Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Finding Home: The Boardwalk

I arrived by Greyhound in late summer. The Venezuelan boyfriend had been accepted at University of California Santa Cruz. He received a plane ticket and instructions from his government, and he wasn't happy about doing anything to risk his free ride. Still, I snuck in and out of his summer dorm for the weeks it took for to find an apartment and a job. The campus stood high in the rolling hills above town and food options were limited. The boyfriend had a college meal plan. I lived off vending machine peanuts, raisins, and orange soda.

With a sense of relief, I signed a rental agreement on our first apartment two blocks from the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk with its gigantic roller coaster and endless stream of summer tourists. My first job in California was selling hotdogs and beer (though not yet 21) at a Boardwalk kiosk.
The apartment building was a converted tourist motel, and the apartment consisted of two connecting motel rooms with two doors opening from an outdoor walkway. One motel room held a large kitchen and bathroom. The other was the living room/bedroom. The boyfriend built a room-divider bookcase to create a private bedroom. He cut and sanded and varnished each of those boards on the walkway in front of our two front doors. It took days, which is why what happened when we moved out was so infuriating and heartbreaking.

Even though I loved the early morning beach, the winter beach, the beach when the tourists were gone, Santa Cruz never felt like home. I ran the beach and worked the Boardwalk until the end of the tourist season while the boyfriend spent every moment studying or playing chess at a local coffee shop.

Like Carolyn in Biking Uphill, I never felt I belonged to any of the diverse groups populating the small community: the townies, the students, the tourists, the surfers, the hippies, the vets. Unable to afford to return to school until I established state residency, I tried becoming a townie. After working a season on the Boardwalk, I found an office job at a local department store. I was twenty years old working with lifers twice my age. When I finally re-started my Bachelor's degree, I felt old, unable to fit in to the college scene there anymore than I had at the two universities I'd attended in Seattle. After less than a year at UCSC, I decided to leave.

By then we owned a small car, and we decided to move. We rented a new apartment, a tiny studio in a rather fancy development with a swimming pool. It was for the boyfriend as I would be in Venezuela for at least six months. He planned to come with me for a brief family visit before returning alone to his studies and the new apartment.

As I remember it, I did most of the moving. I made a series of trips back and forth across town, the small car packed tight with boxes of accumulated housewares, clothing, and books. The boyfriend had carefully dismantled the bookcase and stacked the boards in the middle of the room, but I simply couldn't get them into the car. I still had keys and the month had not ended, but when I returned to collect the final load a day or two later with a borrowed car, the boards were gone.

"Thought you were out," the landlord said. "Sold them boards to the roofers. They were happy to have 'em."

I suppose that was the beginning of the end, the souring of my first love, but I didn't know it yet. The boyfriend and I were heartbroken and furious, but not with each other. Not then. Not yet. 

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To read the prior posts in this mini-memoir series, go to the posts listing in the left side bar. If no longer visible, just click on "March."

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