"I know a place, where the grass is really greener..."
I don't know that California was on my radar as a child. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I spent many summers in Denmark with my beloved Bedstemor and Bedstefar. In the US, I had traveled to Washington, D.C., to Boston, to Buffalo, Myrtle Beach, even to Disneyland, Florida. But I had never laid eyes on The Golden State.
As a teen in the 80's, Van Halen's remake of The Beach Boys' classic, "California Girls" played in heavy rotation on MTV. But I didn't relate to any of those long-legged, bleach-blonde Barbies who strutted in front of the camera. Sure, I was kinda cute, but by age 13, my kidneys had begun to fail, my growth had stunted and my was face swollen with Prednisone. These California Girls had inched up and out in a way I never would, filling bikinis in ways that seemed to defy gravity. Besides, you rarely see a Canadian prancing around in a bikini unless it's a polar bear plunge. And only if on a dare.
I was not your obvious candidate for Miss California.
As my dream of becoming an actress unspooled like the movies I adored, I began to obsess on any and all details about California. Was it really always sunny there? Lemons grew on trees! And I knew, beyond a palm-tree's shadow-of-a-doubt that that was where dreams came true.
I was going to be a Big. Fat. Movie Star.
One day, opportunity knocked. My husband and I held green cards in our hands the way Charlie Bucket held Willy Wonka's last Golden Ticket. First, in reverent awe and then running with it and never fucking looking back. We headed for the hills on our own personal gold rush, ready to strike gold. Or more accurately—The Golden State.
California was everything I thought it would be. We had an apartment with a view of the Hollywood Hills. We ran into Jeff Bridges at Blockbuster. I was fetchingly flirtatious with Jim Carrey. I was hooked up with killer talent agencies. I screen tested with Ron Howard. It was all happening! It just wasn't happening fast enough.
When a dream is like a freshly plucked flower we clutch too hard, it begins wither and fade. Trying to "make things happen" became like forcing a square peg into a round hole—impossible. The more I couldn't make my big movie star career fit, the angrier I got. And then my rage spread uncontained—not unlike the state's wildfires—through an unstoppable chain of events: transplant rejection, addiction, kidney transplant, overdose, rehab, relapse and recovery.
But through it all I fell ever more deeply in love with California. I became Her girl.
After my kidney transplant went into rejection, the warm Santa Ana winds would wrap around me like a lover's masterful embrace. The fear of illness rose up inside of me the way the winds swirled and threatened the hills. Hot tears would roll down my face and Her sensual breath would whisper to me that everything was going to be OK.
From our cabin in the hills, I would sit outside and gaze toward middle earth as the sun melted into a Creamsicle sky—stunning shades of tangerine, apricot and orange—eye candy I would gobble up until it all faded to black.
The race and the pace of Los Angeles would exhaust me, but I could not get enough—the hypodermic needle on the sidewalk, the dogged volunteers at the animal shelter, the controlled chaos of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center would all remind me. All of it, somehow, a comfort. That we are all just doing our best—the junkies, the workers and the healers. Here in the City of Angels.
And the desert—its beauty is quietly assured, subtle hues buried in its sand. It does not need to show off. Its power is found in the stunning resilience of a flowering succulent emerging from a craggy rock in silent victory. Dead silent. Its silence is beyond quiet, beyond death, it is transcendent. Deafening in how much it has to say. There is no voice as loud as the nostalgic song of the desert. It sings with longing, pained that no one will ever hear its message.
I heard it. Answers can only be be found in the silence.
Yes, California has taught me much.
California stayed with me during my marital separation. She would guide me along the freeways towards 12-step meetings and outpatient therapy—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. She'd invigorate my newly sober soul with long, empty stretches of gray, like a cement tongue wagging at me to, yes, go a little bit faster. Or She'd slow me down on asphalt arteries clogged to a near-dead stop, and teach me that patience was a virtue I had not yet mastered. And no, Henriette, honking and waving the middle finger is not how the spiritually fit greet each other.
People come out to California for all kinds of reasons—for fame, fortune and fabulousness. I came here thinking, no, knowing what I was going to be. And here in California, I grew to love what I am.
I am a drug addict.
I am an alcoholic.
I am a two-time kidney transplant receipient.
I am a wife.
I am a writer.
I am love.
In California, I found love. Of myself. And I didn't need a marquee to see it.
I gratefully accept the role of Miss California.
I love Her. I love everything about Her. She is flawed. She is in
drought. She is in debt. She is too hot, too busy, too expensive. But, I am still caught up in the magic of California, Her
inexplicable charm. She is still showing me tricks that take my breath
Because look! Lemons grow on trees!