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‘You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?’

Ash Stockemer ’14 says to California: “I want to give you my memories, and I want you to nod and understand me.”

They — the self-proclaimed fourth-generation Angelenos, the Golden Coast natives — they always knew.

No, I’m not from around here.

They say that Delta, Colo., has more cows than people. I never stopped to count. I was too busy riding red trash-can lids down sand dunes until sunset. Friends and I were always trespassing through my neighbor’s alfalfa field, lying down to look up at the stars. I’m allergic to almost everything green. I’d come home with swollen eyes, sneezing. I’d come home to fighting and booze and a microwaved TV dinner.

“Never give up!” they said — parents, teachers, politicians, magazines. They always said, “Follow your dreams.” That’s why I’m here in California. Somehow I felt I could have something better than my previous existence could offer. I’ve migrated west, like so many before me. I’m sleeping on a bed of potential. A bed of California’s Gold.

The first day I met my roommate, she told me that she was a cowgirl in her past life.

She felt the inner pull of California, and that it was the remnants of her past life that pushed her to move here from Chicago. She said she felt a deep spirituality with horses and that she knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that her spirit existed in the Wild West. She dreams about it often. I dreamed of California, too. I dreamed of Hollywood, of fantastic people with fire in their hearts. I came here to escape the unwritten rules of rural life — the early marriage, the kids by age 21, the low-risk, steady-as-you-go lifestyle. Chapman was my train, my Wild West steam engine. I graduated from Chapman and got off at the last station: Home.

My head is spinning. I’m eating out of taco trucks in Echo Park. I’m walking through Orange two miles to a Chapman classmate’s house in the middle of the night. I’m hiking through Trabuco Canyon, and I forgot to bring water. I’m hopping fences in Newport with fellow writers. I’m skinny dipping in Malibu with all of my new California friends. I’m dying my hair and piercing my face. Southern California, you make my mother crazy. I’m crazy for you, too.

I’m just trying to survive you. I’m trying to stand out in your crowds, and I’m trying to fit in. I’m looking for someone to share my dreams with. I want to give you my memories, and I want you to nod and understand me. I want to take everything that is inside you, and I want to understand it, too. I want to be learned, Southern California; let me be your scholar. Let me grow into my place in the land of opportunity. Let me fill your burden. Let me flourish in your perpetual sunlight.

California, let me become part of you. Let me change you as you’ve changed me.

Stockemer graduated in May with a degree in creative writing. Previously she has written for the Chapman University literary magazine Calliope, Chapman Magazine and other publications.

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3 comments

  • What a fabulous writer! I am a Californian native…I guess I don’t have any idea what its like to try to fit in…you just do. You can’t compare the culture, attitude and landscape as “California” as a whole. Each county, city and town are completely different-that is what makes California so special. Just be yourself, and you will fall into place…being California.

  • This was a very personal piece, and I know it takes a lot of courage to share. I can definitely relate to the adventure of moving to California, heading west and taking risk. The opportunities are very rewarding and, without a doubt, you’ll make an impact on California just as much as California has made an impact on you.