We are back in the US for about seven weeks this summer. We’re starting out in San Diego, California, which is where I lived for about 20 years before moving to Mongolia. Emerson was born there, and until we moved to Mongolia it was their only home (for new-ish readers, Emerson is my agender teen who uses they/them pronouns). We’ll be here until mid-July, and then we’ll be traveling around a bit—Disneyland, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and then a few days in Kentucky visiting family. We’ll wrap up with four more days in San Diego before heading back to Mongolia.
It’s strange to be back. Normally, I wouldn’t have come back to the US this summer, but Emerson needs some testing done and it’s easier to do it here. We are also doing some of the things we weren’t able to do before we left for Mongolia last year. I was hoping we’d be visiting my uncle, but he passed away in November. Still, we are visiting my cousins and my uncle’s widow in Lexington (and hoping for one last glimpse of his amazing house before it’s sold at the end of July). And Emerson had a rough year and just needs to spend time with people that like them, besides me, so I’m giving them plenty of time to hang out with friends.
For me, though, I am not excited to be here. It’s been nice to see friends, but from our arrival at LAX to this moment in a hotel room in Vista, CA, I have felt uncomfortable. Ill at ease. I’m looking forward to Tahoe and Kentucky, but it feels too soon to be back in southern California. I feel like I’m just running errands in between school terms. And I am—so far we’ve both been to the dentist, done some necessary shopping, mainly for shoes, and I’ve had my eyes checked and ordered new glasses. Emerson is going to their appointments (seeing a holistic health practitioner about their health issues and being assessed by an educational psychologist to get more accommodations for school next year). We’re going to our storage unit to retrieve stuff we had to leave behind because of luggage limitations.
What’s funny about going back and forth is how one location fades from memory. I’d forgotten a lot about like in San Diego, and it came back very quickly as soon as we got here. Now, I can’t recall much about our life in Mongolia, unless I really think about it. But I miss it. I would rather be there than here. I had forgotten how much I hate driving around San Diego. I miss not having to have a car. And we are doing a lot of driving, because friends are in different places, and we’re doing a few tourist things in between like the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park (a favorite since Emerson was a small child) and the San Diego Safari Park, where they went for summer camp from 1st grade to 8th grade. That part has been nice.
San Diego brings back a lot of memories I’d rather wait until later to have. I’ve driven past UCSD on the freeway a couple of times now, and I’ve been trying hard not to think about it and what a terrible work environment it was. I told Emerson the other day that I think one of the reasons I wanted to leave San Diego was because of UCSD. It’s hard to be here and not think about it. Associations come up unbidden.
On the other hand, there are the deep sentimental feelings about Emerson’s childhood. All the fun things we did together, and the places that were part of our routines. It’s hard not to think of what their life would be like if we hadn’t decided to go back to Mongolia. But I’m not sure we’d have been able to stay in San Diego, anyway, because the cost of living has gotten so incredibly high. I certainly wouldn’t be able to move back. I’ve heard this about coastal California—once you leave, it’s almost impossible to move back because it gets so much more expensive. And Emerson says they were over living here as well, for different reasons. But they did have a fun childhood here, and lots of good memories. The memories would just be better to think about after a few more years had passed. It’s too soon to feel nostalgic for this place.
I’m not sure if I’m explaining it very well. As I go about our days here and drive us from one place to another, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling that this is no longer home. It’s incredibly familiar, but also alien. I feel torn in two. I also dislike being able to understand the conversations I can’t help but overhear as I’m sitting in a restaurant waiting for a friend to arrive. The political climate is terrible now, and it permeates everything. I’m sick of it. The US Supreme Court has destroyed more of this country in one week than most people realize. And not just this country. Their decision about the Environmental Protection Agency affects the entire world. And everyone knew this would happen from the moment the 2016 presidential election was decided. The Supreme Court has been crafted to destroy what’s left of American democracy, which is precious little anyway.
But it’s not just politics. It’s the whole way of life. It’s hard to write about without starting to sound like some socialist screed (I found myself typing “bloated consumerism” in a sentence I quickly erased), so maybe I’ll save it for a time when I have more perspective. But I just feel over southern California, especially. We’ll see if this changes as we do some traveling around. I’m really looking forward to seeing the trees up near Lake Tahoe.
So what would I rather have done for summer vacation? Spent it in Asia. Seen more of the Mongolian countryside (maybe seen Lake Khuvsgul in the sun and gone to more of western Mongolia). Maybe traveled to someplace I’ve never been before for a couple of weeks, like South Korea or one of the ‘stans. There are so many places in the world to see. But we had specific reasons for needing to go back to the US this summer, and it’s definitely been good for Emerson to spend time with people who like them. Next summer we’ll do something different.