You aren’t from where you’re from

The week I interviewed for my first job in Sacramento was the last week I saw my grandfather alive.

I was interviewing for a job in Sacramento because I had applied everywhere I could find writing and communications jobs within a two-hour radius of Livermore, where my parents lived and where I was born and raised. Livermore is that place just over the hill from the windmills, I tell people I meet in Sacramento. It’s home to the world’s longest-burning lightbulb. It was, at one point, home to the world’s third-biggest laser. It’s fifteen minutes away from good hiking, which I miss. (I know we have Foresthill and Tahoe, but tell me you don’t hate Friday traffic on the way up to the mountains.) I wanted to live within a two-hour radius of my parents’ home so I could be close enough to help out when things happened like my grandparents dying.

Everyone talks about how great it is that Sacramento is “centrally located.” When they say this what they mean is that you can go to the mountains and the beach on any given weekend. When I say this what I mean is I get enough time to cry in the car by myself before I have to face my family about hard things–which, what with two job shifts, three funerals, four breakups, five incidences of cancer and a handful of court dates in the past four years alone, there’ve been plenty. So if, like me, you need that kind of space in your world, then by all means move to Sacramento. Yes our brunch is great, but so is that of every other up-and-coming, millennial-infested city in this country.

Otherwise, in my opinion, we are far too far from the mountains and the beach. How can you say you love Sacramento if you’re always driving two hours to some surf spot or ski resort? It means you aren’t from where you’re from.

I’m trying to think of my grandfather. It’s weird to think I haven’t seen him in the nearly five years that I’ve lived in Sacramento. Even his open-casket, Catholic memorial service happened the week before my graduation in Tucson, before I’d officially packed my truck and moved up to a little grandmother unit in Land Park which, now that rent has skyrocketed since I came, and I’ve moved twice since, I realize how much I took for granted.

It saddens me that a person who was such a big and imminent part of my decision to move here is not only no longer alive, but also someone who I don’t find on my mind very often. One of the only times I think of my grandfather in Sacramento, really, is when I walk past the Birkenstocks store on J Street, which my grandfather–okay, Papa, let’s call him by his real name–wouldn’t have ever needed to go to because he only wore one type of Birkenstocks ever, those heavy chunky classic brown leather two-strap Arizonas you could pick up at most department stores. We buried him in those things.

Papa. [Photo courtesy of Melissa Gutierrez]

The things that remind me of my grandfather are things, because how close can you really get to a man who fathered fourteen children? With a family the size of mine, close relationships are hard, because there’s literally a lot between us. He smoked from the time he was 9 years old until the day he died and never got a speck of lung cancer. He watched the History Channel nonstop and read books as thick as bricks. He consumed Dairy Queen Blizzards at a steady semi-weekly rate, and kissed us loudly on the cheek every time we came into the house, and again each time we left. He moved here from New Mexico, which is why the other thing in Sacramento that reminds me of him is that Nopalitos place in East Sac that I never get to go to because it’s only open weekdays 6am–2pm but that has real red chile and New Mexican breakfast, but no mimosas. I know about this place because the rest of the time I’m not thinking about my grandfather I’m thinking of other important things like: where to get brunch.

All this blabbering is to say is there isn’t a lot to remind me of Papa in Sacramento, which is fine, because what are bottomless mimosas (or “bo-mos” as I like to call them) supposed to remind you of, anyways? Nothing, right? That’s the point. Otherwise, I’d be stuck on bigger questions like ‘how can someone who was such an important part of things just be gone all of a sudden?’ all the time, and not just when I’m happening to walk down J Street and see that leather sandal store. It’s a heavy, almost bottomless idea. Sometimes easier not to think about.

Back to my Sacramento origin story: I was driving to this interview in my parents’ Accord and I was crying, as you know I like to do on I-5, because the sunset was so beautiful and life was so meaningful and confusing and full and fleeting and all that and here I was on this new adventure finding my way in the world, blah blah blah blah blah. I stayed with a friend who lived off La Riviera who let me straighten my hair in her bathroom in the morning and fed me a blueberry muffin and before I took off for my interview, which good thing I was early for because the drought hadn’t set in yet and the grass was green and the air was clear and the Sierras were looming a brilliant bright white over Highway 50 eastbound and I was crying again about all the infinite beauty in the world and I needed to touch up my makeup before heading in to explain my two English degrees–yes they were on purpose and I swear I could find a way to use them to write about concrete testing and retaining walls, please let me make money and not disappoint my family, who would now be within a two-hour radius and certainly be more aware of my shortcomings than ever.

Bo-mos. [Creative commons image]

Well, you know I got the job because I said it in the first sentence. I like that first sentence because it’s dramatic and true: ends and beginnings all in one. Sometimes, when everybody clinks their bo-mo glasses at brunch–which I can afford now on account of having gotten said job–I like to say a secret toast to Papa. To pay homage to his life ending and mine continuing on in Sacramento; to bring his memory beyond the Birkenstocks; to make the point of all our fancy brunching a little more than nothing.

When I wake up from my day-drunk napping later in the afternoon my first thought is always this: I wonder if I’m the only one in this city whose champagne-glass clink reverberates back through time like that–if my brunch buddies’ and my secret thoughts are joining in the air and sounding out through time and space, beginning something new–or if the celebration’s ultimately hollow. Maybe next time just one more mimosa and I’ll finally get the nerve to ask.


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Melissa Gutierrez
Melissa Gutierrez is a Sacramento-based artist and writer.