There are places that haunt our memory, like that special someone: never forgotten, yet never able to live up to the memory we've carried for all these years. That is my relationship with Lake Tahoe.
(Cue up Barbara Streisand singing 'The Way We Were')
I love this place, truly, truly, I do. When I drove in last week and glimpsed the lake for the first time in ten years, I had a knowing smile on my face. You know, that one you get when you see someone you've had a certain something with? Yeah, that. I had to park the car, get out and take a picture. But I expected that. The place is stunningly beautiful, it has everything: mountains, water, sunny skies, beautiful homes.
Ah, that last part is actually the problem. Those lovely homes come with California style price tags and this being essentially a second home community, there's not a lot of work on offer to pay the mortgage....waitressing at Gar Wood's on the lake isn't going to cut it.
Yet, if that were the only obstacle, I believe I would find a way to surmount it. I'd find a job that paid enough to afford the $500,000 price tag on the cheapest home in town, or I'd wait until I found something even cheaper. Somehow I would make it happen, if that was all it took to call this place home.
Then the ghost of a memory rose from the asphalt as I drove through town, and followed me wherever I went. Not everything was wonderful in the year that I lived in Lake Tahoe. My father died suddenly just one week before I was scheduled to move there. Since he died and was buried in Kiev, Ukraine, I moved to Lake Tahoe with only the memory of our last phone conversation to hold as my touchstone. Unfortunately, that conversation had ended in a stupid argument. I cannot remember how many nights I stood on the deck of my lovely little Tahoe home and stared at the stars and asked my father to speak to me one last time.
That winter, I mourned my father's passing as I tried to get on with the business of living. I spent the following months writing my first novel, watching cooking shows, and drinking way too much wine...which may have fueled some of those late night conversations with the star-filled sky. I made friends, but I was also very lonely. Lake Tahoe is, as my realtor mentioned, not a great place for singles. Many of the homes are empty during the week and filled with families or couples and their friends on the weekends. I understand now that this environment fed my natural tendency toward reclusive-ness. Maybe I didn't try hard enough, but at the end of year when the call came to join my mother in Kiev, I moved.
Coming back to this place I was struck that what I had imagined as the fulfillment of a dream, of a glorious homecoming was also tinged with the return of these difficult memories. It made me consider that perhaps what I needed was a fresh start in a new place, a community where I would be surrounded by year round residents. I know that I suffer from the tendency to idealize any place, that in fact, happiness is something we make, not something we find.
As I write this post, I have made the decision to spend the month of September in Evergreen, Colorado, though my heart is still in Tahoe. While my mind looks forward, my heart schemes in the background saying, 'maybe if you gave it one more chance it would work out this time'.... but I have to move forward, and save Lake Tahoe for another day.