The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I spent the night in a room I had not slept in since 1989, and not regularly inhabited since 1986. When I got up and walked out through the living room to the kitchen, my parents were sitting there chatting quietly. There was even a calico cat on one of the chairs. I was waiting for a phone call to formulate a plan to go meet a friend and did not feel especially garrulous, or even loquacious.
I looked around.
Maybe this was 1986.
No, the grey hair and improved vocabulary were both clear indicators that I was not re-inhabiting my teenage self – but little else seemed awry in this intensely personal Back to the Future moment. Somehow, I had gone home again.
It was a trip.
It is a pretty great house, in a pretty great neighborhood, in a town I swore I’d never go back to again. But, truth be told, most people agree it is a pretty great town. In fact, most of the folks that left, not wanting to be those people who never left Petaluma – you know – those people, are shaking their fists in the face of the Great Unfairness as it has now become pretty hard to get back. With kids, a sluggish economy and a
no low growth community, the town holds quite a bit of appeal. Even when I go back now, I look at through a [mostly] different lens.
And through this rather altered state I headed out of the house (on foot) to go visit some friends I have known longer than my conscious memory serves. I was amazed at how quick the walk was – I swear it used to be longer; I am sure I would have never insisted my mom drive me such a short distance all those years. Would I have?
I went back again last night. It is a bit more settled-in, in terms of looking like a house my family would occupy, rather than a place they might just be passing through.
It was still a total trip.
I woke up and walked down to the corner where one of my regular mini-markets used to be which now sells gourmet wine, chocolate, cappuccino, and meats. Luckily they also still sell milk, because I definitely needed to tip Clo through my two lips with my morning coffee. Back at the house it was kind of a standard Sonoma County winter morning: cold, clear… retro.
I was in full retro-mode myself.
After years of being no closer than two hours (by air) from my family, it has taken no less than a month to revert right back to the old ways. Suddenly when I find myself with my parents after a 40-minute drive the urgency of milking every minute that I didn’t want to miss when I was staring down the belly of a 14-hour flight disappears. Though the old rotary dial phone has been replaced by the iPhone, I still catch myself tuning out of the parental orbit and trying to catch up with what Everyone else is doing. [I spent years in Petaluma keeping up with Everyone, it was an endless job, that Everyone is a busy dude.] But somehow, there is a kind of visceral comfort that I get just from being there – I guess it is the same comfort that I always got as a teenager who had the privilege of attentive parents I could ignore. Sometimes it takes 25 years to recognize that kind of privilege.
I decided I would head downtown to do a little Christmas shopping, or something. It seemed like the right thing to do. As I walked out of the house my mom said I looked like I was meant for somewhere bigger than Petaluma.
It is what I had always thought about Petaluma, too.
It was just one more irony making me feel right at home on this morning of Christmas Eve Eve. I walked down the street and felt completely at home at out of place simultaneously, and really, if I haven’t already defined what coming of age in Petaluma was like for me – this was it.
And so, what to do… I suddenly was facing a bit of pressure to be home at a certain time [awkward] and so my options were limited. I called MPFW. She was at our old 7-11. It seemed beyond coincidental. She picked me up, like it was 1986. We had a couple of things to do – different only in detail from the things we would have had to do in exchange for being out with the car 25 years ago. Then what? Coffee? Yeah, okay, that sounded good.
Or we could have a cocktail…
Yeah, we could, couldn’t we?
Yes. Yes, we could.
So, we did.
Just like we did back in 198- err…. nevermind.
Heading back to my house without even needing to ask where we were going, MPFW took out some gum.
Oh, yeah. Gum. Better get some of that before we get home… you know, because the grown-ups are there. Just like 1986.
And who doesn’t love a little anachronism for the holidays?
It is Petaluma. Do you know what year you’re in?