I recently spent 24 hours wandering around my home town. I flew into LAX, rented a speedy Hyundai Sonata, and drove/limped east during rush hour to arrive at a little hotel in Rancho Cucamonga. It’d been years since I’ve gone home; most of my family and friends have moved away and there hadn’t been a reason to make the trek to Rancho until the day I received an invite for my best friend’s baby shower. I accepted immediately. I couldn’t resist the excuse to visit.

That evening, I met up with some old friends where we caught up on the latest gossip and laughed until midnight. It’s interesting how little things change in a place like Rancho; the same group of friends still getting together for poker nights and UFC barbecues, except now with their children running amuck. Frozen memories in time played in my head on repeat, with the addition of diaper-wearing miniatures in the background.

I felt a little envious that I no longer played a part in those scenes. I wonder what my life would have been like if I stayed. Would I still be working at the Wells Fargo on Foothill, trying to make my way up to branch manager? Perhaps my hypothetical kids would be enrolled at Children’s World or KinderCare. Who would I be married to if OkCupid didn’t work well in Rancho?

The next morning, I drove up Haven Avenue, killing time before I had to leave for the baby shower. I passed my elementary school bus stop where I was pantsed in 1st grade by my 6th grade buddy (and the gutter that my color-changing visor fell into during the deception), the Big 5 where my dad used to buy my softball equipment when I was 10, Brunswick Bowling Alley where my high school friends and I would go cosmic bowling in the summer, Corky’s where we’d frequent for late night french fries and pancakes when I came home from UCSD to visit friends. The memories and feelings flooded my consciousness.

I stopped at the house I grew up in. The incline that my old home sits on seemed less steep than I remember compared to when I was a not-so-great five year old bicyclist (with the scars to prove it). It was strange to see the new, dirt brown paint job on the house. I almost cried when I saw my mother’s Crepe Myrtle replaced by a pathetic palm tree. I drove by slowly, trying not to look creepy and probably failing as I rolled back down the cul-de-sac.

It was time for the baby shower. I steered onto the 210 freeway, pondering how much my life has changed since I moved away in 2007. How I have changed. While the previous night I was regretting leaving, I realized now that I could never come back and live there. I can’t explain it well in words, but the Naureen of 2015 just doesn’t fit into the mold of the Naureen of 2007 anymore.

Rancho shaped the foundation of who I am. The bus stop incident taught me about trust and betrayal, but also about forgiveness. Playing softball at Red Hill Park introduced me to girls who are now my closest friends today. The mountains overlooking the town will always fill me with feelings of comfort and belonging.

And that’s perfectly okay. I’m lucky to have such beautiful memories while still pursuing my dreams. If I hadn’t left, I would never have been the first person after his parents to hold my nephew when he was born. I probably wouldn’t have met my husband on OkCupid. And I definitely wouldn’t be in the best job of my life in a city that continues to intrigue me on a daily basis.

But Rancho will forever be home to me.

Driving up Haven

West coaster who loves menus, beaches, and great stories.