My seat is in between the aisle and a woman born the same year as my mother. She looks older and I wonder if my mom looks as old as this woman looks. She tells me she is en route to her eldest child’s wedding. I can tell she’s going to be chatty from the go-get and, initially, I try to be as standoffish as possible as to avoid what eventually happens anyway: an hour-and-a-half conversation about weddings and Greek salads in Westchester, New York. The woman is vibrant and saucy and still cares about her figure even though she’s nearly fifty. We talk about designers and dresses and her autistic son who is sitting to her right. I think he’s seventeen.
The last hour and a half of the flight goes by more quickly than if I had been left to my own entertaining devices, but I am left with a terrible crick in my neck and sore cheeks from smiling agreeably without end.
My mom picks me up outside of terminal four in her big black car that would be better suited for a chauffer and some business executive than my rolling luggage and her thirty-pound bag of dog food sitting in the trunk. The 405 is crawling even though it’s 10:30 in the morning. I wonder when I will ever just accept the fact that driving in this city will always suck, and it will continue to get progressively shittier as time goes by. I probably never will; that’s why I moved I suppose.
It takes an hour and a half to get home. My headache aggressively pinches nerves in my brain and I squint out the window at passing cars. I dream about an iced latte and four Advils and my mom talks about printing business cards. She’s happy I’m home. Moms are always happy when you’re home.
The freeway turns into an off ramp, which turns into my childhood neighborhood. I never realized how much I liked this area. It’s hard to decipher if my opinion is influenced by nostalgia or legitimate appreciation of the aesthetic. The houses are predominately 1950s ranch-style homes, sometimes left as they were intended and sometimes bastardized, wood siding covered with plaster and shingle roofs replaced by Spanish tiles – the old irrationally craving to be new. There are no sidewalks or streetlights. It’s zoned for horses and other farm animals, although nowadays people use the extra acreage to store their boats and install giant swimming pools.
Once home, I stand in the backyard surveying my mom’s accidental pumpkin patch overgrowing her tall tomato plants, the fruit still green as the vines themselves, firm, flesh and unripe. I lay down on her oversized patio sofa, surrendering to the sun, exhausted from all of the airplane conversation and the driving and the sleeping for two hours before I got on the plane to begin with.
My mom pulls me inside and tells me to take a nap in my old bedroom. It’s always dark in there, shaded by a fruiting orange tree and the tops of bushes outside the low windows. It used to be so much brighter; the walls were covered in a baby blue Ralph Lauren shade that the previous owner had done himself. In high school it was covered with pictures of my friends and I, smiling painfully big smiles and wearing Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirts to football games. My blue denim comforter matched the blue walls, which matched my predominately blue wardrobe chosen to compliment my blue eyes. My dedication to continuity at this point was unrivaled. When I moved back into that room after a year of college I saw that paint as the trappings of my youth and I demanded that it be neutralized with a banal and boring tan, a hasty and impulsive decision I now regret. The baby blue so well complemented the ripe oranges out the window. It was like sleeping in the sky. Now it’s just like sleeping in a bedroom.
After two hours of much needed rest, I roam about the house, marveling at the sheer amount of light and space this home provides. I roast potatoes and green beans to compensate for the fact that I haven’t cooked anything for the last six months, with the exception of microwaving diced tofu and canned garbanzo beans with some premade Indian sauce from Whole Foods. I play with my mom’s fat Labradors and wonder if I will ever love a dog like my childhood dog.
Once the sun goes down, I leave my mom and the valley in my silver car, letting the hot hair whip around my face as I drive down the 101, surprisingly devoid of traffic. I turn on the worst radio station I can find, which is better than the best radio station in New York and listen to some poppy bullshit. The sky turns pink and the houses on the hills begin to sparkle like a horde of stagnant fireflies. The freeway banks and I spill over the hill above Hollywood, the Knickerbocker Hotel and the Capitol Records building shrunken in scale and rendered petite and charming. And in that moment, with the balmy air and the shit music and pink sky, I forget how much I hated this place just six months ago and continue unconsciously singing the lyrics to some song by Drake.
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