Before UC Berkeley, my only home was the volatile world of View Ridge Towne Homes — a modest-sized gated community pushed to the northern outskirts of Los Angeles, California.
With my friends and our hyperactive imaginations, the community was infinite. It was like we were raised in another world with its own bureaucracy, laws, traditions, seasons and biomes free for us to explore.
We would set out on missions to circumvent George, the oppressive authoritarian who patrolled View Ridge and who we swore had an agenda to take the enjoyment out of our lives.
Sunny days gave us the opportunity to explore the capricious terrain that stretched behind the housing units of Lahey Street, from the peaceful prairies to the rocky roads. But really, inclement seasons were the least of our concern.
And when the great sandstorm struck after the road workers had stripped the old cracked asphalt of Lahey Street — leaving only sand and dirt to be picked up by violent San Fernando Valley winds — we were the adventurous ones who dared to set out on our bicycles to ride against the dust.
Then, without warning, the picturesque little world we inhabited started to collapse.
My friends began to move out one by one. And there was the endless storm inside my own home, where no amount of imagination could help me understand why my parents and brother were constantly fighting.
Gradually, the prairie shrunk as I got older and taller, degenerating into a mere backyard with grass and a dirt path for the residents to stroll through.
Lahey Street, once an endless opportunity for adventure, was just an empty road with speed bumps and light posts leading me in a large circle.
“How symbolic,” I thought. View Ridge was taunting me. At points in my life when I felt I was making no progress, the gates and the road would tell me that I was stuck here for good.
The infinite space I used to enjoy with my friends turned into an illusory prison, and I was the inmate in unit six. So when it was time to transfer out of junior college, UC Berkeley was my escape hatch. I packed my bags, left the group chats with my friends from the Valley and hoped for a clean slate up north.
It’s now been about a year and a half since I’ve made my second home in Berkeley. I came back to the Valley after this semester playing “spot the difference” in my head. At a glance, the game wouldn’t last very long. But after living here for 20 years, the tiniest changes were resounding.
This past Christmas, our neighbors across the street didn’t put out their iconic candy canes and the hollow plastic snowman with its faint warm glow. It was the only way I could notice that the family had moved out after so many years.
Downstairs in my house, in the bathroom, a new wood panel sign that hangs above the toilet reads, “Today I Choose Joy,” right above an old plush heart with “I Love You” stitched on it.
I’m starting to forget exactly where my resentment for my own home came from.
Maybe it’s the kitsch decorations that had my mom written all over them or the new quiet that seems to have taken over the entire gated community and the inside of my house. (The only shouts I hear now are from the Korean melodramas my mom still watches.)
All the reasons I had to resent the “prison,” which in retrospect is an island of privilege, now seem more than unwarranted.
To think of my home as a cell is ironic considering how safe it felt to live in a gated community. It was always optional for us to lock the doors. Our only intruder would be my aunt who was wont to barge in without knocking so she could drop off kimchi or other homemade Korean food.
Though Lahey Street goes in circles, I’ve forgotten how a simple lap around the community comforted me whenever it became too chaotic inside my home. And even if the prairie has significantly shrunk, the grass is always an ideal place to spend a lazy day — wind chimes that seemingly rang from the sky would easily lull me to sleep.
While things have certainly changed since the last time my friends and I rode against the sandstorm, some things haven’t.
There are new watchful protectors that circle the gated community the same way George used to.
The asphalt road is slowly showing signs of discoloration and cracks — the same things that led to the previous road’s demise.
Outside, children I’ve never seen before ride their bikes and scooters up and down Lahey Street.
And the community was experiencing its own season, in which the orange and yellow trees in the prairie indicate that they’re stuck in autumn, but the ones by Lahey reveal that we are deep in winter.
Perhaps there is still a little world to be found inside View Ridge Towne Homes.