I push the stroller out of the parking structure elevator, and the scenery takes me back in time. So much is the way it was more than 15 years ago. The Edwards movie theater, Tillys, Old Navy, Barnes and Noble- all the stores I used to frequent are still there. Even the people wandering about seem to be the same. It’s as though the place had botoxed itself never to age.
Coming home usually fosters feelings of comfort, peace, ease, but instead a stifling pressure rises in my chest. What am I doing here? Why did we move back? Like a wild horse being bridled, I’m frantic inside. Everything in me wants to run away till my lungs hurt and the tears fall freely.
Instead I do what I do best— I ignore what’s brewing inside me, clench the handle to the double stroller, and keep going. But the second I walk through the double doors at Barnes, I’m further blitzed with memories from my high school and college days. The cafe, the magazine section, even the escalator bare glimpses of my past and the inner turmoil of those years. All the insecurity and awkwardness. The trying too hard, thinking I’m playing it cool but failing. The desperation to be noticed and to belong. I see pieces of my old self in every person I pass by, and I feel both exposed and embarrassed.
I don’t want to be reminded of who I was. For a brief time after we moved, I had forgotten why I never liked Orange County, why I had never wanted to come back to Southern California. But as I stroll my kids around the bookstore, it comes to me with clarity. OC had always felt too tame, too monochrome, and in some areas, too privileged. It had felt more like the Truman show than real life. And after growing up overseas, living in a place like that had been suffocating.
I know people dream of living in our suburbs. They travel far to vacation at our beaches and to enjoy the perfect weather. Who wouldn’t want to live in paradise, right? But I had never felt like I belonged in this master planned bubble because OC and I are different. We don’t match. We don’t have the same values or come from the same background. Comfort, safety, and security are its gods, and those just haven’t been where I’ve found my grounding or my purpose.
And what about my kids? I want them to have a different childhood, a more colorful, a more diverse one. I want them to know how to empathize with those who are hurting, to be compassionate and caring. I want them to somehow want more than what this place can offer, but will I be able to teach them these things? Will I be able to offer them the experiences and adventures that build kindness and strength when convenience is all around them? All around us? Will I eventually bow down to the same gods and pass on that religion to my children because that’s what every good parent should want for theirs? I want to scream NO! but deep down I know I’m not immune.
My soul is a worn-down mess after the plaza incident. My enthusiasm for our new season is drained, and I can’t remember what was so exciting about it in the first place. I feel foolish and lost. I know I can’t go back, but I don’t know what it means to move forward. God, why are we here?
I sit in church service the next day with nothing more to say or ask. In the dim light I stand with weak arms and silent groans, and He meets me.
He gives my lips a new song to sing.
Through waters uncharted my soul will embark
I’ll follow Your voice straight into the dark
And if from the course You intend
Speak to the sails of my wandering heart
Like the wind
Clear the skies before me
And I’ll glide this open sea
Like the stars
Will align my voyage
And remind me where I’ve been
And where I am going
Nothing on the outside has changed. The road ahead is still blurry, Orange County and I are still at odds, but my soul is at rest again. He led me into this season, back home to this place, so I’m settling in because I’m right where I’m supposed to be.