I moved away from family to go to school in Chico when I was twenty—a growing alcoholic seeking to distance myself from those who might notice or whose treatment of me caused me pain. As time went by, I became more and more estranged from my family. Lo and behold, I also drank more and more.
After our father died a few years later, Wendy followed me to Chico, and made her home here. I split soon after, which was a good thing, because in San Francisco, alone in a place I found hard and demanding, suffering from a poisonously broken heart, I quickly lost my shit and then had to get sober. I’m not sure I would have done that in a kinder, gentler place.
But god I’m grateful to be back. Chico is all the richer for sobriety, all the more precious, and I’m finding the joy in it I had twenty-five years ago before the alcoholism really bit into me.
I’ll be riding my bike in crisp fall weather, bundled in layers, a little rain on my face, and all of a sudden I get a little sniff of wood smoke, or a resinous whiff of redwood, and I’m twenty-two again, for a mile or more, eyeball deep in joy.
Or I’ll be driving to the farmer’s market, or even to work, and the summer blast furnace is in my face through the open window, and I smell the dust and the dry grasses in the channel, or the damp green of riparian shade, and I’m twenty-three riding my bike in Bidwell Park, and the joy starts at my feet and rises through my body until it’s all there is.
It happens all the time, these little jolts and memories and reminders. Winter’s smoky bite; springtime’s birdsong clarity; autumn’s frog and cricket duet. The air and the scents and the sounds. Cicadas. Mocking birds.
It’s a little painful, because I love it so much here and I’m a little afraid of losing it again. I want to stay for the rest of my life and never leave this beloved place again. How heart-stopping to have actually have put down roots.