Three Thanskgivings ago, I was in California. It was the first holiday after my mother passed away. My family was all back east, and although I had some good friends living nearby, I decided to take the long weekend and treat myself to a road trip. I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. It was a journey full of wonder, with the never-ending beauty of the Pacific on my left. I stopped in the town of Solvang, a unique and lovely place where Sideways, one of my favorite movies, was filmed.
When I reached San Luis Obispo, I went for a long walk. And when I returned to my hotel, I wrote a story. Recently I found the story again, and I was amazed at the loneliness and longing that infused every syllable. Did I really feel like that as I walked those streets, or was it just my writerly imagination?
Either way, I’ve decided to share the story here, as well as on social media. The photos in this post are from that trip, up the coast and back again: 1: Ocean; 2 and 3: Solvang; 4, 5 and 6: San Luis Obispo; 7: More ocean; 8 and 9: Ojai. (Unfortunately the camera I was using was not great in low light, so the pics are a little blurry, but I hope you still get something out of them. The gallery is at the end of the post.)
And in case it needs to be said: if you’re feeling lonely this holiday season, you’re not the only one. Sending virtual hugs your way. ❤️ Here’s the story, written November 24, 2018, entitled “Solitary Soul.”
Lucy left her hotel to take a walk right before sunset. After a long day in the car, she needed to stretch her legs. And after recently having had her heart broken — again — she needed to see something beautiful, to be reminded that magic and possibility hovered somewhere in the coming night.
It was Thanksgiving eve, so the streets were empty. That was a blessing: Lucy was in no mood to be around people. She was so tired she wasn’t sure she could have even mustered a smile. Still, as she walked, she felt a void at her side, one which should have been filled by the man she loved. The man who had recently made it abundantly clear that her love was not enough for him. She had been driving for days, trying to outrun that void. And now, here she was.
It irritated her that in spite of everything, she wanted to call him and share this moment: the quiet streets, the waning day. “I wish I could tell you what the air here is like,” she wanted to say. “It’s mystical and melancholy. Every breath is like the first day of summer. You would be happy here. We would be happy here.”
But, no. There was no “we,” and there never would be.
Loneliness threatened to overwhelm her. The void, she realized, was not at her side. It was inside her. She felt it there, felt it widen and swell, until she could no longer feel the ground under her feet. She walked, but she didn’t walk. She floated. Alone, far from home, and the universe was a vast, cold place with no sign of life around her. Where was love? Where was warmth and companionship?
Voices came trickling into her consciousness, seemingly from a long way away. Lucy wiped tears from her cheeks and tuned in her ears to listen. People, walking somewhere behind her. Laughing. Talking. She was in no condition to see people, or to be seen by them. She turned right, and, on impulse, headed down an alley.
Lucy was almost excruciatingly aware that solitary women should not walk down alleys. It was not something that she would ordinarily do. But the mountains in the distance were captivating. When she had arrived barely an hour before, the sky had been clear, and the mountains had appeared deceptively close. Now, a drop in temperature had wrapped the tops in woolly clouds, and the texture of the foliage was coarse but lush. It painted an intriguing picture which pulled her forward almost as strongly as the voices behind her pushed her in the same direction.
Besides, the alley was wide and well lit, and behind her the voices were getting louder as the people grew closer. The holiday cheer in their voices almost seemed to mock her solitary state. So she took the escape offered by the alley, and was grateful.
And suddenly, she was very glad she had. To her right, the alley opened into a small paved lot. And at the end of that lot, Lucy could see the town, laid out like it had been unfurled for her by a magic hand. She was drawn toward the scene, and stood at the edge, looking past the palm trees.
Little town, big world.
Lucy took a breath. Yes, she was alone, but she was still here. She was still alive, and still moving forward. It wasn’t quite enough, but it was something.
She was so absorbed in the scene, and in her thoughts, that she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her.
“Oh,” said a voice.
Lucy jumped, turned swiftly. There stood a man about her age, and two younger women.
“Hi,” the man said. He was tall, with curly hair and an engaging smile. “Hope I didn’t scare you. I wanted to show—” he gestured toward the girls ”—this place. My sisters,” he added hastily, causing Lucy’s eyebrows to raise.
“It’s all right,” she said.
The four of them watched the town as the sun descended.
“We’re going to a party,” the man said. “Nothing big, just a few friends. Want to come?”
“Sure,” Lucy said.
And she smiled.