May 4th, 2008
Ventura is heaven on earth. Not large enough to bring in hoards of tourists but not small enough to get bored. Jack and I just surfed C Street, I on my longboard and he on his twin fin, just how I like it because it always guarantees that I catch more waves and rub it in his face. His older brother Grant, who always has to drive us since we’re only fourteen. pulls into their driveway. I can’t wait to be the one sitting behind the wheel. We each unstrap our boards from the roof rack before diverging, the two of them into their garage and I to my house across the street.
The sky is painted in what I like to call “the lure of Southern California.” Puffy white clouds with the consistency of homemade whipped cream are interspersed across the sun-soaked, bright blue hues. When these days fall on the weekend, Jack and I refuse to spend more than five minutes inside, the day usually beginning with an early-morning surf. If it’s a school day, we savor the sun on one of our porches with books and homework sprawled across our laps.
“I’m home!” I call into the house, hoping no one’s sleeping in past ten. I slip my flip flops off and head into the kitchen, where I find my dad making pancakes and bacon. And on the counter are the plum tree seeds I’ve been hoping for for weeks.
“Hi, honey, can you get your mom and brother for breakfast?” My dad has always been an intimidating man with a huge presence in any room, but his personality is the complete opposite. He stands at the stove in pajamas and an apron with a kitchen towel slung over his shoulder. The morning rays of light filter through the room, illuminating every glass jar, utensil, and wood fixture.
After breakfast, I’m already compiling everything I need to get these seeds in the ground. Of course I wouldn’t think to do anything without Jack, who comes traipsing over the moment I’m out the door, like we can speak through our minds.
“Finally,” he says, sprawling across my front lawn while I read the directions on the back of the packet. Jack’s hair is a shade of blonde so light I wouldn’t believe it existed if it weren’t staring me in the face everyday, and the freckles peppering his nose get more and more plentiful as the summer inches closer.
“Ya know, it’ll be a long time before the plums start growing,” I tell him.
“And when they do, I’ll be over here stealing all the ripe ones before you can get your hands on them.” I roll my eyes.
“Hopefully you grow up before then and learn not to steal from a girl.”
“You’re the only exception.” I glare at him, but he just winks at me through his squinting eyes.
I bury a few seeds at the perfect depth, and Jack does the same before patting the soil around it and brushing the dirt from our hands.
“Perfect,” he announces.
“Perfect,” I say a bit more softly, eager to see this mark I made sprout into greatness.
The optimism and bliss I basked in immediately vanishes, like a crumbling tower of hopes and dreams, when my dad announces our move to Pennsylvania the next day.
No more ocean to turn the worst of days around. No more best friend next door. No more living in a world of absolute perfection through my eyes.
May 4th, 2011
A few days from now marks three years since moving from my hometown of Ventura to Hershey, Pennsylvania. It still sounds weird calling it my hometown. The only part of that word I agree with is that it’s my home, but the implication that it’s simply the place I grew up still makes my stomach turn.
Since moving here, I’ve had a complicated run with friends. Maybe it’s just high school, but part of me refuses to believe that I wouldn’t fit in better back in Ventura. On my first day of class, I had shown up in Billabong overalls and flip flops, while everyone else wore t-shirts and low rise jeans. It’s not that I thought the same style would be prevalent here, but I thought I could maintain my own appearance without being completely and utterly friendless.
Over the past three years, I’ve never met anyone like Jack. Even my closest friends haven’t been the sun in my life like he was, not that I noticed it until he was gone. Even my one boyfriend that I dated for about a year never understood me on the same level that he did. Needless to say, I ended it.
As I finally make my way into the house after the longest possible day at school, my phone starts buzzing, which is weird because I just saw all two of my friends ten minutes ago. Confusedly, I shuffle through my things before pulling it from my pocket and stop dead in my tracks when I read the contact name.
Oh, god. We hadn’t talked much in two years, except for a few texts to make sure neither of us had fallen off the face of the earth. The reason for that is my abominably stupid, inhumanly naive admission that seemed to spill from my lips in the middle of a conversation that had me laughing so hard I could hardly breathe: I’m in love with you. It was as if my subconscious had overtaken my motor skills for those five seconds. He never said it back. I told him we should take a break from talking. He agreed.
“Yeah, it’s me.” He seems out of breath, like he’s been running or swimming or surfing. And I can hear garbled waves crashing in the background.
“Anna, I love you. And I know it’s not fair and I’m sorry, but I thought you should know.” What the fuck?
“Where was this two years ago?”
“I was scared to tell you. I thought there was no way it could work with the distance-“
“But what’s changed?” I ask without letting my agony show. For the amount of time I loved him and kept it a secret, and was then shot down, I can’t open up the possibility of ever feeling that way again.
“I guess…” There was a pause that seemed to go on forever. “Nothing has.”
“It breaks me heart to think about you, Jack. I don’t think it ever won’t. There’s no way it can work right now.” I swear I can hear tears through the phone, not that it’s possible.
“Friends?” he breathe softly.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Friends.” But I know it’s not true, for a piece of each of our hearts will break off every time we hear the others’ voice, until there’s nothing left.
Next year holds promise, with a possible move back to California for college. I only hope that my home still feels like home.
May 4th, 2014
I couldn’t be more in love with UC Santa Barbara. I’m back in my element with more friends than I’ve had in every other year of my life combined. I’m a second year, still living in the dorms, which I can’t get teased enough for, but I don’t let it bother me because the campus has become my home.
I always thought that college academics would be a chore to escape from. In fact, when I applied, I held the perspective that academics were my excuse to move out of Pennsylvania, but everything changed when I was introduced to marine biology.
Living in a town on the sea means that everywhere I look, I see marine life, and every time I see marine life, my stomach fills with butterflies at the thought of a future revolving around it.
I’ve never fully gotten over Jack; even with all of my friends, I feel alone. I guess that’s the price for meeting your soulmate so early in life. No one else ever compares. My two true loves are Jack and the ocean; my only choice now is to dive head first into the latter, to become entranced with it.
I walk down Main Street on one of those days that perfectly fits my coined phrase, “the lure of Southern California,” and the ghost of Jack walking next to me shakes his head in exasperation. I smile solemnly at the memory, maybe in remembrance of an innocent childhood, or maybe at the thought of that childhood love.
“Anna!” My ears tease me with the sound of his voice, bringing a familiar scene nearly back to life.
Lifting my gaze from my feet, I realize my brain is nowhere near creative enough to imagine such a realistic picture. It’s not an imagination at all, but my best friend in the flesh standing ten feet in front of me, a smile pure and wide plastered from ear to ear. Hair still the color of Fijian sands. Eyes still graced with the sincerity of an angel.
“Jack,” I say softly. My mind stirs with the possible ways to handle this situation, the most appealing of which is to embrace him, forgive him, and admit everything I’ve been hoping for since that day in 2009. But if I won’t protect myself, then who will? So I stand back, and once again, I wait for him to come to me.
He’s holding a coffee in one hand, cell phone in the other. I raise my eyebrows at him and adjust my gaze to the arc of spilled coffee trailing down his San Onofre graphic tee, trying to break the ice in a way that brings us back to old times. Our innocent dynamic.
“I know,” Jack says, gesturing to his shirt. “Truly, I haven’t changed one bit.” He adds, “Since fourteen.” That brings a smile to my face.
“I don’t know that it’s a bad thing,” I admit, reminiscing on the way I had always admired him.
“Let me text Jules and tell her I’m gonna catch up with you for a while.” My heart stops in its tracks at the mention of another girl’s name, not necessarily at the idea of him with someone else, but at the thought of Jack showing her around his hometown. This, here, is where my friend Anna and I used to be on the sand by dawn every morning. Then they would take a detour to his old house and he’d show her the plum tree we had planted together, seeing the fruit before I would ever have a chance to. He would be popping that little bubble we had so blissfully spent childhood in, and I wasn’t ready to share that life.
“Friend’s girlfriend. He had a meeting for an hour, so I told him I could keep Jules busy,” he responds nonchalantly, burying his cell phone back into his pocket. I hate that I’ve been holding my breath since I asked the question, and I hate that I was only able to breathe again when he told me the truth.
“To Bank of Books?” I suggest, naming our favorite place to spend hours as kids, the bookstore nestled among Main Street.
“Absolutely. Still the same passion for words as before?”
“I guess I haven’t changed one bit either,” I respond, eliciting a small grin from him. I had always loved the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, and it had only become more prominent.
It was slightly awkward at first, the tension in the air stained with those words we had spoken to each other years ago and never resolved. Nonetheless, I was genuinely happy for him, and I could sense that Jack would say the same.
He was apparently studying architecture at Cal Poly, not too far from UCSB, and when I told him about my newfound love for marine biology, he shot me an incredulous look, saying that he couldn’t believe we didn’t think of that sooner; it was absolutely perfect for me.
With only a short distance between us and our lives beginning to come together, my mind had already created an entire life with him by the end of our time in Ventura.
Something tells me that neither of us are willing to walk away from this again.
He hugs me goodbye, his body now dwarfing mine in size, and whispers in my ear the sentence I’ve been waiting on for five years.
May 4th, 2017
My old Subaru rattles down Highway 101 as I pass Carpinteria, nearing Rincon and soon, Ventura. The music playing sets the perfect tone for the day, and I fall back to the bliss I remember all those years ago. I’ve settled on the starting job I’ve always dreamed of, assistant to a scientific diver. My life isn’t perfect by any means, but in a strange way, I enjoy the struggles I come across.
“Maybe it’s time to buy a new car,” Jack suggests from the passenger seat.
“Eh, maybe one day.” I’ve never been a fan of the car buying process, so unless the Subaru quite literally falls apart, that’s out of the question.
“So stubborn,” he snickers.
“Are you nervous?” I ask, teasing him back with the mention of the first day at his dream job next week. Jack had spent five years at Cal Poly, and while I had always thought books were his passion, he turned out to be even better at math and drawing, if that’s even possible. Jack Howler, Architect, he liked to say.
“Thanks for bringing that up. I am, in fact, pretty damn nervous.” I laughed at his sincerity, but moments later a silence fell among us as we turned onto a familiar street.
After parking and hopping out of the car, Jack traipsed across the grass to the tree where he plucked off a perfectly ripe plum.
The seeds we had planted nine years ago as two kids without a care had become a fruitful tree that would only continue to grow as we started our life together in this house, watching over it day by day.