I was home in Los Angeles for the first time in a year last summer, lying on the beach in Santa Monica with my friend Kelsey. She lives in San Francisco now, while I live in Paris. I had had a fairly difficult year; aside from the usual post-graduate ennuis, my body wasn’t adjusting very well to the rain, snow, and general gray of my new city and I had spent more time sick than healthy.
It was a typical August day in LA: blazing heat, even next to the ocean, where its always 10 degrees cooler. We lay there for awhile, expertly turning ourselves in an effort to reclaim our tans. Eventually she and I turned to each other, saying what had to be said — what our too-pale skin under the southern California sun was screaming — the shared recurring thought as we partook in this activity that was now heartbreakingly rare but still came as second-nature:
Why did we ever leave?
Kelsey and I, we’re children of southern California, from Santa Monica and Silver Lake, respectively. Now we take public transportation and own winter coats, but there’s something primal in us that responds to blinding sun and warm nights. Transplants to LA talk about missing the seasons, we miss sunny Christmases and considering 80 degrees spring weather.
Some protective layer melts off of us in our sweat and we get something back. Something related to being teenagers with pierced bellybuttons, meeting friends at lifeguard stand 26, sneaking into fancy hotel pools, always tan, wearing bikini tops instead of bras. Its all still there somewhere – the nights we wore matching halter tops, the endless days spent inside knowing we could still go swimming that night.
What unbearable beauty and unrestrained gluttony there is in knowing you have a thousand sunny days in front of you.
Courtney, I could never write these sun-drenched memories without writing about Courtney — she left for the even more scorching heat of Riverside. She returned more quickly than Kelsey and I to LA, still with her belly button pierced, and escapes often for Vegas, Hawaii. She is impossibly tanned all year round; we envy her.
I had fewer colds this year in Paris and am starting to think of it as home. I know how to dress in layers and will go out in a blazer if I know the high is 65. But I also rush out along with the rest of the city to the parks or the Canal St Martin when there’s a rare few days of sun. I do it but I hate it — how cruel, how demoralizing, to regard sunshine as something fleeting to be savored, like the white peaches I gorge myself on every summer.
It’s why, despite the socialized health care and education, the wine and cheeses, the life I have made for myself here, I know I can’t stay forever. The sun, and avocados, and Mexican food, my little 1988 beige Volvo, my friends, my family — these are not things I can take in small, intense doses to be stored inside until the next opportunity comes along. Prolonged exposure, my self-prescribed cure to nostalgia.
Paris will forever be a part of me and perhaps during some future sweltering summer I will close my eyes and savor the memory of waking up to my first snowstorm or realizing that trees really do change colors. But more likely I will think of the sun — walking out of my dim apartment and shading my eyes to that nearly forgotten stranger, warm and comforting and almost too intense to bear.