When Bryan and I moved to San Diego, California, this summer, the transition was strangely easy for me. I’d lived in Phoenix, Arizona, for 30 years, my whole life. I was ready for change, ready to escape my roots and experience something new. That desire coupled with the promises of urban, downtown living, beaches mere minutes away, a smorgasbord of incredible food, craft beer culture, June Gloom (which I love), and the beauty of Balboa Park equaled unbridled excitement for me—a new adventure. I was happy to leave my desert hometown in the dust. When we pulled our U-Haul truck out onto the I-10, I didn’t look back.
I’ve traveled back to Phoenix a few times since our initial move—for weddings, baby showers, quick trips to see family and friends—and I’ve always driven or flown back to California alight with the feeling that I’m returning home. And why shouldn’t I? I’m a California girl now. And San Diego is an exceptionally easy city to fall in love with and to call home.
But this last trip, this one was different.
Bryan had to travel back to Phoenix for work this past weekend/week, and I asked him to extend his trip so I could tag along, burn up existing vacation time, and we could visit with friends and family for the holidays. I was excited for five days of fun!
The first night, we met up with a small group of friends for authentic, beautiful Moroccan food at Couscous Express. This little establishment, on McDowell near the 51 entrance/exit ramps, is the most unassuming gem of a restaurant. The owner is friendly and welcoming, and all he wants to do is to feed you; it’s the most honest hospitality I’ve ever experienced. Together with friends, we ate lentil soup, garbanzo beans, tagine, and date shakes while French jazz music played in the background. And there wasn’t a quiet moment as we caught up, discussed the latent poignancy of Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series Master of None, talked through the algorithms of Pandora radio, geeked out, and shared the love. At the end of the meal, the owner of Couscous gave me a headdress traditionally worn by belly dancers and everyone at the table received argon oil soap. It was the perfect, eccentric end to a perfect, eccentric meal.
The next morning, we went to church at City Square, which never feels like a religious gathering and instead feels like a family gathering. Immediately, we were pulled into hugs and asked how our lives are in California. Later, as our guest pastor drew a connection between joy and pain, the beauty and volatility of nature, and the happiness and sadness of the season, I teared up—both because her message was true and beautiful and because, surrounded by so many wonderful people, I was feeling that joy she was speaking of.
After church, we played Betrayal at the House on the Hill with the Kemp-Schlemmers, the family we were staying with. We dramatically read horrifying cards and joked about creepy kids and enjoyed chile-infused beer—ever mindful there was a traitor among us! (Play the game; it’s awesome.)
That night, we had an early Christmas dinner with my mom. She completely spoiled us with incredible food (including homemade crème brulee, which is my favorite dessert ever!) and truly thoughtful presents. It’s very apparent your boyfriend has become a part of the family when your mom buys you both socks, heat-building undershirts (for outdoor archery, of course), and Amazon gift cards to quell our ordering addictions. My mom got a little emotional when she opened the scarf I’d knit for her, and we helped her put her new wine lovers case on her phone. We took lots of pictures, and of course, like moms do, she sent leftovers home with us.
On Monday, I had to work from home. I dropped Bryan off at work, swung by one of my old coffee haunts, Lola, and ran into a good friend I haven’t seen in many, many months. Over mugs of coffee, we talked about writing, relationships, and impending adventures before I had to head back to the house and log on to my laptop.
Mid-morning, there was a knock on the door and an invitation to go downstairs and do mommy and me yoga with Summer and Josie. And I can’t even begin to describe how fantastic an experience it is to down dog with a two-year-old who smiles and giggles and always wants to hand you your water bottle (gotta stay hydrated, after all!).
That night, we invited basically all of our Phoenix-based friends out for a group dinner. Despite some crazy restaurant mix-ups, our friends showed up in droves. What we thought would be a group of 10-15 people quickly turned into a group of 20-25. We virtually took over NYPD Pizza. And it was overwhelming to see everyone come out to see us. I uploaded a collage of pictures to social media with the simplest hashtag: #joy—because that tiny word captures everything going on in that room.
On Tuesday, I surprised my ex-coworkers at Nationwide with an unannounced visit. And you should’ve seen the looks on their faces! Again, the hugs. Again, the inquiries about California. A few hopeful questions about whether I was back for good. “Just for vacation,” I said.
After the visit, I met up with my friend Rachel, who is basically my chosen older sister. We lunched the way we used to, discussing the Phoenix dance community, our goals and successes, and the goings on our favorite TV shows.
When Bryan got off work that night, we went to Cherryblossom Noodle Café, our go-to for Japanese food in Phoenix. We drank sake and green tea, and I had some killer Pad Thai.
We got home to find Brian watching The Voice on Hulu, so we sat down to watch and talk music and unwind for the night.
Yesterday afternoon, we arrived home in San Diego after a grueling and tiring car ride. We unpacked the car and went upstairs to find a very naughty dog on the furniture—and yes, she knows she’s not allowed there (bad, Biscuit!). We straightened up, fed the dogs, took them on a walk, and then Bryan went to Aikido as I settled in for a relaxing night at home.
I reheated my leftover Pad Thai, turned on Mad Men, cracked open a beer—and felt terribly, terribly alone. That’s when I realized that for the first time ever, I was homesick.
But not for Phoenix. Not the city itself or the desert or anything tied to a specific geographical place. I was homesick for the people who live in Phoenix. The people who are the very definition of community. The people who show up in overwhelming numbers when we say we’re going to be in town. The people who accept us as family, even when we’re gone for a long time. The people who open their homes and their hearts to us. The people that make Phoenix my home.
If you’re one of those people in Phoenix and I saw you this trip, know that you gave me the very best Christmas present this past weekend—you. I love you and I miss you. Always.