I told my parents I wouldn’t move there, that I was merely vacationing. At the same time, I felt I had to move or I would self-combust on highway 1, tears dampening the flames just enough to make it an ugly cry followed by a swift, smoldering death. California was so immediately familiar to me in only one visit while being so unknown it broke my heart, like the last day of a summer camp crush. The awareness that it breathed daily opposite Florida, across the country, along with another eccentric state water’s edge, with seaweed roughened waves, birds shrieking like children’s happy screams and salty foam castles that could hide tears, made it all seem soothingly home.
I had been with a boy but left him shortly after we toured the Hearst Castle. He waited outside throwing rocks into the pool with the black and white tile bottom, tipped in gold filigree, while I breathed in the dusty air-conditioned private movie screening room inside, that smelled of Lysol, orange blossoms and cat pee. I hatched my plan for us to finish our California expedition separately while considering the apparent decadence and lust for life of Mr. Hearst. He inspired me to complete the rest of my trip necessarily on my own.
I know the exact moment I decided to move from Florida to California because it was where I was meant to be. I was crossing an intersection in Santa Barbara. As I felt this connection and crossed the street, a black man in a white suit walked in front of me at the crosswalk. He had a puppy that had come off his leash in the intersection. The man was humming something so haunting, while unaware of his puppy beginning to wander in the intersection, just sniffing along. I was immediately struck by his sense of absolute calm, by the contrast and by the absurdity. Somehow I knew at that moment that it would be an event I would not only remember but long for meaning from and need to take something away from later and throughout my life, which I have. I have thought about that single day in Santa Barbara ever since.
When I reunited the man and his puppy, it had a futuristic feel, a dreamy, cinematic, too sensitive to touch patina as though I had given birth to a future memory of myself and I had no right to this Easter egg clue just yet. I was the woman-child caring for the grown man, I saw harm rolling toward us, and I stopped it, decisively and with complete calm, as adults do all day long.
I had to grow into its meaning, and I knew that, and it made me sad and exhilarated at the same time. I have tried to figure out what the stark contrast of color may have meant that day: the bleached denim blue sky, the blind black man in the all-white Tom Wolfe suit, the puppy. I am never sure about the exact color of the puppy in each recollection of this memory. I know the puppy was dark, and while for storytelling purposes and natural symbolic reasons, I want to believe it was black. I think it was average, anticipated, tan.
Does it matter? I believe it does. I think this is the point. That while in life you are paying attention to all of the stark and accomplished, linear details the shabby every day shuffling along beige is what gets you. It can take you down to your knees on a Tuesday morning, after an unexpected 7 AM call from your doctor letting you know the routine bloodwork you did, the test you weren’t supposed to worry about was now something for panic. Meeting a stranger serendipitously right after deciding to be on your own for a while, at least until a new, different strain of stranger entered in the outside corner of your sad-eyed, Sunday night side-glance. Leaving the job, you thought you loved and realizing you only tolerated it, because it had been so long since you had felt any deep connection toward your true professional calling, but you were too lost to recognize yourself anywhere, in anything, anymore.
The brown puppy getting away in the middle of the street from his unaware owner causes that feeling of nostalgia for something lost while aching for improving the application layer within the full stack called life. The application layer is where you both wear your heart on your sleeve and see your heart tattooed over. You show your heart, but it’s story laden, layered on top of in parts- it was carried to safety at the last minute or run over by a train right before escaping to safety- the odds are the same.
Over time the memory of the regal black man in the white suit losing the brown puppy schooled me on how to follow through on gracefully handling the messy application layer of life. Breaking up with someone in the right way (I always wait too long), resigning from a job properly (I always have), parenting a colicky infant (would still do anything for my now man-child)- showing up for the dull and wrenchingly sad hours and places of life even when it will leave scars. Even when others would forgive it if you did not.
I have wondered what happened to the man and his puppy after I reunited them on that quintessential California day. I realized flying back to Florida alone they were a part of why I knew moving West was an irrevocable chance I must take on myself. I became an original settler in my life with a blind man’s grace and a puppy’s curiosity, inspiring me all the way to San Francisco. I occasionally glimpse my future self around a corner. When I see her ahead in the distance, I do my best to catch her in the intersection, before she gets too hurt or stops too far short of all the irrefutable places she must go in this one, original settling of life.