When you live somewhere your whole life, you begin to know it so well that it’s hard to tell what you consciously or subconsciously remember. Being told three days before returning to your hometown for spring break that this will be your last time living there catapults you into realizing all the little details you didn’t know you had forgotten. It’s so easy to take for granted the constant chirps of birds overhead, the fragrance of honeydew petals, and the consistent 72 degrees and sunny weather. When your hometown is a bubble that often seems preserved in time, it feels like living in a nostalgic dream every time you return.
But that small suburban dream town inevitably bursts when you live in the Silicon Valley. Every time I come back to Mountain View and Los Altos, I recognize less and less of it. Whether its due to my own age and seeing it from a more mature perspective, or just by means of endless reconstruction around town, I find myself missing my hometown for how it was only a few years ago.
It’s surreal to recognize a place so well, but at the same time watch it transform before your eyes into an entirely new city. Here in the Silicon Valley, nothing waits for you. It may be a quiet, pleasant, suburban area, but the culture pushes personal progress and competitive success over any sense of community. Seeing your hometown change faces makes you realize that the one place you know the most is no longer yours. While this is a normal process of growing up, I think anyone from the Bay Area can attest that the transition is much more rapid here.
It’s frustrating– to say the least– to see gentrification and skyrocketing housing prices drastically affect communities I once knew well. It’s relieving to know that this has contributed to the decrease in local violent crime, but aggravating when it’s also at the cost of low-income families. It’s bittersweet to see buildings become refurbished, but inevitably price out small businesses in exchange for overpriced chains. It remains exciting that more people from across the world are adding to the diversity I love here in the Bay, but my small town has now become a city. I drive over the once quaint Loyola bridge and see a freeway. I pass my old stomping grounds on San Antonio and stare at a Santana Row makeup. I walk through downtown Los Altos and feel eclipsed by the new office buildings, “boutique hotel”, and three-story Safeway. It all feels like I’m in a dream; recognizing where I am, but only enough to where I still feel uneasy.
At the same time, I wouldn’t be able to criticize my hometown so much had I not gained the years and experiences away to give me perspective. I may never fully realize how amazing I truly had it here, but every day I learn a little bit more. There is no other place in the world like this Silicon Valley bubble. I know it by heart so well that I can critique it more in depth than any other town. Sometimes I feel ashamed for its ignorant privileges and competitive culture, but it is what it is, and will always be at the core of my identity as the place I was raised.
Reflecting upon my early years, I realize how blessed I am to have grown up in a place where I could walk around town at night and not have a fear in the world. You can hear a pin drop on the streets of Los Altos, with only the occasional chime of a nearby dog’s bark. At our local parks with idyllic nature so green– even in the midst of a drought– there are artists out painting its beauty on oil and canvas. The streets are lined with memories of the “mischief” my friends and I would get into; much of which involved more bikes and Safeway snacks than substances. I couldn’t have imagined a more idealistic place to raise a family, and god do I feel humbled to have had such a childhood.
There are days when things get difficult and Oregon doesn’t feel right. I tap my shoes and say, “There’s no place like home.” But the days when I could retreat to my foundation aren’t around anymore. If magic was real and I could be transported back, the universe wouldn’t know where to send me. My home isn’t mine anymore. And the trickiest part is: I don’t know where to exactly call home now either.
But home is not places, it’s love. Where I am means nothing as long as I’m near the people that matter. I know it’s all right; it just feels unnerving when you’re faced with a realization like this for the first time. The foundation that was so essential to establishing my identity and future path is no longer waiting for me to return from school. It’s time that I accept that this is a normal process of growing up, even if I didn’t feel ready for it.
Despite that I identify much more with the culture of the Pacific Northwest, I will always return to the Bay Area. Even when I visit my hometown without having a home there, I will find comfort on the couches of the people I love and the memories of the places still preserved. I’m afraid of feeling like a tourist when I return, but I refuse to let life’s changes take away what this town means to me. I’ll always love this place, even when I’m disappointed by it.
So now I’ll go back to rummaging through my room and finding items to donate or discard, because our next house can’t hold the same amount of memories and heirlooms. I’ll find a journal entry from the fourth grade or a drawing I did in middle school, glaze over every detail and try not let it trigger some unfavorable emotion. This is reality and the change is unavoidable. Call me naive, privileged, or sensitive– that doesn’t shake the fact that it’s not easy to leave the house that laid the foundation of my identity. I’m grateful for the home I had and the homes I will. But none will hold the same significance as the house on Manor Way.