Dubbed the Lesbian Jack Kerouac by my BFF Brian for my propensity for long distance romance, “A girl in every port and on the road with a broken heart,” he describes me, I set out on a life-changing adventure in November of 2011. This is my tale of deep heart exfoliation via asphalt. Check out all the tales in this series at the Gay American Road Trip 2011 tag.
Castro Valley, CA and Berkeley, CA
[Hey so I stopped blogging my road trip redux after I crossed into the CA border arriving at my mom's place in the Bay Area and I've been wanting to get back to memorializing the amazing epic journey. It doesn't take a degree in psych to know that I stopped at California because suddenly it got emotionally difficult! My home state had a lot of baggage for me to unpack, but the trip was really healing on so many fronts so anyway, here the journey continues...]
In planning my trip I had budgeted the day after Thanksgiving to hang out with my mom and Grandmother and soak up a little bit of the Bay Area. I was ready to stop driving so intensely and excited to have a “destination” for more than a couple of hours.
It’s worth noting that I was miserable growing up and thus unable to appreciate or notice much of the beauty around me. I really love visiting the Bay now. Part of the impetus for this trip was to get to spend some time in California.
Thanksgiving dinner was great, even if consumed late, and Mom was visibly overjoyed to wake up to find me, Grandmother and Macy in the guest bed (which comes down as a Murphy Bed on the wall of her quilting room which is also known as the “cat library”*). Mom adopted Bella, a rescue who literally walked into her classroom one day, inspired by Macy’s cuteness and charm. Macy truly is an ambassador for her breed and muppet dogs everywhere. Bella and Macy sort of got along, though it was clear that Bella was used to being the Queen of the Mountain and Macy was a charming interloper.
Spunky came by and the four of us went to a local breakfast place. She and I have been friends for almost 14 years and she knows my family better than any of my friends. It’s nice to have that. Spunky’s straight and suburban-dwelling. Grandmother asked later “How are you and Spunky such good friends?” Spunky’s the sister I never had and we make up in emotional similarities what we lack in basic life commonalities. We’ve known each other through so much.
We went to Doug’s Place, a well-known omelet destination in Castro Valley. Their pancakes are great. I randomly saw someone I recognized from high school at the restaurant but I didn’t say hi. He and I were very close when we were sixteen/seventeen and had the weirdest falling out. We lost touch while we were still in high school. So how weird is it to awkwardly catch-up this much later? This is totally the kind of thing that happens when you are the prodigal daughter returning to your smallish suburban hometown.
I’m not one of those people who has a lot of lingering friends from that time in my life. I’m in touch with about 5 people out of my graduating class of 400 and I feel really great about it. I sincerely love Facebook for the opportunity to peep in on and chat with folks about their awesome kids or whatever.
I really struggled with whether or not to say hello to this high school dude. If I had been alone or circumstances were different I might have gone up to him–nobody ever died of awkward. But I was also trying to focus on my precious few hours with my mom and Spunky (I was slated to visit Grandmother again a couple days later when she returned to Palm Springs).
Even though high school dude and I didn’t acknowledge each other, it was kind of cool to see this person, that they had a family (a really cute kid) and were in town for Thanksgiving, too. It was enough to see one another from across a restaurant. Why chat and make vague promises of facebook reconnect? Anyway, my hair and features are pretty different than they were in high school but probably he still recognized me.
Oh, home town discomfort you are so real. Being in Castro Valley was itchy like a scab! Where you grow up is loaded, especially if you didn’t have a great or happy adolescence. After Spunky left to go home, I was riding in the backseat of the car with my mom and Grandmother and seeing the Castro Valley suburban streets from the backseat was super triggering. Like I was a grumpy middle/high schooler again and I just needed a dose of my own present reality to snap out of it.
But see, I love my family and I want to see them! And I also love myself and I want to take exceptionally wonderful care of myself! So how do I go home and not get into a crazy spiral triggered by a really rotten adolescence?
I’ve learned through trial and error in my twelve years living on the East Coast a lot of coping mechanisms about how to have a good time going back to the Bay Area. I start with myself, I bring the version of myself that is most authentic and don’t get bogged down in acting like I’m still 16 like I used to do when I came home. I have a lot of things that help me stay connected with who I am now, like staying in touch with friends through my phone, journaling and reading. I also rarely sleep in Castro Valley, opting instead to stay with friends in Oakland or San Francisco. That helps the most, really.
A year and a half ago I was going through some serious emotional work and I actually made an important boundary to not go to Castro Valley at all and instead met my mom for yoga and dinner in the city a couple of times. It was great to see her on neutral ground and avoid the hometown land mine altogether.
Another thing I do is I don’t engage in diet talk. I’m far more practiced now, but my family (like many others) loves to talk about their bodies from a not Health at Every Size/All Bodies are Good Bodies perspective and it can be really hard for me to hear. It used to be so hard for me to work around that. I have a lot of compassion for it now and I am pretty good at detaching from it and not engaging. When people talk about their bodies it isn’t about me and I don’t let it be about me. I also don’t let people talk about my body on anything other than my terms. And I will say my family is really understanding about my politics and my mom is definitely much more embracing of the HAES approach than she ever was, which makes the diet talk stuff much less of an issue for me than it ever used to be.
I also find it a lot easier when I can bring a pal home with me but that’s not always possible. Going into this trip I set myself up for success by scheduling a 2 hour catch-up over tea with my dear friend Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, both because I wanted to hang out with her and also because I knew the break would be good.
No sooner was I having uncomfortable flash-backs to my youth in the back of my mom’s car then I was able to slip into my own Prius and go visit Leah. She met me on the street of her Berkeley neighborhood wearing a slutty apron. I met a bunch of her neighbors and housemates and we went over to her friend Jonah’s room to watch them make candles. Yes, Jonah is a chandler.
It was incredibly soothing! Jonah makes anti-zionist candles for Jewish rituals. At the time (just after Thanksgiving) they were making candles to fulfill orders, many were tiny collections of menorah candles for Hanukkah. I got to ask Jonah a lot of questions about the process and being in their environment with the warm smell of wax and all of the nettles drying along the wall was like being in a fairytale.
LLPS and I got to have one of our power catch-ups on the bed while watching the candles happen. She took me to her house and showed me her tiny magical garden shack in the backyard, which was so much more incredible than I ever imagined from her descriptions over the phone.
We hugged goodbye and I got back into the Prius and headed back to my mom’s house.
Mom’s BFF was over and we got to watch photos from her summer and some photos of her husband’s memorial service. I couldn’t afford to fly out to attend and was so grateful to get to see pictures from it and spend some time with Linda having grief community.
One of the things that sucks about living across the country from my family is that I rarely can take my family’s hand-me-down furniture. I wanted my mom’s clear glass dining table so bad! But mom saw an opportunity to give me the Kitchen Aid mixer that she rarely used and I gleefully accepted it!
Growing-up my ex-step-dad was notoriously selfish. Like, remarkably, irrationally selfish. Picture a 50-something year old man acting like a 4 year old. Mom and I weren’t allowed to use the Kitchen Aid and I’ve always wanted one. Mom got one not long after they divorced and she knew I would appreciate it like no one else could. So the Kitchen Aid (which, by the way, I totally use at least once a week) got nestled safely into my trunk. I always thought I’d have to wait until I got married or something to get a Kitchen Aid.
I also raided my mom’s Lesbian Tea Basket** for a sampler of teas for the road, including a lovely hibiscus and some mint.
In the morning I said my goodbyes to Grandmother, Mom and her wife. I was leaving Macy in their care while I headed into San Francisco to go to a meeting I had scheduled into my trip right between visiting my mom and my dad. (I’m in a 12 step program for family and friends of alcoholics, which I joined as a result of an alcoholic boo but has helped me heal a lot of family stuff I didn’t expect.) I loved the idea of going into the city even for a couple of hours and was bummed I wouldn’t see my friends but didn’t have time on the road trip.
I went to my meeting, walked briefly through the Castro and took a quick detour in the Mission to grab a burrito before I left town. I also stopped at Multi-Kulti for a pair of sunglasses and some cheap fake eyelashes. My pal Alix Izen saw my twitter check-in and texted me to meet me for my quick burrito, which was a fortuitous and awesome catch-up.
I got back on the road, crossed the Bay Bridge and headed to my dad’s house in Merced.
Next up! I visit Merced, CA for the first time in a decade and drive through some crazy fog!
*Let us not forget that my mom is also a Lesbian.
**I’m sure I mentioned this on my webseries before, but my mom putting all of her teas in a basket on top of the fridge was the original Lesbian Tea Basket and the namesake for my own LTB and starting the LTB web series.