And Making It Through the First Year

I’m trying to remember that first year, the one the propane guy thought I wouldn’t make it through.

I have to admit once I’d moved up here, I found myself missing the little boost of self-confidence I’d gotten from living in Berkeley—from living in the trendiest place in the most fashionable neighborhood in the coolest city in America. Berkeley. The city with the highest number of PHDs and MacArthur Genius Award recipients. The paradise of the liberals. The place where people argue that Obama is too conservative.

Jane at beginning of house remodelNot that I hadn’t worked hard to make a beautiful life there. I had scraped layers of paint off a hulking brown shingle fixer-upper we’d bought back in the dark ages when young couples in Berkeley could afford five bedroom homes. I’d had the floors sanded and the kitchen remodeled. I’d stood at the Viking six-burner range and cooked up gourmet meals prepared from only the finest ingredients. I’d planted vintage roses and spring bulbs and fruit trees in the garden. I’d heard Cecilia Bartoli at Zellerbach and had seen Bill T. Jones dance there. I’d eaten at Chez Panisse and Oliveto’s. In fact, I used to sip an espresso at Oliveto’s while waiting for my daughter’s school bus to drop her off at the Rockridge Bart station. We’d buy fresh pasta and bouquets of tulips before heading home.

“Ah Bairklay,” the beautiful girl at the bookstore on Rue du Princess in Paris sighed when I told her where I was from. Even in the City of Light, Berkeley carried a certain cachet. I’d created a charmed life.

And then one day, it seemed I had outgrown it. I still loved my garden, my house, my friends, but nothing seemed to fit. I knew I had to do something different, and it was terrifying.

However . . . instead of doing something different, what happened for a year or two was this: I became a complete bitch. Everything irritated me—the dot com guy behind my house with his flashy home office and his—not one but two—nannies, the woman in the Berkeley Bowl parking lot taking forever to load her groceries into her Volvo with the Free Tibet sticker, the car alarms, the traffic helicopter circling the Caldecott Tunnel, the damn dogs tied up and yapping in front of Royal Coffee, and the sight of young men in those biking suits. I’m sorry. I just didn’t need THAT much information with my latte.

Gentle Readers, what I remember of my first year here is a blur, but whatever happened, you’ll be glad to know I’m a lot nicer now. I go back to Berkeley and I’m filled with tenderness for the yapping dogs, and the skinny, young bikers, the Volvos and the bumper stickers. It’s a thrill for me to buy luxury items at the Pasta Shop and just-flown-in scallops at the fish market that I pack in ice to take back to the mountains. I see the nannies, and I’m flooded with compassion for the struggles of those young couples with children. I admire all their earnest striving. I remember how hard it was to live so well.

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