California Dreaming

Wednesday ...
NP: Robin Thicke - Wish I Could Change

When I woke up from what felt like an infinite darkness, I decided to finally turn my phone on. I was successful in my attempt to mute the world for over a week. 

I was just checking to see if my grandad called me - he didn't ..but my brother did. "Just come down here. Get away from everything. We think that's best." I thought for a moment but there was nothing to think about. What was I leaving behind? So I packed a bag, jumped in the Beamer, and headed to BWI. 

As I waited for my flight, I thought about the last time I traveled to Cali. So many things were causing me to feel defeated and I was tired of fighting. I had to get out of New York and just like this time, my brother told me to come out West. I looked through the notes in my phone, which date back to over 3 years ago, and stumbled upon some old journal entries from my last trip to LA at the end of Summer 2013 ......

Day 1 - August 13, 2013

So I wake up around 5 AM and I'm out of the door by 5:20... Daddy is taking me to the airport. My eyes got heavy, so I closed them. Shortly after, I was awakened by my dad frantically saying, "Shiiiittt I don't know where I'm going! This ain't right!" All I could do was shake my head and pull out old Sally, the GPS. Sally was confused as well because we were in the middle of the highway at the fork between two exits. The signs for the exits were behind us. So I just directed him to the left. That was wrong, he should've made a right. The first sign revealed that we were in Mount Vernon ... MOUNT VERNON!!! How is it 6AM and we're only in MTV?! I was annoyed. We had so much farther to go to get to Queens and my flight was at 7am! Sally said we would arrive in 35 minutes. Which meant I was bound to miss my flight... but I prayed and told myself, if I pray then I can not worry. Got out of the car, thanked my dad .. and realized he could never take me to the airport within 2 hours and without Sally again.. 

So I got to the airport at 6:25. I couldn't get my ticket from the kiosk because I had a stand by ticket.. I had to wait on the line. The line was about 3 days long. I saw a woman helping someone at the kiosk and I stepped off the line to tell her my situation. She took me straight to the front of the line. Both she and the lady at the computer were so nice. Printed me a ticket immediately and took me to the front of the security line as well. I was practically VIP. Until it was time to run to the gate. She told me that it was going to be a long run but I had to run in order to catch my flight. She also said that if I saw a cart, to hop on. Of course, I didnt see a cart. I ran. I was so out of breath, my heart was pounding, I thought I was going to die. The weight of my book-bag coupled with carrying my heavy suitcase wasnt making the run any easier. The loud speaker kept saying "Attention! This is the last call for flight 563 for LAX" I was panicking! I saw a young black guy when I was near gate B27, I still had to go all the the way to B33. I went to him and said, "Please ...(deep breath) Help Me! (deep breath) I have to get to B33 it's last call!" I thought for sure he would help me run to the gate. I just knew he would grab my suitcase and help me run. Instead, he laughed. He laughed !!! He said "Calm down miss, B33 is right there. You won't miss your flight. Go on." And he walked away, still laughing. At that point, I was on the brink of tears. But I ran more, for what seemed like another mile.. Finally I saw the light.. I mean the gate... Got on my flight. 

When I got on, my heart was still racing and my face was sweating profusely. My stomach was in knots. I was about to faint. Everyone was looking at me as if I had anthrax all over my face. Someone was in my seat, a family of 3 with a baby. I told the flight attendant "I don't care, I just need to use the bathroom." I put my stuff down and went straight to the bathroom. Someone was in there. WTF! I held my tummy with one hand and fanned my self with the other. There was a teenaged white girl on line in front of me and I told her, "I think I got my period. I'm dying." She said "you can go before me." Boy was I grateful. As soon as the door opened, I went straight for it. I had to poop! I was having a hot flash, anxiety, menopause, diarrhea, and oh look, my stupid period !!! Thank you Eve! Just what I needed. The lady knocked on the door and told me they were waiting for me to go to my seat so we could take off. I tried to gather my life so that we could leave .. I asked her for some ginger ale and water. I didnt need any pills because I already had my advil (I never leave the house without drugs). I drank all the water and fell asleep. The rest of the flight, was much better. The man behind me kept checking on me. He told me I was most likely dehydrated. I was just glad I felt better. 

When I arrived in LA, Al picked me up in his white "pimp my ride" van. Soon as I saw his face, my heart was filled with joy. My brother, my big brother. I was so happy to see him. First place we went to was this African restaurant. He had never had Ethiopian food. I was excited to teach him about the different dishes and even give him a little history on Ethiopia and Egypt. I told him how both countries claim to be the cradle of civilization. I also told him about how the pyramids used to be all over the earth, even in North America. ... Africans ruled the world. We discussed education in America and how the school system doesn't teach us enough about our own history. It was a great convo. I like teaching Al because he knows so much already. Makes me feel smart. 

Next, we went to Marina del Rey, the beach right next to Venice beach. I rented a bike, he already had one.. His dad met us there. We rode over to the beach and it was breath taking. There was a reallly cute black surfer with gold locks and some face paint. I wanted to jump in the water so he could see me!

His dad asked me did I want to do a trail in marina del ray or ride through Venice. Since I had already been to Venice twice, I decided to do the trail in marina. Great choice. It was so scenic. Beautiful! We rode through the streets first and I felt like a real Cali girl. Once we got near the boats and water, I saw these crazy big birds with beaks as big as my arms. As I was taking pics, I saw something crazy in the water. "Umm.. Is that a dolphin?" ... Everyone looked over, "omg it's a seal!" I was so excited! Seeing a seal, in real water, not the aquarium or the zoo. City girls like me are not used to such a thing. That water was so blue and fresh enough to allow wild life to thrive. I looked up at the sky and smiled at God. I'm so used to the disgusting, AIDS infested harbor and Hudson. This made me very happy. Then, I saw these young boys jumping the gate to swim in the water. I wanted to go with them but of course I couldn't. 

On the trail, I talked to Al's dad. It was cool. I like him.. He's a cool rocker dude. With his skinny legs and round eye shades. Straight rocker. I always try to imagine what my mom saw in him.. And I realize it's the fact that he was unique. I like the same things about my guys. That's why people always say I don't have a type. I do though, it just varies by the individual. 

We headed to Roscoe's for dinner....

Day 2 - August 14, 2013

Woke up on my own .. It was about 750am.. A trillion emails, all from 2 people: Marika and Shelly.. But who else? I don't have a man! 

So I'm responding to the messages and such when my brother knocks on my door, fully dressed, asking "Are you ready?" "Ready?! Wait, are you dressed??" "Yes, we're ready when ever you are!" Blah !!! So glad I ironed my dress the night before. I got dressed, fixed my weave, little liner and mascara, and  in 20 minutes I was ready to go! 

I was so nervous. Holly and Al were dropping me off first and then headed to immigration (or la migra in her case because she's from England by way of Spain) for a meeting about their marriage. Its been 6th months today. All I could think of was the Martin episode when Pam had to marry the Hispanic man and she didnt even know her new last name! "Rodgriguez? Sanchez? Santiago?" Pam was a mess! 

I was in the back seat responding to the girls about our upcoming sneaker drive and reading over my research-interest essay when Holly started asking, "What is that smell?" I wouldn't answer but I knew it was me. Shamefully, when I'm nervous, I get gas! I can't help it... and I refuse to hold in my silent but deadly butt burps because that's how you get heart disease or something. No way! Just have to let it out and roll down the windows. 

As we got closer, my mind started racing. I was totally second guessing all of my decisions leading up to my visit. "Why did I wear this floral dress? Why did I wear these wedges? I looked cute but I need to be professional! No one is going to take me serious! Why didnt I put my hair in a bun? What if the lady is angry because I'm black? What if they are mean? What if I hate everything? What if I say something wrong?" I started verbalizing my thoughts and Al said, "Just be yourself. You're going to rock it!" Great advice but it went in one ear and out of the other. I was terrified to the max! 

I wanted to go home and change but there was no turning back now. We had finally arrive at my destination, the University of Southern California. I got out of the car and headed to Dr. Diane Morris' office. Before exiting the elevator I said a prayer, asking God for grace and mercy. When I got off of the elevator, I was so confused, I mustve walked by her office about 3 times until I realized that I'd walked by what I was looking for all along. When I walked in, she put her hand out for me to shake it but out of relief, I hugged her as if I had known her for 20 years! "What the heck Val?", I thought.. "You don't even know this lady!" Still nervous after hugging her, I said,  "I was so lost! I am so nervous! Why did I wear this? I should've worn pants!" Diane laughed and told me to sit down and just relax. She was very welcoming and her office was quite cozy, with a beautiful view of the entire campus. Would you like some coffee or water?" "No, thank you." I didnt want to make her get me anything. "Well, what about some tea? Would you like some tea?", she insisted.  "Yes please!" If anything would calm my nerves, it would be tea. She even had peppermint tea, which I love. 

She left me in her office to make the tea and I noticed my résumé and research-interest essay on the desk. I smiled and realized: she knows about me, she gave me a chance, and she is allowing me to meet with her. So I told myself to calm down. No one threw me into this, it was meant to be. 

The first question she asked me was, "What do you want to research when you attend USC?" That was easy. Al had actually asked me the same exact question yesterday at the African restaurant. I explained my interest in teacher education and the preparation of teachers in urban areas compared to teachers in higher-performing suburban schools. I mentioned my experience with TFA teachers who quit in October because of a lack of adequate management techniques. I told her that I just don't feel their 6-week summer prep experience is enough for them to be qualified to be placed in a classroom, alone, for 2 years. Why is it okay that these fresh college students are being put in the worst schools in America? Is it really an expectation that they will close the learning gap within two years, even though so many of them struggle throughout the majority of those years? Let's face it, even for the best of the best, it takes at least 2 years to really figure out the techniques and strategies that work. Diane loved my passion and even told me, "We don't have anyone who has ever researched that topic. That's a great thing! It's unique and brings diversity to our program." Then she began to ask questions about my résumé. She asked me about Operation Crossroads, my summer program at the community center back home. I explained how we teach the kids financial awareness by providing lessons on how to read stocks and opening a savings account. I also talked about how we prepare them for college, even though they are only in the 8th/9th grade, by teaching them about tuition, the application process, and taking them on a tours of Harvard, NYU, and Columbia this summer. She was excited about the program. She started telling me about a professor who is doing work with middle schoolers  to prepare them for college. "Im giving you homework." she said, as she pointed out many of the professors that I should write about in my application's essay. That was so helpful. She even told me all about the application process and how the exact professors that I mention in my essay will be the ones who review my application. So it was great that she told me exactly who to write about! I went on to ask her about my biggest fear-- the GRE! She assured me that I would be just fine because USC allows students to take it twice and they only record the highest scores. I'm grateful for that! Im going to need it for the math portion. We then talked about references. She warned me not to get reference letters from my principal or supervisors. "Many people get cut because they get letters from the wrong people. This is the PHD not the EDD, you need references that speak on behalf of your ability to write and research." Which means, I need to contact my Hopkins professors. Shouldn't be too hard. She then gave me some insight on the financial aspect. She told me about all the stipends and the work I would be doing with my professors to earn my stipends. Another thing that excited me was being able to take a sociology class or physc class! "I feel smarter already!" I told her and I couldnt hold my smile in. She told me that she truly appreciated my enthusiasm. She ended the meeting by telling me that I could email her any time to review my paper work and that she would personally send my questions to any professors, so that I wont feel ignored if I try to reach out to a professor on my own and dont get a response from them. Before walking me downstairs to take my tour she said, "and by the way, you look great! Your choice of dress was very appropriate. Always be yourself Valencia!" Wow! Al was right! She gave me a Trojan tote bag to put my things in (how nice of her) and walked me down to meet Tensie, my tour guide. 

To my surprise, Tensie was a pretty young black girl. A true southern belle from North Carolina. I love southern girls. They're always down to earth and very honest.  The tour of the school truly won me over! The entire campus was breath taking. I felt like I was in Athens, Greece. The architecture was serene and Tensie explained each land mark with great detail. The bright green grass, the tall palm trees, the crystal blue water fountains, the massive library, the fine arts center, and the literatea (like literature but with tea on the end) center were all calling my name, "Valenciaaaa this is the school for youuuu.." As Tensie and I talked, she shared with me that she was on a full scholarship in the masters program. Only one student gets the scholarship a year and she was the one! I was so proud of her. I asked her about her professors and classes. She told me that there is a 4% population of black students at USC and she is always the only black person in her classes. Thats how it was for me at Hopkins too. She said her black professors give her problems, not the whites. I wasn't surprised. Sometimes black people make it harder for their own people, it's so sad. 

Tensie and I really bonded in that short time. She's 26 and says she'll be staying in LA after completing the program. So it looks like I have a friend already. We exchanged numbers and I went to sit in the Literatea Center to wait for Al.  

When I sat down, I found a key chain that said " USC Alumni" on it. WOAH! Is this a good omen? I truly believe in signs. I put the keychain in my bag and decided it would be apart of my testimony at my graduation speech that I give 5 years from now when I am Dr. Clay! Looking forward to my future! 

Al and holly came to get me and we went to get some Vietnam food. Then, Al went to work and Holly and I went to Little India so she could get some spices. 

When we got to little India, I got a beautiful henna tat. All the Indians in the shop had nose rings on their left side, so I knew they were married. I remember telling Carissa we shouldn't get ours on our left because we aren't married yet.  The women asked me if I was Indian ... I was honored to be considered by them to be one of them. I love their culture and their beauty. I thought about the grant I wrote to go to Indian and although I didnt get the grant, I am definitely going to try again. I have to get there, one way or another.

Then we went to the Indian Vintage Boutique. I was in total awe! First of all, everyone knows I am vintage homeless indian! So to see there's actually a thrift store like this in the world, it was my own little fashion heaven! And get this, half of the proceeds go to domestic violence! So it was for a good cause! How about that!

Holly and I left and went to get some fish tacos from this Mexican spot. They had a drink on the menu called "Jamaica". I was very confused yet intrigued. Why would a Mexican spot have a drink called Jamaica? And what is it? We asked the señorita and said, "Its a juice made from a plant.." A jamaican plant... hmm.. could it be marijuana juice? i mean this is cali .. she pulled out a pitcher with a burgundy colored juice and before she could say anything else I screamed, "SORREL!!" At that moment there was only one person who I knew would be as excited as me, Marika Brown. I got a big cup in memory of her. 

Holly and I went to the army base to drop off some tacos to Al. I was excited to see where he works and his office. We didnt have time to see much but he promised he would give me a tour of the black hawks tomorrow. 

Love and light,

Day 3 - August 15th, 2013

Today I woke up with a migraine... I went to get a banana and water. I let Cassius, the kitten, out of his playpen. He was crying and even though I dont particularly like cats, I didnt want him to cry. but he annoyed me so bad.. I should've left him in there. He kept trying to attack my hair. Sir, this is not another animal! This is my luscious Indian blend honey! and he just wouldn't stop! He kept jumping in my back. Like what the hell cat!? Get out of town! 

I felt better after eating my banana, drinking a whole bottle of water, and doing a little reading. I went ahead and got ready for the day. Al and I headed out and I was filled with such effervescence! We were going to the botanical garden! Al chose a botanical garden that had about 10 gardens inside of it. From a cactus garden with a countless amount of white, green, and even pink cactus species, to a garden filled with different types of roses, a children's garden with folktales to match each plant, to a Mediterranean garden, a fresh vegetable garden, a garden for the senses, and even a California garden with plants that are specific to CA. There was so much to see and so little time. The most exciting thing for me though, was knowing the names of the different flowers and plants without even looking at the signs. Al was impressed. When we went to the children's garden, there was a huge field of grass. Al immediately laid down in the grass, in Nikki fashion, like an X. I wanted to join him and in most circumstances I would have, but it was freshly cut and I didnt want to get grass all up in my curly weave! Oh no ma'am! (Carissa's voice, with the finger point!) 

I really enjoyed the garden of senses. I was tempted to pull some of the cherries and taste them but taste wasnt listed as one of the senses. I didnt want to ruin a plant by being greedy. The smell of the spice plants was therapeutic. There was one purple plant that was so soft, I had to be very gentle. It almost felt like I was touching a cloud. 

One of my favorites was the rose garden, oh the roses! To be honest, this was my first time seeing roses growing from the ground. Although I knew they could grow high, I was still in awe that they could grow higher than me! The rose garden was vast. It was big enough to hold a large wedding. White, red, yellow, peach, pink, and pink/yellow roses were every where-- all in full bloom! In the middle of it all, there was a water fountain. There was a little boy making a wish in it with his grand mother. That made me smile.  

Al and I sat on a bench and there was a sign on it that read, "God lives through any heart that loves." I melted. Although Al is a bit of an atheist, I still looked at him and said, "We are so blessed. To be here right now. With vision to be able to see such beautiful colors! And together, man Al, we're truly blessed!" He actually agreed. He knows it's true, I know he does. 

This is why I came to California by myself. I needed this. I needed to bond with my big brother. I wanted him to see the real me, the things that make me happy, and to partake in the joy that such things bring. Mission complete! 

We went to the gift shop and I purchased a cook book for Holly. She told me yesterday, in the midst of all her questions, that she loves cookbooks. So when I saw it, I thought it was the perfect gift for her. 

Before we headed back to the house, Al and I went to an El Salvadorian restaurant to get pupusas. When we got to the house, Holly was there with the baby that she babysits everyday. She can't get a "by the books" job yet because of her lack of citizenship. 

After we ate the papusas, Al went to work and Holly and I headed for the beach. Al suggested we go to Laguna Beach and I couldn't disagree. That was my favorite show in college. I really wished I was with Carissa instead of Holly. Ce and I grew up with LC, Kristen, Brodie, all of them. So I needed her to relive our days of being "Cali girls" in dirty uggs and over sized black shades in the winter! We WERE from Laguna and no one could tell us any different! I wonder if girls that visit NYC feel that way about Blair and Serena from Gossip Girls...

I couldn't dwell on Ce not being there for too long though, I had to enjoy it, for the both of us. As soon as we crossed the bridge, I knew we were there. The houses on the tops of the hills and the fancy foreign cars looked exactly how they did on the show, except they were ten times more dazzling. 

Holly looked for parking for a few minutes. I found a spot but she said it was too far and she wanted to be on the beach near the people. That's so unlike me. I enjoy private, quiet beaches. I like to listen to the ocean. However, I didnt complain, I went with the flow. After all, I was just content with being there. 

When we got to the beach, it was filled with families and teenagers. How annoying! But i pulled out my tye-dye beach blanket and laid in the sand anyway. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sounds of the water and birds. I focused my attention well and was able to drown out all of the other sounds. When I opened my eyes again, almost everyone was gone and the sun was setting. Holly asked me if I wanted to take some pictures. As I went into the water to take my pictures, I really found it hard to concentrate on posing and such. Instead, I was praying. I was thanking God for allowing me to see this day. For bringing me to a place of peace again. Holly kept snapping as I walked further into the Sun. It was nice. 

After the photo-shoot, I sat back on my tye-dye to read a little but I was quickly distracted by the sun. Right before my eyes, it had turned white. It was behind the clouds, still shining, but it wasnt yellow, gold, orange, not at all.. It was really white. It was round like a full moon. I had never seen the sun like that. I almost felt like it was named. Totally captivated by the white sun, I couldn't stop starring. Even the sun's rays were white as they hit the pacific ocean. I didnt even want to get a picture, I told myself it was something that I would never forget, no matter how many years passed by. 

As I continued to stare, I started to day dream about my future husband. I thought about my wedding day and hearing him whisper, "I love you." And I will say, "I love you." There will be no "too" or "back".. Just those 3 words shared between us two.. I love you. I thought about how I would crown my king with kisses and then look up at the sky and smile at God because he was smiling down on me with the blessing of true love. 

I will always cherish my time at Laguna. It was spiritual. Im sure that the vision I had will soon come to pass. I am truly practicing patience but my anticipation is growing daily. 

After Laguna, Holly and I went to the army base. Al took me straight to the Black Hawks. He let me get inside and explore. I wished I could ride through the sky but for the moment, just being there with him was more than enough. We took a few pictures together. Al was proud to show me his Black Hawks and I was honored to see them. This guy is amazing. So proud of all of his accomplishments. 

Al asked me if I wanted to go out that night, like he did every night but of course I am a granny. I didnt want to go anywhere. I just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. Today was an amazing day, I didnt need anything more. 

Dreaming of tomorrow,