Growing up in a New England water town marked by the four seasons, our love story was improbable, but not impossible. My heart is synchronized to clock hands and its insistence to pass seconds through my bloodstream. I am anchored to the passage of time, while your moments are the spaces in between numbers, a permanent midnight or drowsy Sunday morning. But there was a time when I was enamored by your optimism and consistency, your near-perfect heat index and blue skies for decades.
I remember landing at your airport, palm trees gently waving overhead as my skirt’s hemline fluttered like eyelashes from cars idling in the pick-up lane as lovers and families reunited, and dreamers inhaled the heady scent of gardenias, an exotic flower that means “you are lovely.” For the first time in my life, with the exception of visits to tropical destinations, I shed the layers that kept me warm fall to spring, and let you hold me at a constant temperature of comfortability.
People love to compare you to your East Coast frenemy, wanting to know what’s better about you (besides the weather) and how you compete with 24-hour dining, reliable public transportation, 4 a.m. last call and “the energy.” For years, I’d say that it was nonsensical to crown one Miss America, as they are, literally, apples and oranges. You are a unique paradox of laid-back and rhinestone-studded, flip-flop and stiletto strutting, dream catcher and releaser drenched in #nofilter pastels. Every night, a free thing to do is watch your dramatic light show as the sun takes its curtain call behind the Griffith Observatory, Walt Disney Building, or Santa Monica Pier. It is a dazzling sight to behold, no matter what direction my compass is facing at golden hour.
Upon arrival, I desperately wanted to live in a pink bungalow on the west side and ride my bike down Montana Avenue, or wave “hello” to my neighbors while running with my rescue dog in Temescal Canyon. While you are far more affordable than New York City, inhaling salt air was still just out of reach, so I settled for a large art deco studio blocks away from the petrified bones of dire wolves, hawks and rabbits trapped in the Ice Age at the La Brea tar pits and the Miracle Mile LA Fitness. Even if your surf was unattainable, you made ellipticals accessible wherever I was, no matter the time of day or traffic conditions on the 10.
After a decade living in a city that punished me for wearing unforgiving heels from one end of its island to the other, I loved you for going so easy on me. Pre-Netflix, I marveled at my convenient life while pulling up my red Miata convertible to Hollywood Video’s free-standing drop off box to return DVDs. Those were the early days when I still loved driving through your canyons before rush hour became most hours. Mornings turned softly like journal pages into early afternoons as I labored over which of the dizzying number of cafes to open up my laptop for business hours.
New York has its shopping on Soho and 5th Avenue; your malls are amusement parks without the lines, colored fountains dancing to Lionel Richie’s “Penny Lover,” car washes and detailing while admiring infinity scarves and fancy jeans in Neiman Marcus’s skinny mirrors. Even when a red-stamped final notice arrived in my mailbox, I could pretend to be unencumbered, sitting in a cool movie theatre on a Monday afternoon or meeting a friend for brunch that spilled into the evening and no one seemed to notice or care.
Once defined by what I did, I thought, maybe with you, I’d be known for who I was. People introduce themselves by their dreams: actors, models, writers, influencers, energy healers, fitness gurus, mixologists, life coaches, pet psychics, bloggers who also wait on tables and dog walk and babysit. I could wake up and decide today I’m going to be someone or no one or anyone. Winning at life is defined by the leisure and the luxury of not knowing what day it is, to let time bend and separate as if it were sunlight through a prism, something to expect but not have great expectations for, oftentimes missing low opacity rainbows. We aspire to be something that allows us to have more and do less and remain the same. We are encouraged to stay in character.
And that’s why, nine years later, on a hike to the Hollywood Sign just north of my last apartment in Beachwood Canyon, I got off trail while staring down at Forest Lawn Cemetery and wondered, How does time vanish in you like no other place in the world? Is it your insistence to never grow old? That in order to frolic in The Grove’s fountain of youth, we must elevate not knowing time as a social status rather than acknowledge all the wisdom it possesses? Our memories are Photoshopped into a smooth, pleasant canvas: no lines, no bumps, mermaid hair perfectly don’t-cared even though we haven’t seen your ocean since that one time last summer and it’s now December. I felt inorganic, my clock heart stuck on 8 o’clock, and began looking for cracks in the pavement and rescuing misshapen fruit from the produce section. I was in search of time that traveled, to realign my heart with its hour and minute arms that propelled me forward.
Even if we don’t admit to it or feel it in a day, a month, a year, time rushes along with such velocity, to turn back is like trying to make a late-afternoon U-turn on the Pacific Coast Highway. Things may feel the same, look more or less the same, and that is okay for those who never want to vacate this very moment, not as a memory but as a reality. Like good yogis, we breathe out the past and stay in the present. But with every exhale, I was learning that I was not like you. I was changing, and needed things around me to be on board with changing too. Even if those things fell into a state of disrepair, I could gracefully accept them like laugh lines or slowing metabolisms. I embraced the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, highlighting those imperfections in gold and celebrating time along with its synonyms milestone and graduation.
I did not leave you to return to where I came from, as that would be counterintuitive to my quest for impermanence. I moved a few hours south of you, closer to the Pacific Ocean, where I once thought we’d have so many long walks on the beach together. In this new city, time isn’t as obvious as other parts of the country but seasons are defined by the way the tide rolls in and sweeps up the sandy shore. Clocks have more shape and weight. They matter more as does the space to grow older without running interference. Allowing time to move and move through us. To be guided by morning alarms and strokes of midnights.
As I readied myself for us to exchange our last goodbyes, I remembered that while time is a continuum, so are you. You will still be there for me when I need minutes to fall away and have no obligation to linear movement. When I need to hold on for a second.
Marnie Goodfriend is a 2016 PEN America fellow and Creative Nonfiction Editor at Angels Flight • literary west and The Nervous Breakdown. She is the author of two forthcoming memoirs: Birth Marks, a coming-of-age story about a black market baby illegally sold by an infamous baby broker to a deeply flawed family, and Chewing Gravel, about the double rape of two women by a serial rapist dubbed The Top Gun Rapist. Her work has been published in TIME, Washington Post, The Rumpus and elsewhere. She may or may not have moved back to Los Angeles.