In my dreams I live in Prunedale.
My mother and her third husband bought the place just outside the edge of town when I was about 15, so that would have been 1983. It was, if my memory serves, the 10th place I had lived in my life at the time. If that number is true then it was the 8th different place I had lived in 4 years. That seems odd.
I grew up on Atherton Way in Salinas. After my parents divorced, my mother and her second husband and I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We lived there for a few months one summer with my mother’s second husband’s parents with the intention of making it our home. But he couldn’t find a job and the old folks were bat-shit crazy so we packed everything up and moved to Denver, Colorado. I guess I must have been about 12.
We lasted in Colorado for a few weeks, even rented our own home. But my mother’s second husband was a violent man and, after a week or so in a Denver suburb, her and I packed up the station wagon in the middle of the night and drove back to California. She reconciled with him and moved to San Jose, but I stayed to live with my oldest sister. Not long after, while I was visiting in San Jose, he tried to kill her and I helped her escape. After that, we both lived at my sister’s house for a bit.
My mother went back to work and rented a small place on Natividad Road between a church and a Winchell’s. Me and her and my closest chronological sister all lived there. It was a crazy place, and we had a major break-in through the front window facing a busy street once. One night an old drunk threatened to break down the front door and beat the crap out of me if I didn’t open it. He had the wrong house.
It was at Natividad where my mom got social and started going out a lot, and eventually met Rusty, her third husband, and the only one I call step-dad. He was a good dude, if somewhat peculiar and full of questionable stories. Honestly, I liked him a lot. Soon after, we all moved to Mae Avenue.
Mae Avenue is in East Salinas, so all my friends were scared for me. When I transferred from North Salinas High to Alisal High they were even more worried. Alisal was the predominately Mexican high school in town and they all thought I’d get killed by a gang or something. I wasn’t worried because I had always gotten along well with Mexicans and people in gangs so I figured I’d be alright. I was. It wasn’t as bad as they’d heard. I made a ton of lifetime friends and almost never got beat up.
Rusty, the step-dad, was a junk collector. He and his worthless son would both make impossible messes in yards and garages that would piss off landlords. That’s why we didn’t last at Mae Avenue or over in Laurel Heights or on Aragon Circle. We kept getting the boot. I remember my mother crying about that. So that’s why her and Rusty bought the house in Prunedale. From then on, much to my mother’s chagrin, Rusty and his son could let the garbage pile up unhindered.
The Prunedale house was built in 1961 and was rather run down, but it had a lot of sleeping area and it came cheap. If you included the mobile home at the back of the property, which was there illegally, you could comfortably sleep a good dozen adults at the Prunedale house. And we did. There were a lot of us living out there when I was in my teens.
I lived there until I was 18, then I vanished off the face of the earth for 11 months. I went to El Centro to bunk with a friend for a while, then we moved into San Diego to begin life in earnest. But I was an indolent little shit and I got hooked on crank a bit so he kicked me out. In San Diego, over the next 7 months, I lived in 5 different places: with my boss for a time, in a weekly motel for a bit, at my own apartment (which I lost), on my new friend’s grandmother’s couch for a while, and then in a hotel room for several weeks paying day to day. But I lost my job and I lost my friend and I ran out of money so I called my mom for a bus ticket home.
I lived in Prunedale again, renting from my mom, for the next several years. A lot of us did that. Mom would always take us back. My future wife came to live in that Prunedale room with me. I became Rusty’s go-to guy in his lawn service business and even got my driver’s license back, eventually. At 26 I bought the lawn business from Rusty. At 29 I bought their house. We lived in that Prunedale house, my wife and I, for the next 6 years after. People driving by that house would stop and thank me for buying it, because it always looked so clean compared to the state the previous owners had kept it in. I always thanked them but never told them I’d been there all along.
We sold that house and the wife and I moved up to Happy Valley with a little money in our pockets. We moved in with mom again, after Rusty died, while we looked for a house. There were two mobile homes out there in the country on my middle brother’s property and my mom lived in one. It was nice and quiet and the stars were beautiful, but I didn’t like stirring the overused septic tank in the rain so the missus and I expedited our next purchase. We (only) had two dogs and four cats then and I thought renting would be tough so we bought a place.
We overbought a place, I should say, that we didn’t really like. That was in a Redding suburb on a sharp hill and the backyard had very little privacy from the rear and left. I hated that. But we were only going to be on Cal Ore for a few years and then sell and get out of that house and out of Redding altogether. We were still writing our next chapter. It got written for us when the economy collapsed and the house went $150k underwater. Eventually, like a lot of folks, we just stopped paying the bill. Three years after that the bank kicked us out.
Magically, we stumbled upon a place to rent that would allow my two golden retrievers, was tucked away in a beautiful suburb, and had an enormous backyard with near complete privacy. I soon called it my favorite place on the planet. Two years later, I bought it and we’ll likely be here for the rest of our lives.
But in my dreams I live in Prunedale. Not my childhood home, not the home I’m in now and not on Cal Ore. In Prunedale.
Last night I had a dream and I was in Prunedale. The details are faded and inconsequential but I woke up wondering why I’m always in Prunedale. In the wee hours it occurred to me.
I’ve been in Mary Lake for three years. I was on Cal Ore for 12 years. I was in my childhood family home about 8 years. I lived in Denver for a week and Pittsburgh for a couple of months. Mae Avenue and Aragon and that Laurel Heights place were a year or two combined.
I lived in Prunedale for 20 years.
I didn’t realize that, for some reason. Most of my life, so far, was in that little beaten up place just outside Salinas. Most of my memories take me there now, whether that’s where they’re supposed to be or not. My formative years were there. Mid-teens to early 30s, when I went from child to adult, single to married, listless to gainfully employed, insecure to confident. Freeloader to homeowner. Tommy to Tom.
I look at the top of the page and see a place I don’t really recognize. I look at the bottom and see the culmination of all my years.
My mind, when I sleep, may still take me to Prunedale.
But my heart has truly found a home.