Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Memories of Long Beach

A few of the most important moments in my life took place in Long Beach, California, home to this year’s Bouchercon.

When I first moved to Long Beach in 1989 to attend college, I was still exploring who and what I wanted to become. I was both excited and a little bit afraid. The whole world lay before me, but was I ready for it? 

Well, it was ready for me.

My visit to Long Beach will be haunted by ghostly memories of my college life — the day I had to flee a restaurant on Second Street when police told the owners to close up shop because the rioters were only a few blocks away burning buildings; afternoons spent in the CSU Long Beach school cafeteria listening to local band Sublime play a set; moments spent meeting two of the most important people in my life …

Twenty-three years ago, I met my husband in Long Beach.

Me and my European friends — chic Spanish and Greek women — headed to a local coffee shop, Midnight Espresso, to attend a poetry reading.

The café was packed and the crowd overflowed onto the sidewalk. We parked ourselves on a bus stop bench and sipped our lattes. A guy we knew, Dumas, came over to say hello. He was carrying a Baudelaire book and was with a guy I barely noticed. Boys who wore baseball hats were not my type.

But then this boy began to entertain us, standing in the middle of the street like it was a stage and reciting poetry, acting out the words, twisting his body and twirling. Who was this guy?

My girlfriends said they were going across the street to check out the cute waiter at the other café, The French Riviera. Was I coming?

At this point, the baseball cap boy was sitting on the bench beside me, speaking poetry into my ear. 

I stayed behind, not even aware that my friends had left.

Twenty-four years ago, I met my best friend in Long Beach.

I went to a college party with a German exchange student and was introduced to Manisha. She was exotic and glamorous with with her proper British accent and her giant, kohl-rimmed black eyes and gobs of luxurious black hair.

Although on the surface we were nothing alike — she had been raised in a traditional East Indian family in Zimbabwe where she had a crocodile for a pet — we both instantly recognized one another as kindred spirits and have been best friends ever since.

Twenty-five years ago, I debated whether to change my major at Cal State Long Beach from business to creative writing. I had dreamed of being a writer my whole life. I tossed and turned with the decision and ultimately was afraid that the degree would be meaningless. As a compromise, I decided to study journalism. I became an editor at The Union student-run newspaper and fell in love with journalism, discarding my dreams of being a fiction writer.

It took a long time for me to become brave enough to try my hand at fiction. In reality, it took letting go of my fear of failure — something that could have only come with age and maturity.

So, now, when I go to Bouchercon, I will take a day to walk the same streets that a young, idealistic college girl did so many years ago. I will remember the moments and places where I met my husband and best friend. I will recall the excitement of being in my 20s with the whole world before me. 

A quarter of a century later, I will return to Long Beach, this time as a published fiction writer. I will embrace the girl I once was — with all her fears and hopes for the future — with the woman I have become.


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