Graphic by Indi Cummings

Emma Garcia

3 March 2024
For the majority of my childhood, I lived on the corner of a street in an unassuming suburb. My elementary school was only about ten minutes away from my house, so many of my neighbors doubled as my friends and classmates. Countless memories include using my house phone to call the homes of my friends, rallying together to play in someone’s front yard until we disbanded for our respective dinners.

I have painfully clear memories of walking to the shopping plaza closest to my middle school with my backpack on in a group of six other 12-year-olds on a minimum day. We would go to Wingstop, then Bel Air, then the boba shop, finally ending the day loitering around the parking lot until it was time for someone’s mom or older sibling to pick us up. Variations of that day were the epitome of friendship and connection for my younger self, united together with sore shoulders and sweaty faces.

Getting a driver’s license in high school eliminated the need for me to walk to a friend's house or beg for a ride from my older brother or parents whenever I wanted to socialize, but it also highlighted how disconnected my neighborhood was from the exciting parts of my hometown. Going to a cafe that isn’t a chain or window shopping at a real clothing store (not Old Navy) required a 20 minute drive to midtown Sacramento. In high school, one of my closest friends lived with her mother in a midtown apartment, and spending time there gave me a glimpse into a drastically different way of living. At night, you could hear friends walking around outside and the loud music that escaped  from passing cars. In the mornings, we would get ready to walk outside and explore all of the niche stores that lined her block. I was in awe of how easily accessible things could be; we didn’t need a car or any real plan. There were just places waiting to be discovered by us.

I remember the jealousy I had experienced after seeing that version of a life; my house was surrounded by others just like it while her’s was immersed into something so much more alive. As I got older, my neighborhood seemed to become void of the laughter and fun that I swore I experienced when I was a child. Being in that apartment, separated from the street’s noise by just a set of stairs felt so safe. There was a comfort that came from knowing that people were active and alive right below me.  There was no proof of life or joy that snuck through my windows like they did in that apartment.

Years later, when I was looking for housing in Berkeley, I found an apartment located right next to campus. It was on the top floor of a tiny apartment building on a street decorated with stores full of unnecessary, cute knick-knacks, a bar, restaurants, and a yogurt shop. My new home has windows that face those of other apartment buildings and dorms that are overflowing with signs of human life. The lights of the bar next door and commuting cars flash through my windows all through the night. I can constantly see and hear people walking from building to building, and I am never the only person walking on the sidewalk.

Directly next door to my apartment is the dorm that houses one of my closest friends; I’ve spent countless nights with her in the building’s gym or study room. Across the street from us lives another friend that I see—at the very least—3 times a week. On Wednesday nights, we walk to the market to buy snacks to share while watching a movie on my couch. My friends don’t have to text me when they get home because I can see them walking to their doors from my window. When I want to spoil myself with my favorite matcha, I just have to walk across campus to get to the cafe where I always run into someone I know. If I want to go to Target, it’s only a twelve minute walk away. My favorite grocery store is a few blocks down and if I get too tired from walking, I can just hop on the bus that reaches practically every street in the city.

Going to a friend's house is no longer a taxing affair, but instead just me getting steps in with a really fun prize at the end of my walk. I constantly have the opportunity to interact with people, and even if I deny it at that moment, it’s still always available to me. There’s so much comfort and hope that comes from being in close proximity to others, and I am so scared to lose that when I graduate. Although I haven’t been in Berkeley long, I’ve grown so comfortable with the noise and availability that it’s hard to imagine living without my favorite people a few minutes away. I think some of that sadness is because leaving this reality also marks the ending of this part of my life, one that I’m very fond of and that I feel has just started.

I have one year left of living in Berkeley before I return to the suburbs that raised me. In my perfect future, I will once again experience what it’s like to live in a charming, old apartment that you can never truly clean, one that’s within walking distance of the place that has my favorite food that I haven’t tried yet.

I’m going to miss the rings that form on my arms when I carry my groceries home. I’m going to miss speed-walking home after class to grab a jacket from my apartment before my next lecture begins. I’m going to miss the presence of possibility, something that I haven’t felt as strongly anywhere else. And while I have so much to grieve about a transition that hasn’t even begun, I feel like I’m writing love letters to this city and the life it’s given me so far. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have loved so much so deeply!