I had only driven through Palm Springs once, since I left it twenty years ago, and that was when I was moving to Los Angeles, the Meat of Cheese sitting by my side. I remember feeling nervous as I drove through it, and I called home to tell Dad I was driving though the place that changed my family for good.
We lived there for almost two years, half in a house and half in a hotel. Due to the series of unfortunate events that occurred during my time in what I remember as a hybrid of a retirement home and a Van Halen video, there were some parts of it that I couldn’t remember anymore, like what Dad’s hotel looked like, or what it was called, or where it was. I remembered Palm Canyon Drive, and how you could eat on the second floor of a hamburger joint and watch girls in bikinis rollerskate down the street. I remembered our house, and my school, and had visions of a tram heading up towards the San Jacinto mountains. Bob Hope’s house. Sandstorms.
But mostly I remember that city as the place where I did the very last of my growing-up, and a place that was the Texas to my Louise.
This weekend I went back to Palm Springs. It was much scarier in theory than in practice. This is because I went with someone I love and trust, and we spent the first day drinking and sitting in a pool. Anything is easier to tackle after margaritas the size of your face and a two a.m. viewing of The Ice Princess.
My mother’s memory of Palm Springs was also pretty vague. “You’re going to want the mountains to be on your right,” she kept saying. The mountains were on our right, but also on our left, and behind us, and in front of us, too. Luckily my elementary school still existed, so I MapQuested the general area.
“Where are the girls in bikinis?” we kept screaming. “Where is anything?” There were no stores, no shops, no gas stations. Just apartments and hotels and resorts. It didn’t look anything like I remembered. Only street names were familiar. Then we turned a corner, and I knew.
“That’s my dad’s hotel.”
We pulled into the driveway. I was pointing before I knew what I was about to say. “That’s my room. That’s where I lived.”
The hotel hasn’t changed in twenty years. This makes me sad for the people who stay at the hotel, because when I say it hasn’t changed, I’m not kidding. The door was the same door. The paint on the stairs was the same color. I’ve talked about how we usually didn’t feel earthquakes when we lived in the hotel because our room was over the laundry room, and just as I remembered it, the door to the laundry room was open, where large machines tumbled the building’s wash. I turned the corner, entering the hallway where my parents’ door was, and then it hit me. The smell of that hallway, next to the ice machine, next to the elevator, (the wallpaper was exactly the same — it was like the building was on pause since I left it) — that’s when the wind was knocked out of me. But it was still easier than I thought. I was still standing. I walked us to the pool, which was exactly the same. The chairs, I think, were the same chairs, warped and beat-up from decades of sun abuse. The tree we played under, beneath our room’s balcony, was still there.
The restaurant and the bar were the same. Walking into the bar I was filled with memories of Dad sitting there late at night with his friends, the sound of their adult laughter — that weird, scary sound of grown-ups acting like kids — filling my head as I ate ice cream at the bar and talked to my imaginary friends.
There were a few older men at the bar, and we both thought at the same time, “I bet they knew him.” I couldn’t bring myself to ask. If even one person started talking about Dad, I would have lost it.
I couldn’t have told you what this hotel looked like if you asked me the day before. I didn’t remember much more than the interiors of our rooms. Now I was walking through it like I only left it last week. It was like walking through that house in your dream that’s not your house but is your house, and I kept expecting to turn a corner to see a picture of my dad, like we were at the Overlook.
My elementary school has been completely remodeled. Then we had some difficulty finding my old house. Once I did, the owner opened the garage before I could sufficiently snoop. I didn’t want to be that girl to ask, “Hey, I used to live here, so I can I look at the pool?” so we took off.
I had gotten so many of my memories wrong. The house wasn’t far from the hotel or the school, but I remember a long walk. It was maybe a block. And I would have thought I could pick our house out in seconds, but I convinced myself a wrong house was the right one until I saw it didn’t have a pool. We turned a corner and a cul-de-sac looked so familiar that I knew where the house was. But it was a different color, and hidden from the street, and hard to point out where I cut my leg, where I played with my Cabbage Patch Kid, where I pretended to kiss Michael Jackson for hours.
I hadn’t expected the hotel, the place I tried to forget the most, to be the one thing that seemed to be waiting for me, ready for closure, stuck back in the time when it fucked with me and my family. It’s comforting to see it run-down and sad, with the same people at the bar and the same people at the pool. It didn’t deserve to renovate and flourish. I want it to stay small and weak, defenseless, as I was back then when it ruined everything. I liked seeing it suffer.
We got very lost looking for the girls in bikinis, and never found them. There was no tram, no hamburger joint, no Bob Hope’s house. We were driving through desert, unable to find a single thing that looked like the present, wondering how we slipped into a time warp. By the time we found the 10, I was no longer nostalgic. I just wanted to go home.