Posted by GIRL'S GONE CHILD | Sunday, May 07, 2006
San Diego for the weekend. Encinitas. A small beach town. The place I grew up. Hardly recognizable. Things change, I guess. I moved away about seven years ago. Change. Bigger and better and faster. Change. Welcome to America. Welcome to Suburbia. Blondes are getting blonder. The old are looking younger. Cars are getting bigger. Windows are more tinted. Houses are swelling, bloated and closer together until everything begins to look the same. Everything is the same. Is this Utopia? Hardly able to recognize how.
My old second grade class. My old second grade teacher. Now grey-haired. I sit before the class and read old stories and ask questions and write words on the board.
'A word is worth a thousand pictures.' I tell them.
They write it down.
The classroom is seemingly smaller every year I come to speak to Mr. R's second grade class. Some of the children from last year return to the classroom where they say hello and ask me to sign an autograph on their arm. They think I am famous because I live in Los Angeles. Because I once wrote for some crummy book series, because I was the homecoming queen at the High School up the street.
'Will you sign my t-shirt.'
'I'm afraid you might get into trouble.'
'I don't care.'
'Okay, then. Good.'
I watch the children, listening as they tell me about their favorite stories and how when they grow up they want to be writers too. We write a story together about the beach, and soon enough the bell rings and the children leave me alone with my old teacher.
I ask him how everything is and he tells me about the new rules. He explains that two children were suspended a month ago for kissing on the playground. My jaw drops in shock and he sees me and shakes his head.
'It's really sad what's happening...' He says. 'People are so afraid, these days.'
I tell him about my kindergarten and how there was a little boy and his name was Michael and we used to kiss under the slide. It was the beginning of boys and flirting and tingles and I wouldn't have traded my naive childish excitement for anything. Not even an ice cream cone on a summer day.
'They were suspended for a week,' he repeats.
Mr. R nods his head.
I don't know what to say. I shake my head and we both stare at the wall and say nothing. I am shocked. What man/woman writes this rule book, punishing children for being curious?
I stop thinking about it because it makes me sad.
I leave the classroom at the bell and walk out to my car. Its still early so I decide to grab lunch and spend an hour or so down by the beach. And so I drive:
I drive past what used to be the cow fields where my friends and I used to pick dandelions and look for four leaf clovers, the hidden valley where I smoked my first cigarette, and the wetland where I used to follow the neighborhood boys in the summer. (I used to call it fairyland.) Not anymore. No more fairy lands and meadows and cow fields. These places have long since gone. Now, a hillside covered with tract homes. A meadow covered with tract homes. A wetland, now dry and dead covered with tract homes.
I drive out toward the beach, park and walk up to the viewpoint, taking a seat on a memorial bench, in loving memory of a boy from my class who died. There are four benches. All boys that I went to school with, now dead. I remember attending each funeral.
I take a seat and look out across the beach. Moonlight Beach, my old friend. We used to make out on the bluff at dusk bare feet dangling over the sand. The bluff is now blocked off.
'Private Property. Keep Out.'
'Danger, Keep Away.'
I find a group of tall blondes in bikinis. I remember when I used to look like that. Tall, tan and busty with long yellow hair tangled in my bathing suit ties. I watch them without being seen. I could watch for hours and they wouldn't notice me. I am quiet these days. Pale, smaller in bust, larger in thigh, hair darker and longer. I am as unrecognizable as this place that I stand from. The lookout point and me, two strangers in disguise.
I try to relate to the scene playing out beneath me. The girls. The place. The time. But I cannot. They are supposed to be my past but in them I see nothing. Not a trace of my youth. I find it odd, disheartening even. I lean against the sign. Danger. You might fall off the edge.
Is this my home?
Children suspended for kissing. Fields bulldozed for tract homes. Flower fields replaced with strip malls. Starbucks and Petsmart(s) and Bed Bath and Beyond(s). There used to be ponds with crawdads, and playgrounds to kiss the boys on. There used to be bluffs to dangle your feet from. There used to be magic.
This is not my home.
I do not recognize this town. New with stucco and easy listening music. SUVs and Ten year olds buying diet books at Barnes and Noble. This is where I come from? My history?
A picture is worth a thousand words. A thousand thoughts. A thousand questions. I point to my past and say 'I was here,' except in all reality, I never was. I was a child here, under all of this, in the dirt and the sea and the sand and the fields and the playgrounds where kids were kids and boys were allowed to like girls. Yes. It has been buried. Six feet under. There is nothing left except perhaps a few bones.
There are far too many rules to be a child now. There are far too many capitalists to save a quiet little beach down. A quiet suburbia. I was a child here once upon a time, long ago in the good old days.
How scary, I'm only twenty-four.
Suburban roots die young. Trees must be replaced with storage units and apartment complexes. Schools don't have the money to risk sexual harassment suits.
And as the school board cuts down the trees to use the paper to print their lousy rulebooks, I fear for my son. I really do.