Avocados drop from the tree behind our house in Santa Barbara, California like dead leaves in winter. Black-green ovals blanket our tiny back yard. Branches from that one lone tree drape all the way across our wire fence and over a portion the dirt alley that runs parallel with our property.
At three years old, I travel that yard at a very low level. The fence is trice my size and the scattered fruit is as big, if not bigger, than my bare feet. No matter how I try to step around them, I squish them instead. The sight of green meat oozing from their skin sends me squealing in horror and I run inside, under the safety of a solid roof where nothing drops.
Several blocks from the Pacific, our two-story house is set in a modest slant of a hill that faces the ocean. Like the home we had before it, farther north, I’m allowed to wander free. I run through our kitchen, still squealing, past our stairway to the screen door in our living room that looks toward the sea. Trees clutter my view, but I recognize patches of blue-green water through the tree’s limbs. The salty air tickles my nose and sparks my imagination. From memory, I conjure its full vision: White sand, wet sand, white ruffles along the water’s edge and then the endless sea.
The house is old and the walls, floors and ceilings are made of dark wood, which makes it shadowy. It’s almost summer and Mom’s not keeping the ceiling and table lights lit during the day like when we first moved in. We do have windows but too much shade prevents any meaningful light from entering.
There is one sunroom though and that is wherever Dad is.
At around seven each evening I sit on the bottom step of the staircase to wait for him to come home from the theater where he playacts and pretends. A long thin blade of fading light slices into the living room from a side window and dust floats inside its slivers. I follow the tiny particles with my eyes until I hear him whistling in the distance. The sound means he’s approaching the wooden gate at the end of our path. I get so excited I can’t watch anything but the exact spot he’ll walk through.
He stomps into the house the screen door slams behind him. He looks around as if he doesn’t see me. “Where’s my little girl?” he says in a big booming voice.
“Here, daddy. Over here.”
“Are you sure you’re my little girl?” He hovers over me. “I won’t stand for a substitute.”
“I’m sure, I’m sure.”
He picks me up and twirls me until I giggle with glee.
“You are my little girl,” he says and props me on his shoulders and holds my legs while we go from room to room to find Mom, Joy, and my brother, Jolly, who is six, three years older than me.
Until bedtime, my every moment is spent either following Dad around or perching myself somewhere where he’s in view.