Sunday, January 23, 2011


From the files:

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, I worked at a conference center in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a short drive from the boardwalk and dozens of sorbet flavors at Marianne’s. It was a last-minute decision; the job I’d lined up had fallen through, and I was completely unwilling to spend my summer asking “Would you like fries with that?” a few hundred times a day.

In many ways it was the happiest summer of my life. I made lifelong friends, I wrote daily letters to my roommates and my boyfriend, I reconnected with a man who I would, four years later, marry. I ran the treacherous “Loop” every day and was perfectly content to alternate between three or four t-shirts for an eight-week stretch.

But otherwise, it was the worst summer of my life.

On one of my weekly phone calls home, I learned that my parents were coming to visit – to spend a day in Santa Cruz, to replenish my supply of books, and to bring the things I’d forgotten to pack: aspirin, clothes hangers, my denim jacket. I was excited to see them – but about a week before their visit, I started having The Dream.

In The Dream, there was a car accident, one in which my parents’ navy blue minivan went hurtling off Highway 17 or 101 South, or any of the twists and turns on Lockhart Gulch Road. It was slightly different every time, but the outcome was essentially the same: My oblivious parents were killed on impact. The Dream haunted me, creeping into my subconscious the minute I closed my eyes, making me a nervous wreck during my daytime hours.

I tried to talk my parents out of the visit. It’s halfway through the summer already, I reasoned. I’ll be home soon. I really don’t need the hangers, anyway, and I can mooch the odd aspirin here and there. I could reread all my Chaim Potok books – no problem.

I didn’t know how to say: Don’t come. There will be a car accident. You won’t survive. We don’t believe in things like that, in premonitions.

The day of their visit I sat on the picnic benches at the entrance to the conference center, waiting for the bad news. I wondered how I would find out, how I would in turn call my sisters.

But of course, they were fine. Their minivan came around the bend and we spent a lovely afternoon together. That night I called, and sure enough, they had made it home. It was like 20-pound weight, some massive sack of flour, had been lifted off my chest.

So much for premonitions.

Later that summer, I became horribly sick. I spent four days sweating and delirious on my twin bed before I was helped to a clinic in Scotts Valley. I had lost fifteen pounds and needed to be pumped full of fluids. Still later, a friend and I were in a car accident of our own in Capitola; when I stepped out of the car, unhurt, a BMW zoomed around the corner, missing me by inches. A week before I was scheduled to head back to college, a phone call was patched through to me at the gift shop. It was the single worst phone call of my life: Jeff, a good friend, had died. A freak thing: an asthma attack. I spent the next days in tears; I couldn’t get a hold of myself until a friend suggested, kindly, “Paula, honey? Why don’t you try to write about it?”

When I did, I could see that I had changed. I wasn’t the same person I had been. I had shed the skin off the old me. What was left was hard and raw and tight, like a fist.


  1. I just spent some time yesterday sorting through old letters. First, it made me miss you. (I stll have the postcard you sent with an X marking our room in East Hall). I also miss the act of writing a letter. I actually want to take some pictures of the letters and cards because some of them were really fabulous. Finally I, too, was thinking of Jeff and how short his life was.

  2. For me that summer was unforgettable too. I remember it was my first construction job. I broke my wrist. I got lots of letters and postcards. I remember being anxious a lot. I realized I couldn't really stop smoking. Then... I remember you calling me and telling me that Jeff had died.
    And I was so eager to get back to school. And everything was so intense then.

    Never forget that summer or fall.