“When I was younger, and lived in Berkeley…” how is it that so many of my stories begin this way, these days? Maybe it’s because the fog is finally lifting… that post-baby-crazy-partum stage of teeny tiny diapers and toddlers and four-year-old tantrums, followed by losing the lost tooth of a panicked seven-year-old and then one day it just burns off and you’re sunning in Palm Springs, childless with girlfriends, and making reservations to jet to foreign cities because the babies are not babies anymore. When you look in the mirror of their faces, you catch a glimmer of your younger you. You smell the wet leaves of Oakland in unwashed pre-teen hair, you hear three bars of a long forgotten song revived now, and all mashed up into something different, but still the melody remains. You can tap it out on your thigh while driving with surfboards attached to the top of the car because, finally, you can dive into the kelp, close your eyes to the salt surf, and know, without a doubt that no one will drown.
When I was younger, and lived in Berkeley I spent my summers half-nude at Strawberry Canyon. It wasn’t radical. It was Berkeley. Everyone was half-nude and on days when then sun shone through the fog hard enough to force it to lift, we all walked up the curvaceous streets of Centennial Drive and spread out on sheets and patchwork quilts on top fields of clover-flowers. Our textbooks heavy, with wet matted pages from the splash of someone’s pony-tail still dripping from the pool, were forgotten as we stretched and stared into the green canopy of Monterey Pine and acacia. It was here, next to the public pool, at the very end of summer, when I was younger, and still lived in Berkeley, that I read my first novel. First—let me clarify—novel written by someone I not only knew, but by someone I knew more than “in passing.” First novel written by a friend. I was still young enough to have firsts, to have endless end-of summer days that stretch half-nude beside public pools and carefully collated paper manuscripts, double-spaced and secured with brass-colored brads.
The memory winnows.
I, more than most, understand this.
But when I was younger and lived in Berkeley I had no idea how quickly the fog could set in. On Tuesday your tied up in bikini strings and then Thursday’s fog wisps in from across the bay and the air loses its clover green and instead smells like the early flue of Autumn’s fire. The memory winnows, the mind rearranges, but somehow my younger Berkeley self remains.
I remember, it was space heater cold in Berkeley, when I wrote a handwritten letter to my first novel friend. I sat at my desk in an all-girls cooperative, and I struggled to find the words to say how huge I thought “this” all was. Page after careful page of words strung together by my first friend who knew how, and I had no idea how to say, how to mark the enormity of it. So I wrote something grand in my imagination and on my page, in the letter that I carefully tucked into the bulk of the manuscript’s pages I wrote, “You did it! You actually wrote a real novel!” I hopefully didn’t use two consecutive exclamation marks, but I was younger so chances are I most likely did. Because I needed there to be unbridled exclamation! Just as I needed an envelope and not, say, a chlorine-stained margin to hold the words.
This same friend recently sent me the first chapter of the next novel. Or maybe it’s the first chapter of the same novel. (Who knows why, but with novels it works like that sometimes.) What I do know, was while I read it, from the lime backyard chaise aside my saline filtered swimming pool, with only palms to look up at, and a lap topped dot-doc attachment, I remembered Strawberry Canyon and the brads that held those delicate first novel manuscript pages together. Because once upon a time we were all younger and living in Berkeley, and the fog, even from the ocean adjacent streets of Southern California is lifting.