Lost in California

Henry quickly led me along the palm-lined boulevard of this southern California town determined to help me keep my walking pace up. My husband and I were vacationing down here and I decided to get some exercise by joining a morning walking group. Henry and I however, were the only ones that showed up for this morning’s walk. Which didn’t faze Henry. He was happy to act as my guide around the neighborhoods. He’d done this group walk a lot.

“You have to understand . . . ,” he paused a second, both of us were breathing heavy from race-walking, “. . . I grew up in New York.” Henry was explaining why he wanted to move away from this California paradise after living here several years.

“But it’s so beautiful here,” I said as we moved past trees loaded with yellow lemons, red cardinals flitting from branch to branch.

“It’s okay. But it’s not what I’m used to. I’d probably still be in New York if not for 9-11.”

“You were in 9-11?” That tragedy seemed so far away now, in terms of both time and distance from sunny California.
“Yeah. I lived eight blocks from the towers, in Tribeca, when it happened. It was horrific, you know. It just does something to you. Experiencing that. So then I moved out here. Got as far away from New York as I could get.”

“But it’s not home is it?” I said, recognizing Henry’s restlessness.

“No, not nearly,” then he picked up the pace again.

We finished our neighborhood walk and I went back to the motel thinking about what Henry said. He sounded like a refugee, a person displaced not by famine or war, but by a certain kind of terror none-the-less. His story made me think of the sad lyrics of an old Neil Diamond song I heard when I was a young girl: “. . . I’m lost between two shores. L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more . . .”

Some people never find home, try though they might. Changing locations only increases the alienation. Even on this wonderful winter vacation, suddenly, I felt it: a longing for my home in Idaho. No lemon trees or red cardinals there. Just big-shouldered mountains and wide stretches of sagebrush desert—but it suits me just fine.