I spent my last year of college living in the front room of a purple and yellow Victorian house not far from downtown Santa Cruz. Six of us lived upstairs, six or so more lived below. The house was old, rickety. It was terribly insulated (I remember laying in my bed one winter morning, almost in tears because I had to get out from under the covers). The bathtub didn’t drain properly and made strange, regurgitation sounds at random, often in the middle of the night. My bedroom had gray carpeting with bits of gum (not mine) stuck in its fibers. I loved that house.
“I’m in the big purple Victorian near the high school,” I’d tell people when asked where I lived.
The following winter, after graduation, I returned to Santa Cruz to visit a friend who’d stayed behind to complete a Master’s program. Of course, I made a point to drive past the purple and yellow house.
To my horror, it was army green.
I haven’t been back to Santa Cruz since.
There are places in my life---and by places, I mean actual locations---that hold so much emotional charge that I can barely stand to think about them. Missing them hurts too much.
Santa Cruz is the perfect example. And it’s not just the city itself that I miss. I miss the purple house. I miss the East Field overlooking the ocean, where I lay in the grass on one of my first nights at school, stargazing with a group of perfect strangers. I miss the classroom where I attended creative writing workshops. I miss a certain stretch of road along Westcliff Drive, where I stood on a rock one windy afternoon, watching otters in the surf with the first boy I ever loved.
Santa Cruz was mine then. But part of growing up is leaving things behind.
Santa Cruz doesn’t belong to me anymore, I thought as I drove away from the army green monstrosity that was my home. It’s moved on without me.
But while the houses we grew up in, the schools we attended, and the cities we lived in may no longer be ours simply by virtue of the fact that we’re no longer physically there, I think we leave traces of ourselves behind in places we love. And in that way, they’re never lost.
A piece of me is still in Santa Cruz, sitting on the stoop at the purple house, spying on otters, stargazing in the grass.
Thinking about all of this hurts, but it’s also a reminder to enjoy where I am---and what I’m doing---now.
Because I know one day I’ll miss this place in the same way, too.