leaf-strewn balcony and the cars and people below. As at home, or my “parents’ house,” or my “childhood home,” I suppose, I try to leave all the electric lights off for as long as I can, let in all the sun. The weather here truly is exactly the same everyday, minus changes in heat and air quality, and every day when I watch people I also watch the green trees not-shed their not-colored-leaves and really, really want to be physically surrounded by the foliage at Mount Holyoke, or, at the very least, the foliage in my hometown. It’s not that I miss my hometown itself, I don’t. But I miss the feeling I know some of the neighborhood strangers feel, because this town is someone’s remembered-place. Someone made memories here, though given its status as a college town, the “downtown Davis local” is certainly on the rarer side.
What I mean to say is, I know that this is a transitory space. I’m surrounded by cars and bikes and pedestrians; I myself am a short walk from a campus that (now virtually) churns out classes and cohorts of students who never plan to stay forever, myself among them. Still, I envy those who have homed this place still impossible to call Mine.
All that being said, I do love exploring. Mask, shorts, and tank-top (in September!) I’ve done as much exploring as I can amid terrifying days of smoke and neon-orange skies buttressed by afternoons past 110º. I’ve been to the farmer’s market, a conveniently-located staple with such an incredible variety of fresh produce available I audibly gasped when I first saw the sellers. Any fruit, any vegetable, grapes and berries and peppers of every variety. Eating the tomatoes here, I realized that they were, in fact, fruits, just fruits whose sweetness has been tarnished beyond all recognition by pesticides and cross-country trucking. Every blackberry (I came at the very end of the season) tasted like candy. Likewise with the strawberries I’m currently working on! The garlic, the multi-colored assortments of carrots I’ve been buying by the pound, the green beans that have me kicking myself for ever having claimed to dislike green beans… these are flavors I never quite registered could be derived from a plant alone, one to be amplified, not created, by cooking and seasoning.
I’ve visited one of several local thrift stores and finally purchased the oversized earrings all the lesbians seem to be flocking toward, as well as a UC Davis sweatshirt that saved me the money and trouble of a trip to the ~official campus store~ (maybe when you affirm #COLA4ALL, UCD!). I’ve successfully navigated to and from the UCD campus, though I’ve always needed to use Google Maps on the way back –– every trip out I’ve gotten a little bit lost, but that lostness usually brings me to interesting places, so I’m trying to embrace it.
Most of my time here has been like that: trying and error, figuring out what I can make routine and what won’t work. I have a couple gems already: a secluded little Moroccan-run teashop whose mint tea takes me back to 2018, a volunteer-run used bookstore that takes donations and whose revenue goes entirely to the local library. I’ve found myself drawn to the arboretum again and again, to the ducks and the river and the way it all reminds me of Mount Holyoke, except with cacti and palm trees.
I don’t think I fully believed I would be Living in California until I got here, and even then, it was iffy. It didn’t exactly feel like a vacation, but more like a dream: a dream (sometimes a nightmare) I’d been having since I accepted Davis’s offer. How could I begin to make a life in California, when I had never been before, when all my images of the state belonged to someone else? Especially given COVID (a clause I’m Especially Sick of Writing), the idea of moving felt foreign even as I packed boxes, suitcases, and myself to send west. I truly didn’t think I’d come. I didn’t think I’d be able to. Nothing is imaginable until it happens.
While days themselves have ranged from sad to ecstatic to homesick to relieved, I’m glad to be here, and incredibly excited for the start of the fall quarter. This is a new space, and adjusting to new spaces is usually more difficult for me than the
average neurotypical person. That said, as I complete this blog post at my self-assembled!!!! (and make no mistake, I will be milking that accomplishment until the day I die) desk, caramel pumpkin swirl candle lit, items old and new around me, I can feel this becoming a room of my own. And I’m really excited to see the Cavar I am already / becoming.