HOMESICK

After seven months of my world tour, I can honestly tell you a couple of things.

I miss the people of Oklahoma, but not the weather. I’ll probably go back again soon, now that it’s under 200 degrees.

I’d forgotten how much I love Colorado — Lowry AFB was Bill’s first assignment after re-treading into officerland, and we were stationed in Denver from ’83-’87. We rented a cute little house that the owners allorwed us to renovate, had a garden where I defied everyone’s advice and grew corn, along with all the other vegetables we wanted — while going to school full time at night, working as a temporary to pay for my education, and spending every other available minute with my 3-year old mini-munchkin, Abbi.

Having been raised (reared, for the picky) in West Virginia where the hills were the only mountains I knew, the Rockies held me mesmarized. Of course, directions were pretty easy — the mountains were either on your left or your right — but it was much more than that. There’s something about the mountains that brings me peace. They’re different every day. So are the clouds that cloak them. And where else can you ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon? It snows in Denver, but if you don’t live on the north side of the street, it’s melted by noon. Never, ever buy a house on the north side of the street in Denver.

After Bill and I separated, on a night when he’d have Abbi I’d check into a circular hotel close to the Mouse Trap and Bronco Stadium. After the first visit, I’d always ask for room 1802. It had a view of both the mountains and city lights. I’d order a cheese tray, and spend the night painting. It was so peaceful — and there was the mournful wail of a train whistle during the night. That always makes me feel at home.

Once I graduated from college and went to work with McBee, if I had an extremely stressful time, all it took was a trip to the mountains for a day, return in time to pick up Abbi from pre-school, and I was fine.  The sales staff  played a game in the office. We’d work our butts off the first of the month and hit quota as quickly as we could. Then, we caught what our secretary called, “White Flu,” where we’d all disappear for a couple of days before coming back and making our boss look like a hero for the rest of the month.

My favorite places to go were Estes Park or Echo Lake, which is just below Berthoud Ski Pass. I just discovered that Berthoud has been closed since 2001. How sad. Guess they even tore down the rustic lodge. That saves me a trip into the mountains and up memory lane — but I can still go to Echo Lake.

Alternates were Breckenridge and Georgetown, especially during the holidays. Georgetown’s overabundance of gingerbread buildings are all decked out for the holidays, and it’s impossible not to be drawn into the spirit of the season.

And, of course, there was the Junior League Thrift Shop where all the dresses/shoes/purses from the last major event showed up because they couldn’t be seen on the same person again.  It used to be on Broadway, but has moved. I’ve got to find that place while I’m here.

But the best thing was that I made friends who a) weren’t connected to Bill or the Air Force, and b) weren’t involved in the uber-religious lifestyle we began in Bellevue, Nebraska, jumped into in Honolulu, and embraced when we got transferred to Denver. It was in my last year with Bill that I started inching my way out of that life. I’m not going to say that it was a cult, because it’s an established church with a great reputation and their minister is internationally known. But we were cult members. It’s hard to explain.

I wanted to go into a more mainstream lifestyle with a few more “thou shalt” clauses than “thou shalt nots,” but Bill wasn’t interested in making that transition. His,and his friends’ hard-line  stance drove Abbi away from established religion before she was in grade school.

I remember when we were moving from our rental cottage to our first home and Abbi had gone to choir practice with Bill (I’d already started staying home to watch Murder She Wrote instead of going to Sunday night services). He told them we were moving and asked for help. Of course, many members of the choir volunteered to help and assured him they’d be at the house that Saturday ready to go.

Saturday morning came, and my whole office from McBee was there, along with a friend I’d met at the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association and a couple more friends I’d met at school. One person showed up from the choir, and almost as soon as he got there, his wife started calling to see how long he was going to be. He left after helping load the first car. 

Abbi turned to Bill in front of everyone (including the guy from church) and said, “Dad, where are your friends? Everyone in the choir said they were going to come. They lied. I thought Christians didn’t lie.” Unfortunately, my “Christian” friends– the ones who fit the description in the Bible of what a Christian should be, for the most part didn’t go to church and some of them were having affairs. Most drank. A few smoked. My bet on the entry-to-heaven end of things will yield some surprises.

It was in Denver I realized that if I stayed with Bill, Abbi could never become the person that was inside of her. Bill was/is a “recovering Catholic” and overly judgmental and critical. Coupled with a very strict pentecostal religious bent, she would have been shoved into a box, and that just wouldn’t have been right. It was through the way he treated her that I realized how much I’d changed during our 10-year marriage. I wanted me back almost as much as I wanted Abbi to be free to be herself. She transitioned pretty quickly. It took me years, and I’m not sure all of the old me ever showed up.

Of course, the second we filed for divorce, the Singles Ministry slurped Bill in. I mean, good-looking, stable, military officer, almost-single men were hard to find. He was engaged twice and had a marriage date set before we even signed the final papers six months later. They asked me to attend the wedding — said God told them to. I told him I went to his second wedding. It didn’t work out. 

But no matter how much I love Colorado and enjoy watching the mountains change hour by hour, I’m longing for the West/Left Coast. I miss the free-spirited, but hard-working people. People willing to work full time at their “real” jobs while chasing their dreams with just as much zest, and getting very little sleep. The perception most people have of the west coast is so far off — these are people who will do anything to help someone else. Authors take new writers on book tour with them. Actors recommend friends for beginner roles. It’s a maze of inter-connected networks where everyone knows someone who knows someone who will try to help another someone get where they want to go. And help them find jobs until they get there.

I miss my ocean. Heck, I even miss winters in the Bay Area when there were nights I needed more blankets than I’d used in Oklahoma during blizzards. I miss driving down the hill and seeing the Bay every day. I miss being close enough to Abbi that we can get together when we want to, but are far enough apart we don’t smother each other.

I miss my writing community. In the Bay Area, that’s who all my friends were. My critique group, The Novelistas, got together every 3rd Wednesday for a couple of hours, traded 20 pages, and (lovingly) tore each other’s work in shreds over Book Passage lunches. We’d stay forever once the critique was finished, just laughing and talking. Sometimes, others would sit down to join us. Book Passage is one of the things I miss most about the area. There are book signings going on all the time — sometimes multiples. There’s always a class to take. There’s Left Coast Writers, filled with newbies to best-selling, award-winning authors from every genre — all equals — with Monday night meetings at Book Passage in Corte Madera followed by munchies and drinks at Izzy’s. What I’d give for an evening with those crazy people, a mojito, skirt steak, creamed spinich and Izzy’s potatoes. And my Sisters in Crime (SinC) crew — “guppies” (great unpublished) who get together online with other guppies and mentors online, and a crew of published friends (guys allowed — Simon Wood was president of NorCal SinC when I joined). Relationships I still enjoy long distance today. I miss them terribly. The only time I get to see them now is if they have a book signing somewhere near me. Even that isn’t happening on my world tour.

I miss the diversity of Los Angeles. Being seated by Dave Navarro (and ignoring him for privacy’s sake) in a restaurant, seeing drag queens wearing cheerleader uniforms with a gigantic W in the center of the “Hollywood” across the manufactured chests (West Hollywood, for the uninformed, is Rainbow Land). I miss the spots of beaches where I could sit undisturbed for hours and the hotel no one else knew about. I’d read, sleep, read, sleep the day away on the beach and go to sleep listening to the waves blanket the shore at night.

And the culture — so much history in one place. So much talent. So many different things to do. And so many places to go if you don’t want to do anything. And don’t forget the afternoon I passed a bunch of people with pickets and small dogs in front of the Beverly Hills sign. The pickets read, “Pugs for Peace.” Where else would that happen?

If someone can drive through LA on any given day and not find something to make them laugh, they’re already dead.

Regardless of what transpires between now and then, I know that’s where I’ll retire. Probably in the Oakland area or to the Oakland Embarcadero — next to Jack London Square, where tall ships visit on a regular basis. Oakland has grown from the “murder capital” of the world into a trendy artists’ community. Several of my author friends already live there — of course, in haunted houses. I want one. I miss Katie Horn from my San Diego State, Alpha Chi Omega house. Maybe I could drop by and invite her to move with me. No….she’s having too much fun there. And what would Chef Gerry do if he didn’t come in every now and then to find the pantry re-arranged?

For now, I’d like to go back to being a House Mom for awhile — hopefully at UCLA or USC, but if that doesn’t happen, somewhere else. LA has a great writing community.  Sisters in Crime, SoCal California Writers, Mystery Writers of America. And I already know other house directors on both campuses, so that would be cool. I have my eye on one sorority that’s opening houses on both campuses next fall, but they have to pick me before that can happen.

I’m an east coast girl at heart. Love the warm Atlantic. Love my Suthehn (southern) friends. Could do without all the fried food, but still…..to be able to set up a chair at the edge of the surf and have water wash over me that’s only a couple of degrees lower than the air temperature? You’ve got to be kidding if that doesn’t sound good to you. And nights dancing the Shag (State Dance of South Carolina) that puts no pressure on my knees. And the Shag music that sways with the wind? Man, I miss that. But Delta’s ready when I am.

I still want to mine for gems with my sweet sorority sister, Lynn Crislip, maybe hook up with other high school friends — Sherry Doss, Lynn Tincher, Margi Moses — no married names allowed in my memory. And I can still do that. But unless something drastic happens — like the west coast falling into the ocean before I can get back — that’s where you’ll be able to find me when the time is right.

For now, from Peggy’s in Denver, where I’ll be spending Yom Kippur reading studies on the computer in my room upstairs (again, no tickets or clothes), and hopefully having a meaningful and easy fast. To all my Jewish friends, I wish the same for you.

So, I’ll be locked away from about 6pm this evening until about 7:30 tomorrow night. Hopefully, we’ll talk again on Thursday. Until then, stay safe out there.