I’m going to write about something strange and wonderful and inspiring and sad and curious and real.
First, the setting: I am sitting on a balcony overlooking a parking lot which overlooks the Redondo Beach Port Royal Marina next to the marina where my son lives with his son. He’s not there right now, he’s off working at the aerospace firm he’s worked at for about a decade. Up the street, to the right, is the house I used to live in. The masts and multistoried buildings are blocking my view of my family’s former colonial-style abode, but it’s up there, minus the toppled giant orange-flowering eucalyptus tree that my dad planted which is now shrouded in weeds while the new owners wait for permits so they can tear down our 1960s homestead.
Walking distance from here, is the school I taught at for 18 years, indeed, an especially happy place this last day before Winter Break. Even here, even a year and a half since I retired, I can sense their Starbucks/Amazon/Target/mugs/homemade cookie and other trinkets-zeal as they wind down the half marathon of the school year.
Up Beryl Street is the elementary school I attended, as did two of my three adult children; South is the elementary school my youngest daughter, and now grandson, attended. Smack dab in the middle, is the middle school I also went to, and taught at; elbowing Parras Middle School is Redondo Union High School, the alma mater my entire clan graduated from; right around the corner, a quick ten-minute walk from here, is my former 100-year-old home on Garnet Street.
Right now, everyone is busy, working, driving, shopping, coffee-ing as I sit on this balcony at a posh hotel meant for others, listening to barking sea lions, the hum of racing traffic accelerating along Pacific Coast Highway, thinking, and trying my best to tie together the pieces of this complicated season.
Whenever I come back to the South Bay I am consumed with a cobweb of emotions. I love it. I still love it, like an old boyfriend you still have a thing for. When I’m here, I only think of the good; how much I loved my home, how much I loved being close to family and friends, how much I loved teaching 13-year-olds, how much I loved my flawed, congested city and the historic home I saved from developers.
Saving. I always felt like I needed to save people and things. Savior. Whether it was a stray animal, a broken teacup, an ex-husband, a sad grandchild, I don’t know, but for some reason I was born with an empath gene that makes it impossible for me to walk by a needy situation and not feel compelled to do something. My “I can help” inclination is good, but it has gotten me into a heap of trouble over the years, for when I over-focus on others, it distracts attention away from my own brokenness.
Which brings me to why I am back in a complicated relationship with the South Bay.
I am here at the lovely Portofino Hotel because my traveling VW Eurovan Camper home-on-wheels is broken.
I am here listening to Friday morning cawing seagulls because my grandson is turning 9 years old in a few days.
I am here staying at an upscale inn vs. the generic one in Torrance because I decided that at age 66 I need to take good care of myself. I need to buy good foods, sleep in a good bed, go for a good walk, have a good mixed drink in the fireplace-warmed, chandelier sparkling, giant Christmas Tree-towering hotel living room. This is a place, this is a life, other people experience, not me, has been my modus operandi.
Not this time.
As my sister said last night, “None of us are promised a day..”
I agree, but I struggle to apply this concept to myself. I guess after years of worrying, it’s hard to break the worrying habit.
Overthinking. My nemesis. It’s such a strange quality that seems to becoming more acute as I age. Checking, double checking. Making sure. Asking questions. Researching. And researching. And researching. God forbid I make a mistake. This is not my natural nature. Historically, I have prided myself as being a mistake factory. I am an impressionistic painter. I am a cook who deplores recipes. I am whimsical and flawed and bruise easily.
The little girl who lived up the street in the house that’s about to be bulldozed, was light, even though she was heavy, she was cute, even though no one told her so, she was athletic, even though she was always the last player chosen for a team, and she was fireworks creative, a quality she knew was her secret weapon.
Everything that I am, everything that I became, everything I believed about the world and myself happened here, in Redondo Beach, California. That saying, “You can’t go home again,” is weird, because you can, even though you are different, changed. You can see things differently, change your point of view, see things from a balcony instead of a backyard that always needs work, and a charming, but flawed, upstairs bedroom that really needs remodeling if only you had the $100,000.
My life was/is good, but it was/is flawed, in need of change. When all the jumble of life was happening, the congestion of saving everyone but myself, I knew I needed to pull away, feel the wind and the chill of Winter in a new, creative way. I needed to be lost so I could be found, pull that little girl to the side, give her a hug, and tell her, “Everything’s going to be better than OK.
“One day,” I will whisper, “you’re going to sit on the balcony of that grand hotel in the marina, the place where your carpenter daddy helped build the marina and write the story you have always wanted to write.”
There are no accidents, no mistakes. My job, as science writer Ray Bradbury told me, is to get out of the way and let it happen.
“Trust me,” I will tell that little girl, “there’s a happy ending.”`
You are such a wonderful storyteller. And thank you for being vulnerable and telling your own story. Live well!