5 Years in California: A Love Letter / by Sarah Schwartz

I always forget how unbearably sticky hot the last weeks of August are in Southern California. You'd think summer was just getting started, which in some ways, it kind of is, as September and October traditionally follow with temperatures in the nineties, with at least one week that sees triple digits.

After visiting my family in Oregon and the Midwest for most of July, I flew back to the golden state to resume work and graduate school, and was immediately so caught up in everything those things entail, that it almost didn't register that this particular sticky August marks five years since I have called California my sort of home.

Oregon will always be capital "H" Home, forever and ever, amen, but the fact that I have been celebrating birthdays, going grocery shopping, and laying my head down to sleep in California now for roughly a fifth of my life feels, well, significant.

I arrived in sunny southern California at the tender age of 18, rocking the worst hairstyle I've ever had the misfortune of possessing, completely petrified to be a thousand miles away from my small town life and ways. I had never driven on a freeway, been to the beach in anything other than a sweatshirt, and the only thing I knew about Orange County was what I learned from the sitcom. I was used to knowing everyone and everyone knowing me, and the world being as big as the drive between my house and my best friend's front door.

I told anyone who inquired that I would be out of the land of smog and concrete the minute I had that college diploma in my hot little hand, and back in Oregon where I belonged.

I treated you with hostility, California, for those first few years, angry that you had taken me away from everything I knew and loved, and admittedly, we still have our moments. I still miss the four seasons, and sometimes I feel like I live in one giant strip mall. But you have grown me into the woman I am now, and for the journey we've shared, and the one we've just begun, I am grateful. I don't say it enough, but over the years, you have edged your way into my heart.

You taught me to drive on the freeway, and with a little help from Kathy Puterski my sophomore year of college, to pump gas. You introduced me to the concept of sales tax, and the reality that making friends takes patience and time. In you I spent my 21st birthday, and discovered that I'm the world's biggest lightweight. You are where I discovered feminism, initially entertained the idea of being a writer, and where I began to glimpse the ways my passions and gifts intersect.

California, you were home to my first apartment, the first job I hated, and the first job I loved. My first kiss, my first boyfriend, and my first heartbreak, all happened within your borders. You are the backdrop of my best-soul-friendships, and the many celebrations, fits of laughter, cups of coffee, and tearful embraces those include.

You are where I became a grown up, or at least someone impersonating one, and where I am now attempting to live a life faithful to the holy and mysterious Whisper that brought me here in the first place, and at least for the time being, won't let me leave.

Thanks for everything.