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When It’s Time to Come Home

As we twisted our way around Mt. Tamalpais on the way to the beach in our Subaru, something felt different. A sense of melancholy washed over me as I looked in the back seat. My daughter, now five, looked out her window at the redwoods getting denser and then thinning as we wound our way to the coast.

After a year of firsts — of exploring as many places as we could within a few hours of the Bay — we were reexploring some possible lasts. Maybe not last lasts, but almost certainly lasts as residents of the Bay Area. When a lazy Sunday morning lingered into an afternoon, as it often did, we found ourselves surrounded by the beauty of the Northern California coast. Those days don’t happen on vacation, they happen at home.

But California never truly felt the part of home.

I’ve read a lot of stories about people who have left the Bay Area. They talk about legitimate gripes about the area that I could identify. High cost of living? Homelessness? Transit? Toxic tech culture? Inequality? I get it.

In the end, all of the challenges that California faces are ones that other areas of the country face (or will eventually face, to some degree).

I had (and still have) a great job, one that supported us. It didn’t allow for a lot of saving or doing but we also weren’t ever wanting.

I also never felt ostracized. Which, as a straight, white, married male in his mid-late 30s who worked in a tech-adjacent industry, I stayed mostly in people’s comfort zone here. If you’re new to an area, it can be helpful to blend in but it can also feel a bit invisible.

I also really loved the area we lived in. The area of Marin we were in was a perfect combination of walkable community, suburban comfort, and city accessibility.

The sun dances across my daughter’s face as we continue to drive toward the Sonoma coast. I wondered what Elida would remember about California. I hope she remembers the small co-op preschool that her mom was able to be a part of. I hope she remembers a few of our adventures. I hope she remembers just the amazing beauty that was all incredibly accessible.

For me, moving far away from family and friends put my priorities in sharp relief. I love being able to wander and explore — it’s what ultimately drove me to move, and if we’re being honest, what made me happy to go along with other moves. What I missed was coming back to a place I could truly call home.

California, while glorious and nearly perfect if you have the means to make it work, didn’t have the key things that my wife and I both identified as important parts of our own childhood.

It’s not just the backdrop to the scene that mattered but the people who were in it.

We’re lucky to have people in California we call friends now, but our core is in the Pacific Northwest. That’s home. Not for now, but maybe as forever as we can anticipate.

“When can we come back?”

When you have a five year old, that’s always the question for any place that’s fun. This time, I didn’t know when we’d visit our favorite beach again. So, I told her we’d have to see.

She sat quietly as we listened to music. Our feet were caked with sand and the car smelled like sunscreen and sea air. After a few minutes, she broke her silence.

“I like that beach,” she said.

“So do I, baby,” I replied back.

“Do they have beaches where we are going to live?” she asked.

“They’re not as close but they definitely do,” I told her.

“I bet I’ll like it, too,” she replied.

I looked in the rear view mirror and smiled at her. She smiled back.

I think she’ll remember the right parts about California. I think I will, too.