I grew up in the middle of Florida, in almost every way. My mom and her family were southern country folk. My dad and his family spoke Spanish. I grew up eating black beans with sofrito and biscuits with gravy.
We all lived in Central Florida, equidistant from the beach and Disney World.
It was nice.
Until it wasn’t.
Just before I turned 30, I was done, ready to get out of this hot, humid, sticky place. I hated the relentless heat, that even Christmas was 80 degrees now. I was sick of driving the same streets, seeing the same billboards, the same exit signs.
I was also grieved by the remnants of national pain, part of my normal drives; the place where Trayvon Martin died. The 7–11 where he bought his Skittles; the same one where I bought a bottled water once. The Pulse building.
And there were landmarks of personal pain, too. Like how every time we went to our favorite burger place we’d also have to pass the field of fake flowers where my grandparents were buried.
So before I turned 30, my husband and I (and our almost-one-year-old dog, Stanley) moved to San Diego.
Everything was beautiful, but most of all, fresh. The only memories here were of the vacation we took once — the one where we fell in love with the place.
I loved it all: the purple flowers as tall as me, the desert dryness (no humidity! no hurricanes!), the beach even closer, Disneyland still nearby, and LA just a short beach-lined train trip away.
But shortly after I turned 33, I sat at the small dining room table of our San Diego apartment and booked movers to take our stuff back across the country.
A few months later they came; after they carried away the last box, I swept the floors. The very last thing I did before I turned in our keys was crawl on my hands and knees to peel off all the blue tape that held our rugs in place.
I’d cried a lot on those rugs, especially after we heard the tough family health news that had us moving back to Florida.
What would it be like to return, I wondered.
Would it be the same?
Would it be different?
Would we be different?
All of the above.
But what surprised me most was how happy I was to be going back.
While California was everything we dreamed it would be and more, what I didn’t expect was the persistent ache that came from not being 20 minutes away from someone who would jumpstart your car if you were ever in a jam. From not feeling the bend of a paper plate after scooping just one more side at a last-minute family bbq. From not seeing the loose glitter on the fridge from the Frozen-themed birthday party invitation from a friend’s kid. From not being able to remember the last time I spent a random Tuesday on my best friend’s carpet talking about Hallmark Christmas movies in July.
I missed being truly warm. I even missed the humidity. And the heavy, pounding rain.
I did love the elevation in San Diego — the way my calves burned when I walked Stanley, how the view at the top of every hill was always worth it.
But to see the sunset in San Diego, you always had to time it just right: get to a high place, or the ocean.
The sun set in Florida just as our plane touched down, pinks and oranges, reminding me of something I never would have truly appreciated had I never left: in Florida, you never had to make plans to see the sunset — it tended to sneak up on you, no matter where you were.