Stay Classy, San Diego

by Caroline Roughneen

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore, I thought to myself as I wandered down the picturesque avenue that was now my home. Palm trees peppered the sidewalks, replacing the grand oaks I knew and loved. Starbucks stood in lieu of Dunkin. Hella was the new wicked. I felt as though I had entered an alternate reality, one laden with lanky, blonde valley girls who sported head-to-toe Brandy Melville and spent all of their free time surfing in Tijuana or occasioning one of the myriad of local Starbucks franchises. I was shocked at the accuracy of the California stereotypes. Girls here did not eat, but if they did venture out to a provincial In n’ Out burger joint or a timeless Mexican restaurante, they were labeled bulimics. Both restaurants were foreign territory to me, as they are respectively Californian. No longer was I blinded by the black and white innocence of good old Portsmouth, Rhode Island. I had warped through a tornado and landed on the vividly animated yellow brick road. Ironically, the vibrant Land of Oz was literally based off my new quaint little town, as L. Frank Baum actually lived in Coronado while drafting the novel.

I permeated my hair with thick, slimy yellow goop and offered my best doe-eyed Cher-from-Clueless emulation; I channeled my inner Alicia Silverstone and transformed myself into the stereotypical bleached blonde beach girl. Five days remained until the start of my junior year of high school. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I had hardly ever envisioned myself vacationing in Southern California, let alone residing there. My preppy New England wardrobe suddenly seemed remarkably out of place in the sea of Hawaiian Aloha shirts and Converse.

I woke up at five on my first day of school. I was still plagued with jetlag and had not yet adapted to the Pacific Coast time zone. My morning was a blur of coffee, makeup, and first day of school pictures. I walked to the high school with my sister, an incoming freshman. I knew exactly two people at my school. I had met them at the freshman orientation the day before. My mother had convinced me that the orientation was intended for transfer students as well, however as the only upperclassman in attendance, I felt hideously out of place and fled half-way through. I arrived at school twenty minutes early on my first day. I cringed at my new Student ID picture. My face glistened with beads of California sweat and my eyes bugged out like a deer in the headlights. Not to mention the fact that my pink strapless dress had been cropped out of the picture, thus I appeared flagrantly naked. I analyzed my new classmates scattered around campus, mingling and exchanging captivating stories about their jovial summer adventures. I felt excruciatingly awkward so I scouted out the nearest bathroom to occupy. I fixed my newly bleached hair in the mirror as a sizable group of Latinas entered and conversed in fluent Spanish. I was alarmed. What were they saying about me?

I stumbled from class to class with my face buried in my schedule. I encountered a new girl from South Africa in my art class. I jokingly made an awkward Mean Girls reference that she did not understand and thus deemed me a racist. One girl in my history class inquired why I was so “weirdly obsessed” with instagramming pictures of palm trees. I did not know how to respond. History melted into Spanish class, a lesson conducted entirely in Spanish. I have never felt so intimidated. Half of the class was comprised of nativos who were born and raised south of the border, a mere fifteen minute drive away. In fact, Coronado is located in such close proximity to Mexico, I not only inadvertently drove to the international border countless times during my first month, I soon discovered that my high school’s swim team formed a drug smuggling ring back in the 1970’s, swimming back and forth from Tijuana, transporting literally tons of marijuana. How comforting.

The Christmas holidays were dismal. I missed every aspect of New England. I longed for my childhood friends and Dunkin Donuts french vanilla iced coffee, with skim milk and two Splendas. I craved my grandmother’s oatmeal cookies and Judge Judy marathons. I dreamed about the salty Atlantic Ocean and the waterfront Newport piers. I knew that I was living the American dream on the Golden Coast, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not shake the incessant feeling of nostalgia and homesickness.

In April of my junior year, I toured Boston College. I drooled over the dreamy upperclassmen boys and flooded my Instagram feed with artistically filtered Gassongrams. I had dreamed of attending BC ever since I was young because I belong to a family comprised of Eagles. I was raised tailgating on Shea Field with my family. I grew up getting Eagles painted on my face at the Plex in between handfuls of chips and gulps of (root)beer. One year and a half after that initial tour, Boston College transformed from my home-away-from-home to my actual home, as I had been accepted and had subsequently enrolled. I had always viewed myself as an East Coast girl at heart, thus moving to the outskirts of bustling Boston enlightened me. I finally grasped my true identity as a bicoastal individual. If home is where the heart is, I left a piece of my heart in California, as well as Rhode Island and Cape Cod and Boston. As long as I can hear the ocean, I can feel at home.