California had always been home. Anyone who’s lived or visited can attest to its unrivaled beauty and diversity. Growing up in Vacaville, I was a little over an hour from the mountains or the ocean in either direction and had world-class shopping and dining at my fingertips. I didn’t realize picking up authentic Mexican food at 1 in the morning wasn’t the norm in most places. I didn’t realize the convenience of a simple freeway. I didn’t think about how our bountiful orange trees were unique to us. In a lot of ways, California living is easy living. The climate is moderate, and the luxuries are abundant.
It wasn’t until moving to Montana that I discovered these things. Can you imagine my heartache when I realized there are ZERO Indian food restaurants here? Or that the grocery store closes at 9 p.m. Or that I live in the same town as my parents, yet it takes 40 minutes to get to their house.
When our family moved here, I thought it would be a fun little pandemic-inspired adventure. I didn’t anticipate staying more than a year or two. But then, I got pregnant, and my parents moved here, and my husband’s parents moved here, and we found our dream jobs and got plugged into the community… WOW! It was almost like we were supposed to end up here. We love living in Montana, but after living in California for 25 years, it’s hard not to miss it.
Last month, I went to Vacaville to visit my grandma and then Jake met me and River in San Diego so we could play tourist in our ex-home. I was a little anxious to return because I thought it would make me rethink our move to Montana.
But only a few days into the trip, and I realized Vacaville was indeed not my home. Besides my grandma, there is nothing for me there. In fact, I hardly recognized the once suburban town. The traffic, the booming development, the dirty streets did not capture my heart. It was like seeing the face of someone you used to love, but your brain can only recognize a stranger. The once familiar embrace of the rolling golden hills held little significance and I mourned, of course.
“But San Diego,” I thought. “Surely, I will feel at home there.” It was the kindling place of our marriage. It has the ocean and that upbeat city vibe that somehow excuses the mess.
Flying into San Diego International, my heart fluttered. The skyscrapers twinkled behind the vast blueness of the sea. Though she wouldn’t remember, I was excited to show River every nook and cranny of the city.
Our trip was a blast. We went to the aquarium, the farmer’s market and quirky thrift stores. We hung out with friends and ate at authentic French, Vietnamese, Japanese, Afghan, and Mexican restaurants. River saw the ocean for the first time, and I went surfing a lot. (Another highlight of my trip was the key lime popcorn and cookie butter ice cream from Trader Joe’s.)
But even in the merriment of our vacation, neither was this place home. During the week, I realized our supposedly casual move to Montana had actually laid the foundation for the beginning of our adult lives. If you had asked me a month ago, “How long will you be in Montana?” I would have said, “Maybe a few years.” No more though. Ask again, and I’ll tell you, “As long as God is calling us here.” And right now, that feels like it could be a long, long time. It’s a weird feeling. A bittersweet realization that California is not home, nor will it probably ever be again.
But the closure that came with our trip is sublime. I don’t have to wonder anymore, “Do I still miss it? Do I wish I were back there? Is the Flathead Valley really home?” Of course, I’ll always feel grief over the loss of surfing. It’s a pastime that cannot be duplicated by any of the pitiful suggestions people make (wake surfing, paddleboarding, river surfing). Though that’s a post for another time. But yes, the Flathead Valley is really, truly home. The valley is where my daughter was born, and she will call it home. I mean, how awesome is it that she often sees both sets of grandparents on the same day? It’s been almost two years, but the length of time we’ve been here is not representative of how much we love this valley. I’ve learned to love the changing of the seasons even if that means a below freezing day. I’ve mastered the casual two finger “hello” wave as I drive. I’ve grown patience and even enjoyment for the lengthy conversations at check-out. The feeling of having a foot in two places was wearisome and didn’t allow me to give my all to this valley. But I’ve finally read the last few pages of “California” and can close that book. I’m ready to start the next one. I’m ready to grow and heal as a person and to contribute and invest in this valley.