A Year’s Difference

As I turn officially 62, I consider my state of mind just one year ago. As age 61 dawned, I lived in the grip of a persistent unease, a dissatisfaction that ran as broad as it was deep. I was antsy. I was unsettled. Almost every morning upon awakening I began considering where I wanted to go that day. Anywhere was going to be acceptable, more or less, as long as it was out. I’m normally without a hint of wanderlust, but last summer I had it in spades. It wasn’t distance I sought, but difference. Mostly I was driving around the Bay Area and a bit beyond, visiting communities that I had perhaps seen on the map or passed by on the freeway, but never explored. Hayward, Union City, Fremont. Millbrae, Milpitas, Manteca. Davenport, Davis. Cotati, Capitola, Petaluma. Tracy, Concord, Livermore. I kept driving around without any clear plan in my mind but an overall sense of seeking. What precisely I was seeking hadn’t taken shape yet.

I drove here, I drove there. Once in a while I stayed for a few days in a bed and breakfast. I was making mental notes to myself about many of the places I was visiting: could I retire here? Would it be possible, in about ten years’ time, to have saved enough to buy a house for cash?

That’s where my mind was at the time. I was seeking the cure for an as-yet undiagnosed illness. I kept thinking in terms of buying later, pipe dreaming rather than acting with purpose. I was house hunting after a fashion. When I wasn’t hitting the roads I was glued to Zillow, looking at listings, at first outside California on the assumption that upon retirement I would resettle where I could buy the house I wanted for cash, no mortgage. The Fort Worth area was appealing. So was the country well to the north of Atlanta. I considered central Oregon. I considered northern Iowa.

The mental murk began clearing as I chanced upon the far-outer East Bay communities of Oakley, Brentwood, and Discovery Bay, together with the southeastern arm of Antioch that’s known as Deer Valley. Brentwood in particular grabbed me firmly: as I rounded the last curve on Highway 4 and saw that lovely small suburban city, with Mount Diablo looming to the west, I felt a jolt of recognition, of belonging. Brentwood is a stellar exemplar of the affluent modern suburb: big landscaped streets, spacious shopping malls, good schools, well-designed housing developments filled with attractive homes and sprinkled with immaculate parks. Yet it is a real place with a long history as a Delta farm town. There’s most definitely a there there. Or perhaps I should say there’s most definitely a here here.

This was what I wanted. This was the climate I wanted: sunlight, real summer, warm evenings, a dearth of clammy winds. This was the environment I wanted: clean, safe, convenient, car-friendly. This was the community I wanted: families with children, retirees, and plenty of farm folks with generations on the land. This was what I had felt was utterly out of my reach, living as I did in an insanely expensive city while practicing a profession not noted for high wages. This is what I had told myself I couldn’t have, no matter how much I actually wanted it.

I had convinced myself that I had to stay firmly within San Francisco and avoid commuting, that I was lucky to have what I had (a sizable and shockingly affordable, albeit dumpy, Victorian flat smack-dab in the center of the city), that my longed-for suburban bliss was achievable only when I retired. Until then, I kept telling myself, just suck it up and bear city living. Forget that I am not temperamentally a city dweller. Forget that I am a dyed-in-the-wool homebody for whom even San Francisco’s myriad urban attractions mean little. No. I had a great deal with my inexpensive 1200 square feet of decaying Victorian bling, my walk-to-work location. So what if I was climbing the walls in desperation?

Convergence arrived: I realized that I wanted to live in Brentwood, that I had enough for a solid down payment, that I could easily afford the extra expense, and that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the inconvenience of a long commute. Actually I rather welcomed the long commute for its clear-cut distancing from city living. Even the undeniable trauma of moving—after twenty-eight years of continual burrowing in my Victorian flat—was welcome.

I was primed, ready, and determined. All that wandering, all that Zillow-ing, turned out to have a purpose. On August 12 I became the owner of a contemporary Mediterranean right in the heart of Brentwood.

And that was, indeed, the cure to my malaise. That persistent unease, that deep and broad dissatisfaction? Gone. One year later, an all-encompassing contentment has arisen to take its place, a rock-solid feeling of rightness, of thisness. I enter year 62 with gratitude, happiness, and fulfillment.

Not to mention two inches off my waistline and the start of a pretty decent suntan.

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