For most of my childhood I was confused about direction. I just didn’t see where North was, no matter how hard I looked. I was constantly turned around, never knew which direction to go to find the car in a parking lot and was utterly flabbergasted when my brother would, without hesitation, point North when prompted. It didn’t concern me much, what eight-year-old really needs to know where North is? On a walk to the beach, I found myself standing at the edge of the jagged cliffs overlooking the sea, my face turned towards the setting sun and suddenly everything spun into place. To my right lay the drama and high society of La Jolla and to my left the drinking and mayhem of the beach scene and boardwalk. Behind me the entire country buzzed and hummed, steadily growing darker as we moved away from the sun. The compass slammed down on top of this picture, an arrow pointing towards money and for the first time I knew where I was in a way I never had before.
Living my whole life on the cusp of the Pacific, your compass cannot help but point West. For me, orientation isn’t North; rather it’s the cool salty waters of the powerful Pacific. I always know where I am now as long as you can point me in the direction of the ocean. This was a problem for me during my time at school in England. It was hard enough that the country was surrounded by ocean (and yes, they all are, but England is small) but the River Thames had the audacity of snaking through London, throwing me off every time I popped up from the Underground and tried to figure out which way to go. It didn’t matter how many times I’d close my eyes and picture myself on the cliff, I wasn’t going to get it.
But the West keeps pulling me in with the insistence of “home.” We talk of moving away from this town, but I am so in love with the dizzying rush of salty spray against my skin, the sun on my face, the moon rising at my back. I can’t imagine a world where the sun comes up over water. Even when we talk of where we would live other than here, it’s in a state kissing the Pacific.
My daughter has reminded me of why I live here. Why I love the ocean even though I have neglected it over the years. With her toes on the edge of the waves and her screams of delight as her feet sink into sand I am reminded of the greatest love affair I have ever known. I caress the word, turning it over in my mouth, letting it spill ever so softly off my lips and as I whisper “home” my heart is full.