Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finding Home: Santa Cruz Cottage

Readers who know me well say they see me in Carolyn, a protagonist in all three novels of The Alki Trilogy. I admit there are similarities between Carolyn and me, and I've certainly drawn from my  personal experiences to create all my characters. Among those similarities are Carolyn's cottage in Biking Uphill as well as our shared failure to fit into small town California university life

When I returned to Santa Cruz from Caracas, the boyfriend and I rented a second-story walk-up that felt like a cheap hotel. Still, it was better than moving back into the fancy studio we'd shared before my six months in Venezuela. The rumors circulating on campus about that place made re-entry impossible. The boyfriend and I lasted a month together.

I landed in a faded red cottage with peeling white trim, a covered porch complete with a swing hanging from rusty chains. Like Carolyn's cottage, mine stood in the overgrown backyard of an enormous gingerbread Victorian on the hill that rose behind downtown Santa Cruz halfway to the university. Unlike Carolyn, I never owned or rode a bicycle in Santa Cruz, but I was every bit the lonely college student that she was.
I have no photos of my cottage. Can you imagine this with peeling paint?
Despite my heartbreak as well as my inability to adjust to life either in Santa Cruz or at the university, I loved my cottage. It was the perfect hide-away. A place to lick my wounds and ponder my next move. The cottage was tiny. The front door opened to a small living room, and you walked through a smaller kitchen to exit through the back door. A tiny bathroom and a wall ladder to a minuscule loft were just inside that back door.

Every night I climbed the ladder. The loft ceiling was so low I couldn't sit upright, but the window that opened to the overgrown backyard and forest beyond more than compensated for the limited headroom. A tall fir towered over my cottage, the wide branches brushing the roof and window in heavy winds. From the loft, I felt the peace of nature, the trees and forests of my childhood.

I loved my cottage, but it wasn't home. I did not belong to the place or to the folks inhabiting it despite the handful of special friends I'd made there. I finished my coursework for my bachelor's degree, but still needed to complete a research project or comprehensive exams to earn my degree. That's when my brother showed up and invited me to his home in Hawaii. How could I refuse the lure of the North Shore?

Years later, on a trip with my daughter, I visited my old cottage. I was re-tracing old stomping grounds and sharing stories with her. When we turned the rental car down the winding cul-de-sac on a route engrained deep in memory despite having lived there less than a year, I was stunned. The little cottage not only still stood, but was all painted and pretty. It stood in plain sight smack in the center of a dusty, dirty construction site, the overgrown yard destroyed, unfinished houses on both sides.
A bit like this without any trees.
That last Santa Cruz visit was fifteen years ago. Today, I do not know if my little cottage remains in anything more than wisps of memory. For me it will never be home, but it will always represent an interlude, a sanctuary in the confusions of youth.

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To read the prior posts in this mini-memoir series, go to the posts listing in the left side bar and click on "March."

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