I’m writing this from Palm Desert, California, which we’re visiting for the weekend. It’s probably my last time here, and it may be Emma’s, though this town has been part of our family history since my parents moved here in 1994. I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years, with them and after. Emma and I have continued to come out here from San Diego at least once a year, so we both feel an attachment. This weekend is also just one of the trips we are taking in the first half of 2020.
Emma and I are on what feels like our farewell tour, as we make plans to leave California and probably the USA. I’ve lived in San Diego since August 2000, though my parents’ house in Palm Desert was “home base” while I was living overseas from May 1996 to July 2000. Emma’s lived here her whole life, except for our 8 months in Pittsburgh in 2009-2010, which she barely remembers, and our year in Mongolia, of course. In fact, when we were in Pittsburgh, at the ripe old age of three she would walk up to people like the security guards at the Carnegie Natural History Museum and proclaim, “I’m not from here. I’m from San Diego.” It was one of the reasons we moved back to California when Pittsburgh proved to be a disaster for me. It spoke to me that she felt such an attachment.
Anyway, as a long-term transplant and a native Californian, we’ve gone through a love-hate relationship with the place. Love, because it’s beautiful, the weather is fabulous, and we’ve had a good house for the last 9 years which we both love (though I have mixed feelings about the upkeep required). Also, the overall politics of the state are reassuring, though we live in a bit of a right-wing area. And we’ve been able to see and do some wonderful things during our years here. Hate, because it’s definitely overcrowded along the coast, the traffic is mad and getting worse by the hour, and the cost of living has been stressful for me. The years-long drought from 2011-2017, the likelihood of more, longer, and more intense droughts in the future, and the overall water situation freak me out as well. Not to mention the increasing severity of the wildfires, some of which have burned within a few miles of our house. Its wealth may save California in the long run, but a lot of people are going to suffer tremendously. They already are.
Also, our year in Mongolia was galvanizing. I loved living overseas again. It had been too long. As I tell people, I’m happiest in an environment where I have no idea what’s going on and I have to figure it out. Turns out, Emma loved it, too. She says almost every day that she misses Mongolia (but not enough to live there again; it was way too cold for the native San Diegan). We haven’t yet worked out exactly where we will go (so much depends on where I find work), but we’re both ready to go there.
Still, we will miss a lot about our life here in California. Emma will miss her friends, and we will both miss her school, which she’ll be graduating from in June, and the people we’ve met there. Though Emma’s been better at making long-term friends than I’ve been. Most of my closest friends here have moved away, some of them quite long ago, so I don’t feel as much of an attachment to people as she does. What I will miss the most, besides our back yard (which I love), will be the things that we did here together. The closeness to the ocean (even though we didn’t go to the beach nearly as often as I thought we would). Our trips to Disneyland when she was little and the annual passes were affordable. Legoland, a few miles from our house. The Birch Aquarium and Natural History Museum, both visited frequently, along with the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park (which I still call the Wild Animal Park most of the time). The proximity to the desert, which I grew to love when my parents lived out there, and Joshua Tree National Park, which is one of my favorite places on the planet.
There are the further off places that were part of our regular travels. For the past several years we’d been going to Yosemite National Park for Emma’s birthday weekend (commonly known as Memorial Day). We also have friends up in the Bay Area; Emma’s been friends with their daughter since they were babies together in the graduate student housing at UCSD, and the two kids still chat often. While I was the chair of our union local at UCSD, I had the chance to go up there regularly for union meetings and trainings, and I’d bring Emma so she could stay with her friend while I sat in a meeting room all day. There’s also Lake Tahoe, where we went once during the summer, but mainly during the winter, when I’d put Emma in ski school for a week while I prepped for Winter Quarter courses. And, even further afield, there’s been the ease of getting to Hawaii. I took Emma there for the first time in 2013, and we managed to go back three times. We both love it so much, but it’s unlikely we’ll visit again any time soon because of the air travel involved. Another regular trip we’ve been making has been to Lexington, KY, to visit my Uncle David, his wife Iya, and my cousin Laura and her wife Dee. We’ve gone every year, usually for Easter, except for last year when we lived in Mongolia. Of course, we might still be able to visit them, depending on where we end up moving to, but getting to Lexington isn’t very easy, so it feels like it might not happen for a while.
So, our farewell tour. When we got back from Mongolia, knowing that we were only going to be in Carlsbad for one more year, I asked Emma to make a list of things she wanted to do “one more time” before we leave again. So far, we’ve been to Disneyland twice (definitely for the last time, I think), once to see the Halloween decorations, and once in the Christmas season (which pretty much starts right after Halloween there). We had fun, but it was very different from our trips there when she was younger. We went to Hawaii (our usual place on the Big Island) for a week at New Year’s. This weekend, we’re out in Palm Desert for possibly the last time. And Emma’s going up to Berkeley next weekend to visit her friend there. We’re going to Lexington again for Easter, and Yosemite for Emma’s birthday weekend. And the week after school gets out, we’re going on one last California road trip, up to Tahoe via Lake Arrowhead (where we stayed once when we were living in Palm Desert after my mom died, to get out of the summer heat), then over to the coast with stops in Sonoma County and the Bay Area, and then back down to Carlsbad. The rest of the summer will probably be getting our house on the market and getting us ready to move wherever we’ll be off to.
Speaking of which, I still don’t know where. Doing an international job search isn’t easy, but I’m staying open and flexible about the possibilities that will come up. Emma is eager to know where she’ll be going to school next year since all of her 8th grade friends know and are talking about high school already. I was crazy busy in the fall, so I didn’t have much time to devote to planning, but I’m getting more into it now, and it’s going to be an interesting process. I go back and forth between feeling completely unemployable and believing that someone, somewhere, will be happy to give me a job. As we keep saying, I didn’t even know about Mongolia until mid-March, so there is time to find something. I would like to find meaningful work (the plague on someone who was raised by a mother who kept quoting Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your bliss” at me; turns out that’s pretty terrible career advice, in my opinion). But I need to be able to support us, and Emma also needs a good school.
The only thing that is certain right now is that both of us are eager to go back overseas. It’s just so much more…interesting. The United States seems moribund to me. So much of our culture is about looking backwards on imagined past glory, and we’ve taken a bad turn since 2016 that I don’t see us ever really recovering from. And once you get out of the American bubble and realize how life can be in other countries, it’s hard to go back in. Ties have been severed; connections have been lost. And new ties and connections have grown in their place. For me, this started after I graduated from college, when I went to Mexico for the summer to work on an archaeological survey near Mexico City. For Emma, it happened when we went to Mongolia.
Once you realize there’s a whole amazing world out there that you’ve never imagined, there’s no going back.