I went to Los Angeles for a few days, without children or husband. I stayed in a hotel on the Sunset Strip with a view of the smoldering city and a rooftop pool. I drove a rental car, which seemed impossibly adult and un-mommy-like. Ripping around in my Nissan Sentra, not a care in the world.
I came down, ostensibly, for a college reunion. Truly, the reunion was an excuse for me to have a little time to myself, the chance to see not only my college friends but some of the other people I grew to love in my twelve years in that city. I arrived a virginal eighteen and left to marry Ben when I was thirty. They were formative, those years. I fell in love for the first time (and the second time and the third and the fourth). I lost my father. I grew up.
As I drove down Sunset to Westwood Thursday night, memory layered over memory. There's the Hamburger Hamlet where Arty's dad, Big Art, told me, dishearteningly, that Arty would never get married (Big Art was in fact wrong, Arty did get married, just not to me). There's that building where that creepy manager had his office. There's that other building where that other creepy manager had his office. There's a restaurant from which I delivered food, and another one, and another one. There's the quiet Beverly Hills residential street where I'd park between deliveries and run lines for the next day's auditions. There's the turn for Benedict Canyon, where my friend, Serena, lived freshman year. We'd sit on her parent's couch and drink red wine and share cigarettes, skinny dip in the pool, throw dinner parties and invite only boys. And there, oh my god, there is UCLA, scene of so much drama (onstage and off) and delight. I turned off Sunset onto Hilgard and flashed to driving that same stretch of road, my bare arms twined around my twenty-year-old paramour, helmet-less on his motorcycle, the Santa Ana winds whipping our hair, the spring scent of jasmine, the perfume of love.
The reunion itself was informal, a bi-annual, theater department exclusive in the bar of a Mexican restaurant. Walking in the room was like stepping back in time. There were my old friends somehow all looking the same. We just picked up the conversation where we had left it twenty years ago. Yes, we talked about babies and marriages and gigs on TV shows and upcoming performances at the House of Blues but, essentially, it was the same; banter, laughter, frank intimacy. Those friendships, dormant for so long, got the cup of water they needed and promptly bloomed. The concerns I had going in - is so-and-so still mad at me, will blanky-blank even remember me, what the hell should I wear? - instantly dissolved. Jason was grinning at me fondly and saying, "Oh, Liz Lavoie", as he did almost every day of college. Brian was covertly teasing me about the men in the room I had kissed, somehow he had always been the repository for my secrets. Shanee was in the corner with Mitch, as she had been for years of parties, Colin with Cat, Ildy with Brian, Matt with Christina. It was all so lovely and familiar. I was the little sister again in this family. I was back with these people that knew me - or that young adult version of me - so well.
It's all layers of identity, right? Reunions are great for that. Here is a group of people that knew you in a precise time and place. In this case, a time when I was a student, an actor, a girl trying to figure out how to be a woman. It was so satisfying for me to see those people, to remember that self, to (could it be?) accept that naive and hopeful girl, to welcome her into the party where my kindergarten self plays, my high school self, my striving twenties self, my mommy self, me.
I spent the next three days bouncing from friend to friend, from beach to trail to restaurant, catching up, the friendships spanning the decade after college. And I spent three nights alone in my hotel room, sprawled across the king bed, reading, writing, drinking the free coffee from downstairs. I didn't turn on the TV. I don't want to waste a second of it. The longer I sat there in the delicious silence, the more free I felt and, perhaps ironically, the more grateful for those four people I have at home. We'd been talking on the phone, Mae weeping in panic over learning her lines for "The Tempest" while her acting coach (that'd be me) was out of town, Lana telling me plaintively how much she missed me but then cheerfully dropping the phone to welcome Nana at the door, Mihiretu still unclear on the concept of telephone conversation, saying "Hello? Hello? Mama?" until he either ran off shrieking or burst into tears. And a beautiful long conversation with Ben, who I hadn't seen for a week due to overlapping travel. Lying on this big white bed laughing with him, chitty-chatting, like I did so long ago on another white bed in this city, him in Northern California, when it all began. When I'm given a little space, I can choose them again. I have a bit of distance and I can see them. I feel myself, all parts of me present and accounted for, not just the current roles I play - wife, mother, suburban forty-one-year-old middle-class white lady.
This was the first trip away from the kids that I wasn't entirely ready to come home at the end of it. Usually I'm desperate to get back to them. It feels physical, like I've been underwater too long and need a deep gulp of air. But this time, along with that strong desire to see them, was a gnawing I could only identify as homesickness. I was sad to leave this place, the only other place but Marin that I've set down roots. I got in a time capsule, in this case a Southwest airplane, and visited my past, wholly informed by my generally happy, confident, present self. And now it was time to get back into that time machine and return to my beloved family, my incredible friends, the beauty that is the Bay Area. And in doing so, I was, once again, leaving my people, my L.A. people, my 1988-2000 people. But maybe, because of my time there, i was carrying a bit more of myself back with me. That girl, long hair swaying, searching, ever searching, for love, for connection, for satisfaction, twirling to "Blister in the Sun" in a crowded Westwood apartment.