Santa Barabara is Where My Heart Is

Sitting on a beach chair next to my newly married wife on a quiet Californian beach was nirvana. I held the hand of a person I loved. We wore our silver wedding bands. Our interlocked fingers were bound by the warm breeze of connection.

Even though I was a new resident of California, it was where I was supposed to be. The ancient Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, said: “Home is where the heart is.”  

My heart lived on this sandy beach next to my newlywed.

  As the sea birds flew like a choreographed team of jets, I thought about how my life was four years ago when I was a therapist in a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia. My heart was definitely not in the City of Brotherly Love. 

I worked at a well-respected counseling center, putting in six full days a week as a family therapist, and had little personal life. I felt stuck in a big city with nothing to look forward to except for an Eagles’ game on Sunday and a Philly cheesesteak with grilled onions. Although I adored my cat, someone to love was missing in my life. 

Old age crept up on me like a wounded soldier. I had a middle-aged belly and approaching my 60s. I didn’t want to stagger into retirement—but surf into it. I didn’t want to slip into the sexagenarian night. I wanted to dive into it headfirst, doing backflips and somersaults. 

And I didn’t want to be like my senior colleagues. They shuffled like Ph.D. zombies. Unlike my colleagues, I had hit my limit of thirty years behind the couch. I had lost the fire and passion for the field. If I had stayed, I would only exist. I wanted more.

“Play it safe,” my friends said about making drastic life changes. “Don’t take any chances. Hold on to what you’ve got—be happy you have a job.”

  I wasn’t happy. And I didn’t feel alive. I didn’t want to be a middle-aged guy who played it safe and was afraid to make a change. So, I left my cushy therapy practice, move to California, and recreate myself. I knew it was a roll of the dice, but isn’t that what life’s about—to take risks? 

  A skeptical colleague responded upon hearing about my move to California, “Did you really think this through, Mark?”

When I told her I didn’t have a job, or any family members in California, and that I was solely leaving on blind faith, she rolled her eyes. “Harry, I’m worried about you. You’re acting impulsively. Maybe you need to have therapy for yourself?”

I didn’t want to argue. Instead, I felt sorry for her. She was a talented therapist but had seen the same clients for years. She had built a bubble of loneliness around herself, going to the same places, spending time with the same people. I wished she had the courage to find a new adventure.  

It took six days and over three thousand miles of driving, but I made it across the country. And when I crossed the California border, I stopped at a rest stop, and changed out of my winter clothes into a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops. I welcomed the temperate climate, the palm trees, and the third largest state in the union with open arms.

In time, I transformed from a snowbound middle-aged man to a body-boarding California dude whose life was full of possibilities.   

I retired from psychotherapy after several tries to get licensed. I took it as an omen from the Universe that I would do something different, something more creative. So, I wrote poetry and short stories for pay. I’d wake up early and sit at the computer for hours each day, giving myself the space and time to be creative.

And soon I met someone while playing a game of internet Scrabble. She was from Santa Barbara, lived by the ocean, and had a spare bedroom where I could do my writing. Her support made me feel like I could do anything. Love, I discovered, was also about encouraging your partner to fulfill his or her dreams. And I encouraged the Santa Barbara girl to do what she loved—and in her case, it was painting flowers in watercolors, Cala Lillies and Orchids.  

Soon, we became husband and wife. The two of us sat on folding chairs on Butterfly Beach, overlooking the blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean. I watched the people balance on ten-foot surfboards gliding through curling waves, Labradors retrieving rubber balls, and hang gliders defying gravity.  

It was bliss. I spent every day at the beach next to the one I loved. She applied sunscreen to my tanning flesh with her warm fingers, and I returned the favor. She looked out for me as I did her. We shared grapes and bottles of water. We told each other how we felt, what we needed, and I gave her a gentle kiss and rubbed her forearm and said, “I’m so glad I found you.” And she replied, “We found each other.”

We acknowledged how lucky we were while sitting on two comfortable beach chairs facing the ocean with our backs to the Santa Ynez mountains.

My life had changed from being a snowbound therapist to a writer in the sunshine. One day my cat was baking bread on my belly, and the next day I looked into the brown eyes of my lovely bride. Of course, the cat was still a part of my life, but not the focus anymore.