Saturday, September 17, 2005

Going to California (or I could have been Dr. Phil)

I've never been to California. I've been as far west as Las Vegas, the Seattle airport, Hawaii, and Alaska. I don't think flying over CA counts.

Spent my days with a woman unkind,
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start,
Going to California with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me there's a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.

When I was in college my aim was to become a famous psychologist. I was one of the top students in the psychology department, and I was rewarded for that. I got the work-study position as Assistant to the Department which meant I got paid $4/hr (more than minimum wage back then) for grading papers, making copies, or whatever other tasks the professors needed. I loved it. I was getting paid to be the teachers' pet. They had very high expectations of me and I rarely disappointed, except for the one time I went to class stoned and started laughing uncontrollably and was asked to leave.

Then in the summer of 1989 between my junior and senior years when I should have been preparing for the GRE I met and fell in love with David. That's all it took for me to give up my plans (Made up my mind) to run off (make a new start) to grad school in California. I had even pretty much decided on UC Santa Cruz because that psychology department seemed like a good fit for my interests. And I also had a 'vision' or premonition, if you will, that going there would have put me on the path to achieving my goal of becoming a famous psychologist, kind of like Dr. Phil. That sounds so hokey. But there was a deep stirring in my soul (an aching in my heart) that seemed to be calling me there.

Took my chances on a big jet plane,
Never let them tell you that they're all the same.
Oh, the sea was red and the sky was grey,
Wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today.
The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake
The children of the sun began to awake. Watch out

I guess you could say I took my chances on David, and you might could call him a big jet plane. One of my professors was so absolutely livid (the sea was red and the sky was grey) with disappointment in my decision to stay in Tennessee with 'some dumb carpenter' that she could barely speak to me my entire senior year. She told me I was making a huge mistake just like she did when she was my age and married 'some dumb carpenter' and ended up getting stuck at home with a bunch of kids and being abused. She said I was wasting my potential for some good sex. (I swear to God she did say that.) I assured her I would NOT end up being abused (never let them tell you that they're all the same).

Then on that fateful day, October 17, 1989, the earthquake struck the San Franscico area (the mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake). I was getting ready to watch the World Series when I heard about it. I took that as a sign from God that I was making the right decision by staying in Tennessee with David. The children of the sun began to wake. I'm not sure what this is an allusion to exactly (Billy Thorpe's song Children of the Sun was released in 1979 and for an interesting but long article about the Incas click here), but to me it means my beautiful, bright, shining children became a possibility. But yeah, watch out. When the gods want to punish you they answer your prayers. (That's a quote from Out of Africa.)

Seems that the wrath of the gods-
Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow;
I think I might be sinking.
Throw me a line if I reach it in time
I'll meet you up there where the path
Runs straight and high.

Because of the changes in my plans my school work became less relevant to me. I'd be lying if I said I didn't slack off a lot that last year. I did what I needed to do, but no more. No more extra effort. No more star pupil. By the end of the year when our comps came along I wasn't well prepared. On top of all the school disappointments the decade of the 1990s started off bad when my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver in January. The psychology department required not only written comps but also oral comps. I had always thought that the oral comps would be easy because I had always been able to talk to the professors outside of class. I thought I had an advantage. And I thought I knew my subject. But during the oral comps the professors ganged up on me (the wrath of the gods) and asked me all the things they knew were my weak areas. I was mortified (got a punch on the nose and it started to flow) when they showed no mercy, not even when I finally broke down into tears (I think I might be sinking; throw me a line ). Yes, I really did break down in the middle of my oral comps. It was, until I lost my mother, the worst day of my entire life.

But I overcame it and was glad to graduate and get on with my life. I still fostered fantasies of running off to California with David, but his life was here so they had to stay fantasies. For many years I subscribed to Sunset magazine because it gave me a vague feeling of keeping connected to that California dream (I'll meet you up there where the path runs straight and high). Then the children of the sun were born and my roots dug a little deeper here. Sometimes I've wondered how my life might have been if I had gone to California all those years ago. Sometimes I tell myself that I might not have survived being there for one reason or another. Maybe that's just 'reverse psychology.' And then Dr. Phil got famous and it reminded me of how I'd wanted to be like that. Now I'm glad I'm not, but I don't doubt that in another lifetime I might have been Dr. Phil.

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings... la la la
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
Tryin' to find a woman who's never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.

So here I am today still reminiscing about going to California with an aching in my heart. I don't know if I'll ever get to California, and part of me is afraid that if I ever do it will be with an aching in my heart (to find a queen without a king; they say she plays guitar and cries and sings... la la la). I've lived long enough and been through enough to know that sometimes our dreams can mislead us into putting time and energy into fruitless journeys (ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn tryin' to find a woman who's never, never, never been born). Or at least we figure out that whichever road we take, the less traveled or not, usually ends up at the same destination anyway.

So now I'm here looking backward and forward and all around, surveying my surroundings (standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams). It's beautiful, but somehow daunting, and I'm telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.


DHammett said...

Good thing you didn't go to Santa Barbara. Did you know their mascot is the banana slugs? No kidding!

I hated Sunset magazine. They were so thick. I used to be a mailman and had to carry them in my satchel when delivering to the houses in the nicer part of town. It's a wonder I can walk at all.

As a former Californian, let me tell you that it's much nicer to visit than to live there. Way too crowded and expensive. And I could go on.

Seroiusly, though...if you take a look at one of your children and try to imagine life without him/her, can you do it? Would California have been worth that? Sometimes I think of all the things I'd like to have done and didn't get to because my wife and I had a baby almost on our first anniversary. Then I think of what my life would have been like without our firstborn. Reality check. Wouldn't trade it for the world.

You can keep telling yourself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems. And maybe you're right, maybe not. But I think it's the hard times that make one appreciate the good things one has all the more.

verification: joke, sexy.

Rae Ann said...

dh, I hope I didn't sound like I was bemoaning the choices I've made. I think I made the right choices, and no, I can't imagine my life without any of my kids or without all the experiences I've had on the road I have taken.

It's really strange for me to think about mailmen actually walking their routes because everywhere I've ever lived they have had mail cars or trucks.

Sexy? You get all the good words!

mine is joayc (joy see?)

Average White Guy said...

I love the song and the post. Plans are just something God can laugh at--but a Queen and King finding each other is far more important than getting to a place. Thank you for sharing.

Rae Ann said...

awg, you totally 'got' it. Thanks!