It’s midnight on a Thursday, and I’m standing in my backyard, by the light of the moon and two lighted garden stakes. The moon is only half-full, and the little LED bulbs of the garden stakes are woefully outmatched by the hulking mass of darkness around them. They know this, and mostly keep their light to themselves, lest they offend the night.
I’m wearing pajamas and house slippers, but I didn’t throw on my robe, so I’ve got my arms folded and I’m trying to stand very still to avoid brushing up against the cool night air. My two black chows are skulking around the yard, sniffing at gopher holes, nibbling on grass, and hopefully taking their last bathroom break. We just moved in a week ago, and I don’t feel comfortable leaving them in the yard alone. They certainly can’t clear the chain link fence, but it backs to the street, and I’m not yet familiar with what kind of foot traffic we get back there. I’m also just generally over-protective and paranoid.
It is surprisingly quiet. The wind is calm, the neighbors all seem to be sleeping, and cars pass the end of the block only every few minutes. The chows are stealthy, too, lightly padding around on their little paws in the soft grass. There is a slight intermittent buzzing. The chows are quiet and content, and it really isn’t very cold, so I carefully step across the lawn, away from the house.
It’s late winter, but we’re having a warm spell, so it feels like a perfect spring or summer night. Up here on the mesa, the ocean breeze sweeps up the hillside and carries cool, moist air through the shrubs and trees in the canyons. Sometimes you can pick up the salty smell of the beach all the way over on Genessee Avenue. There is a specific potpourri created by the ocean breeze passing through eucalyptus leaves and sage brush, and to me that scent is pure distilled San Diego night.
After I’ve made my way to the back fence, I can see the Vegas-like flash of the marquee on the high school. There’s that buzzing. The megawatt bulbs on the sign have no fear of the power of the night; they boldly encroach on the turf of the darkness to let the world know that the football team is playing Mt. Helix on Friday at 7pm. My garden stakes could learn something from that marquee.
I went to Clairemont High School. We didn’t have a buzzing, flashing marquee back then, just silent black plastic letters. We also didn’t have a chain link fence surrounding the campus. I don’t trust my dogs in an unfenced yard, and I guess these days the San Diego Unified School District doesn’t trust teenagers in an unfenced school.
I’m a second generation Clairemont resident. My dad and his brother and sisters went to Clairemont High, too. My mom went to Madison, in North Clairemont. Since I graduated, I haven’t lived in this area. Since it’s a fairly standard post-war suburban enclave, full of strip malls and chain restaurants, I haven’t had much cause to visit, either.
Growing up, I thought this was a middle class neighborhood, and that I was part of a middle class family. I had a friend in high school that lived in one of the duplexes on the block across the street from school. He had a single mom and a little sister. I knew their family didn’t make the cut for middle class. I had a sense back then that rented duplexes were for struggling single moms; incomplete families that were slightly unstable, like a cheap Ikea desk that’s been manhandled in and out of one too many U-Hauls.
Now, I think Clairemont is more of a working class neighborhood, and I don’t know what to call my own economic status anymore. My income is well above the poverty line, but the only wealth I’ve accumulated is the intangible kind- not even the IRS is interested in taking a piece of it. I’m single, with two dogs to care for, and only struggling inasmuch as the whole damn country is struggling. I know my situation isn’t as difficult as my friend’s mom’s was, but here I am, standing in the backyard of my rented duplex.
It’s certainly not where I thought I’d be 15 years after leaving Clairemont High.
During the day, I can come to this spot in the yard, and look over my chain link fence and see Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. During the day, there is more traffic noise, and more light, so I don’t even notice the blinking, buzzing marquee. During the day, I’m somehow less connected to the memories of being a teenager going to Clairemont High, who felt a little sad for the people who lived in the rented duplexes across the street.
I take a deep breath of the cool, moist, fragrant San Diego night, and whisper to my babies that it’s time to go inside. I turn my back on the urgent blaze of messages that mean nothing to me now, and walk back inside my new place. I can’t help but think about how different things look from the other side of the street, the other side of 15 years.