Chicken Soul for the Post Grad Soup

Part I of That One Time I Took 3 Days Off of Work And Sprinted Up For Santa Cruz 

For something to do, I resolved to hoist another spoonful of my “Zesty Chicken and Black Bean Salad” into my mouth and chew slowly. Granted, there wasn’t a whole lot of this rumored “zest”, but my mission here wasn’t to food critique; I needed to decompress, and I needed quick sustenance while I did so. Gotta love Starbucks, I thought to myself with only half sarcasm. I’d walked up and down Pacific Avenue of downtown Santa Cruz, and of all the interesting, quirky, quintessentially Santa Cruz places to eat… my feet paved me straight the chain coffeeshop, right up to the tired-looking, bespectacled barista, and left me to order “Um this, please. And…Um…A tea? Yeah, tall. Mint? Yeah, thanks” in the lamest way one could possibly order tiny mint tea and a Zesty Chicken and Black Bean Salad.

My words came out short and choppy, but my train of thought had been running nearly 1000 miles a minute just outside the shop as I’d paced the familiar concrete. I’d chosen Starbucks, in the end, because it was easy. To choose anywhere else might have swept me into tears. My brain was on overload enough; I was hardly prepared for “Where do I want to eat now that I’m here.” Like I said, thank god for Starbucks. They all look so similar on the inside, it’s so easy to tune out of the atmosphere and right into…

What had to be said. What had to be thought of. I’m here, I’m back.

I’m in Santa Cruz.

And..

It’s the same.

I felt it growing on the drive up, but the reality of the sameness of the city collapsed on me as I drove in. As the Fit drove on the roads, through the familiar traffic, up the familiar hill…. I was aching. I was breaking with each sight. My heart was craving friendly reminders of Other Times, and the universe was answering with full-on memories of Another Lifetime.

Memory works funny, too. I realized that in the very moment I was driving passed my old house on Soquel. It’s one sided—I was shouting “I remember you!” with my heart, and the building was answering, amused “I’m busy with new people but hi, I guess!”

I was celebrating a grand return and the city wasn’t celebrating back. Each tree, each sign, each person dismissed me as “Who? Oh you came here once? I’m glad. You know, a lot of people have come here before. A lot of people are here now.”

It was an indifferent glad. How do I explain it?

It was like being in a relationship where you’re obviously the one who cares more. My heart was exploding, “It’s been so long!” and Santa Cruz was smiling and shrugging, saying “It sure is nice to see you, too. What was your name again? Thanks for coming.”

It left a funny taste in my mouth. It tasted like the shadow of death that had happened too long ago to sting, to someone you used to know.

I was feeling Out of Place.

Out of Place. That’s the emotion. It was a soup of disappointment, eagerness, understanding, contentment, awareness, old, new…

It was a soup of a lot of things, and I felt water spill from my eyes as I felt Out of Place driving down from campus, with the perfect view of the ocean that I used to gaze at and dream of my Somedays and Eventuallys. My Someday Man, my Eventual Family. My Someday City, My Eventual Adventures.

I drove the same hill I zoomed down for 4 years—in the rain, on a bike, in the sunshine, in a stranger’s car, in my bosses truck, in my mom’s Prius, in a thousand different buses—and stared at the same view with a new pair of eyes.

And the Out of Placeness of it burned them into tears. My relationship to Somedays and Eventuallys had changed, I carried them in a new pocket of possibility; I was driving with the ghost of younger Katrina in the passenger seat and whispering, “You poor, beautiful thing. The world is very big, you know. Even bigger than your precious Somedays and Eventuallys could ever imagine.” And we cried for both of our losses, for both of our gains. Santa Cruz was a pond, and it hurt to see that from The Other Side.

And I cried myself into a familiar parking spot that Dane once parked us in when we went to see Titanic in 3D. And I sniffed my way past my favorite ATM machine, where I deposited my first check. And I smiled past homeless man who once told me, sometime around midnight when I walked to the Soquel apartment alone, “They might try to burry you, but they don’t know you’re the seed, my dear.” And I walked myself straight into a Starbucks, to write down how much it ached that the parking spot thought nothing of me, the ATM had forgotten me, the old man had no idea who I was.

And somehow that made it better, writing about my Out of Place.

It was weird, but the awareness of the ache was the zest my soup of feeling needed to really taste the experience.

Hell, even my salad got better.

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