In 1979, the Beach Boys are still all over the radio. Wishing we could ALL be California Girls. You are not a very good good California Girl, despite the fact that you live in Santa Barbara. You are seven years old. Chubby, with a scarred upper lip, a mushy nose, and crodgy teeth. You are about as far away from a doll by a palm tree on the sand as it is possible to get.
Still, every Saturday, you and your stepsister run, flailing, into the chilly Pacific Ocean waves. On the beach, your stepmother lies stiffly on her towel in her tiny French bikini. And you know that when Monday comes your stepsister will stand outside class, surrounded by ten girls, all named Jennifer, and she will purse her seven year old lips and pretend she doesn’t know you.
But – Saturdays. Saturdays your teeth are chattering together. Your fingers are turning into ten little prunes together. Out here, the two of you are seals and whales and sharks.
Now, while seven year old girls in Boston reach the age of reason and receive their first communion, little girls in California receive their first meditation mantra from the local Transcendental Meditation guru. When it’s your turn, you walk into the guru’s living room, and you are practically a grown-up now, so you are all by yourself, and his walls and curtains and carpet and robes are all bright pink. He whispers a very expensive word in your ear that you forget on the way home, but it doesn’t matter. Because now that you’ve achieved the Age of Reason, it’s finally time to tell Jason.
Smart and funny Jason, whose hazel eyes sparkle as he reads The Borrowers, that you like like him.
Jason gets down on his hands and knees and pretends to vomit on the ground.
But… on Saturday. Saturdays you and your stepsister float face-down on the salty water. Watching the sunbeams play in the depths. You are riding through the stars and exploring strange new worlds. Every once in awhile you can hear the stepmother-alien from far away on the sand, tittering brittle titters as she nibbles carrot sticks.
By the time you are a teenager, you will have spent more time in your orthodontist’s waiting room than math class. Your aunt will buy you a consultation with a make-up artist who will explain how bright blue eye-shadow will draw attention away from your snarling upper lip. You, too, will lie in the sun for hours upon hours just like your stepmother, trying to achieve the colour of buttered toast but overshooting it, past even George Hamilton, and arriving in Sun Poisoning Land instead.
And none of it will turn you into a doll by the palm tree on the sand.
In 2011, that kid, Jason, will write a book about being a millionaire. He will live in Reno and describe himself as a Serial Entrepaneur, and his sparkly hazel eyes will dim and if HE said he likes likes you today? You might actually throw up.
You and your stepsister will lose touch and you will find out years later that she’s married to a Napa Valley vineyard owner – but… on Saturdays.
Saturdays the two of you stand in water up to your knees. Squealing, looking behind you for the next wave, and when it comes you leap onto it and ride the cresting water to the shore, arms outstretched in front of you, the wave receeding, leaving you lying there with your cheek against the stand, whispering, “I was flying.”
One Saturday, you and your stepsister are getting out of the car after a long day in the ocean. Mrs. Evans from across the street calls, “Girls, we brought you something.” Mr. Evans hauls an orange cooler out of the back of their station wagon, and the two of you run across the street and Mrs. Evans reaches into the cooler and throws something at you and t hits your arm and it feels really cold and you suddenly realize – it’s snow.
You’re touching snow for the very first time.
So you run to the cooler and you scoop up a handful and pack it into a ball just like Laura Ingalls Wilder would and you throw it at Mr. Evans, and you know what, Beach Boys?
This is a California girl.
Not a wasp-waisted plastic girl standing stiffly in the sand, blonde Farrah Fawcett hair trying to blow in the wind, arms crooked especially so she can hold a man.
This. This is a California girl. Sweaty and chubby and laughing so hard she is snorting. Scarred upper lip and lazy eye, throwing pieces of frozen ocean and watching them melt on the warm driveway.
So exquisitely beautiful you can hardly bear to look.
Photo Rhys Asplundh