[This story was featured in So Say We All‘s May Story Showcase: America’s F*&$% City]
I don’t remember the exact day I lost my virginity. I didn’t write it in a diary. But I do remember a few specifics: November, 1995. 9pm-ish. Make/Model/Color: Ford Escort Station Wagon, Champagne Beige. Thirty seconds, give or take. Awkwardly. Nick [Name Withheld].
It was never really a question of the who, the what, the how, or the when. For a teenager in suburban San Diego with helicopter parents? It was all about the where. You had to find a place to DO IT. My where was a sleepy little cul-de-sac in Rancho Bernardo. My where was Graciosa Court.
My family moved to San Diego about five years prior, from England, directly to the north-inland suburb of Rancho Bernardo. Compared to a miniscule village in England, the kind of rural far-northern England with accents and attitudes even other Brits didn’t understand, Rancho Bernardo was insanely diverse and insanely huge. To kid-me, diversity was… the street names. All in Spanish, sometimes twenty something letters. Huge? Meant wide roads, palatial single family homes, and grocery stores bigger than my old school, and two of those grocery stores in every strip mall.
It was nightfall when we’d landed in Lindbergh field. A colleague of my father picked us up in his red Suburban, which could’ve swallowed three European cars. And still had room for passengers. It was a clear night and I so vividly remember that point where the 163 and I-15 merge and there’s something like ten lanes of northbound traffic and ten more on the southbound side. The cars were bigger and faster and more, so many more of them, and I actually thought I was going to die.
This was just the beginning of my relationship with American cars.
One of the first things we noticed about Rancho Bernardo, was that the biggest cars? Those giant, pointy boat-like Cadillacs? Those were slow. Those were not leaving blazing trails of tail lights up the 15 at night. They were slow because the drivers were old. Old people were the slowest, shittiest drivers ever, and they all lived in RB.
I spent what I’d consider to be my most formative years living on Bernardo Vista Drive, a quiet, gravel-yarded street just up the hill from the strip-mall part of RB. My brother, sister and I were the only kids on the street and the neighborhood. The only people younger than our parents. And I considered anyone older than my parents as textbook “elderly.” We officially lived on the most old-people street in the most old-people part of San Diego.
For the most part, I didn’t really think I was missing out on anything. As a pre-teen, I only knew I missed England.
I missed the rural childhood, the cows across the street, the village mob of children wandering the roads and fields until dark. I thought that was something England and the 1980s had that America and the 1990s would never have. I didn’t blame RB.
And there were upsides to living in senior-ville. We could play in the street all summer, and would have plenty of warning from when we first spied a Cadillac until it finally rolled past our driveway. The neighbors missed their own kids and grandkids, and would gladly buy anything that I had to sell for school, and, not counting the houses that passed out butterscotches or pennies, the Halloween candy was great. Like, full-size bar great.
But the real benefit to spending one’s formative years in a senior neighborhood wasn’t really revealed to me until I was sixteen. Sixteen, with a car of my own. And a boyfriend.
Nick [Name Withheld] moved into our neighborhood in high school, just around the corner. He was this weird mix of golden boy and bad boy. Track and field star, musician, brainy, witty, great legs. I was properly charmed. But he did not make it a priority to charm any grown-ups. He was like bizarro Eddie Haskell.
At best, my parents (and most of our shared teachers) barely tolerated him. I was a good girl. I held out for like six whole months before that fated evening on Graciosa Court.
I had a 10pm curfew, and those old people were asleep and lights out by eight. Nine tops. Nobody ever drove around the neighborhood after their dentures were put away for the night in little bedside glasses of Polident.
Nobody, that is, except for two teenagers.
It was hot that November, like it is every November here. We thought we were grown-up enough to be doing that stuff. But really we were still just kids, kids playing make-believe. Our inexperience and innocence stuck to our sweaty skin but somehow we still managed to have goosebumps.
Besides our tiny geriatric hiding place, it was otherwise impossible to find a risk-free place to park in this town, where the chances were slim of a cop shining a Maglite through the car window. I was very good at imagining how the police officer could get my parents’ phone number and inform them of exactly what he had just caught their daughter doing in the backseat of a car.
As expansive and vast as San Diego is, it can also feel incredibly claustrophobic. Unless you’re willing to night-hike with your lover to a dark corner of Mission Trails or drive up to Graciosa Ct, there are very few places you can go to escape sundried watchful eyes. Kids at school talked about parking at the top of Mt. Soledad, but every time I went, there were dozens of cars. In the movies, there was always some formulaic look-out point. Seclusion, privacy, and nature all in one nicely soundtracked package, and the top of Mt. Soledad is totally not like that at all.
Graciosa Court was our holy grail of suburban parking. A cul-de-sac, so no through-traffic, and there were houses on only one side of the street: a generic RB-esque ice plant-covered incline on the other, the side where we’d park. It was our “spot.”
I have kids of my own now, and I take the whole “it takes a village” business very seriously. Once we left England, my parents didn’t have a village any more. And maybe that’s why we had that 10pm curfew. Maybe that’s why my mother was always in the house after school. Maybe that’s why I felt like I had to hide, escape and evade at every turn.
I fully expect my friends to tell me if they catch wind of my own children doing anything untoward, but at the same time… I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t. For teenagers, it’s all a matter of WHERE. Do I want my kids to feel safe and welcome to have their awkward teenaged sex in our home? Under my roof?! OMG, I don’t know. The alternatives are equally not something I want to think about. Surely there’s middle ground. And that middle ground is probably in a suburban old folks’ neighborhood at 9pm.
I remember one of my friends had a purple Toyota Tacoma with a camper shell, and she kept blankets in the bed of her truck for more comfortable intimate use. I was sure my mother would see a picnic blanket in the back of my car and instantly assume it was for romantic indiscretions. I kept my trunk empty. There’s nothing like a little illicit sex to step up one’s paranoia.
As Nick and I folded down the seats in my Ford Escort station wagon’s trunk that relatively early evening, we didn’t use any blankets. The plastic-covered wheel wells dug into our shins and the carpet upholstery was itchy and crumby. But we had our peaceful, uninterrupted turn at super-brief, super-awkward first-time sex, and the old people snored quietly in their beds across the street.
I live in North Park now, and love it there. But my kids are growing up on a busy, main through-street, not Graciosa Court. There are no cul-de-sacs. There’s no ice plant. People drive and walk by at all hours. The public bathroom three blocks away is notorious for being “cruisey.” Despite this, and despite my happy, cushy adolescence in Rancho Bernardo, I am not moving back.
I guess my kids will just have to commute.