I grew up in the Midwest. And in the Midwest, chances are you will meet people with one of two opinions about California. One type of person has lived in California for some length of time. They have fond memories of their time there, but left because of financial reasons or family or something else. The other type of person has never been to California or merely visited. They have pet names for the Golden State. Like the Left Coast. They have malformed opinions. Like everyone is high on some drug or another. They are not fond of California’s progressiveness. They find it threatening.
Growing up in Kansas and Missouri, I could only stare at the abandoned grain silo and dream of places I had never been. Scenery that I saw in movies. Lavish descriptions on the pages of books. And while I mowed my lawn with a 22" push mower, I would talk to myself through imagined futures. A businessman in a big city. A CIA agent that traveled the world. While picking up rocks out of our garden or chopping hedge wood for winter, I dreamed of finding myself somewhere else. A place where no one knew my parents were divorced. A place where I was someone other than a poor country kid swinging off the side of a tree in a rope swing.
I dreamed of a mother that loved me. Of finding a girl. I dreamed that I was brave and articulate and cosmopolitan.
I was always smart in school, the one where I wore uniforms and chapel dress on Wednesdays. The one where we memorized Bible verses and was taught that being a Christian meant being a Republican Christian. I was told my Catholic grandparents were going to hell. That I wasn’t supposed to question anything because that was a spirit of rebellion. So by the time I was 19, I found myself working at a gas station with no hopes of going to college until my manager told me that I was going to quit that summer and enroll. That I wasn’t going to do this for the rest of my life. That I could live with his family if that’s what it took.
And so I did. And this turn changed my life.
In college, I learned about poetry, about falling in and out of love, about the possibility that I had been depressed all my life, what introvert really meant, how that made me different. I found myself walking the streets at night looking for human companionship only to shun it later. I found myself sitting on the top of parking garages and wanting to jump. I found myself hurting everyone I loved.
After college, I couldn’t find a job. My sister, by this time, was in Austin, Texas. So I moved there and met Vida and we married. The jobs I could find were for horrible employers. There was no job description for front-end web developers. I was what people called a web monkey. Anyone could be what I was.
In all this time, I never wanted to move to California. In fact, if someone mentioned the state in conversation, my first reaction was one of disdain. There was no reason for it. I had never been there. But I was certain, absolutely, that California wasn’t meant for me.
And then, through a weird chain of Internet events, I was offered a job for a company in Santa Barbara, California, for more money than I ever imagined I could make. And even though I had no idea how my wife and I were going to afford life out on the west coast, I knew I had to go. And in the last five years that I’ve been here, three of them have been without any symptoms of depression.
Where there was a time that I thought I could never love a place with 300+ days of sunshine a year, a place with no seasons to really speak of, a place of hippies and L.A. assholes, I sit here tonight and try to think of what my life would be like without California.
And I can’t.
California has probably saved my life. California has healed me in more ways than I can put in to words. I regret every assumption I ever made about the people here or the weather or my acclimation to it. Santa Barbara smells like flowers every goddamned day.
And the song says: I want you to move to California for yourself.
And the song says: I want you to find whatever your heart needs.
And I have.