Three years (and change) ago, I got a job offer from Stockton Unified and was happy to accept it. I suddenly found myself with two weeks to find an apartment, move in, and get ready for a new school year. It was busy, crazy and hectic, but I managed.
I'll never forget the response of one friend, telling me I was silly to accept an offer so quickly, even though before this she had encouraged me to take any job I could find in this job market. I know now, from what happened to that friendship since then, that she was just being a brutal snob--Stockton had a terrible reputation, and she didn't want to take the time to find out if maybe, just maybe, it had it's good qualities. "Why would you want to live there?" she emailed me from her ivory tower in San Francisco's run-down Mission neighborhood.
All I could do was stifle the hurt and quietly reply, "Because this is exactly the job I want."
Anyway, I moved. I was delighted to find out that Stockton has a long-running and very active choral group, Stockton Chorale. There is a full symphony, the third-oldest in California. Stockton has a major university (University of the Pacific), a small remote campus for Cal State Stanislaus, and a thriving junior college, San Joaquin Delta.
As I explored my new surroundings and approached my thirtieth birthday, some of the life and spunk that had been missing while I lived in Antioch came roaring back--I was happy and content with where my life was going. I got a spot in Chorale and started singing regularly. My confidence soared. In February 2009, I went to the gym one day and did a monumental thing--I sat down with a trainer, looked him in the eye and said the most brutally honest words I've ever uttered about myself: "I need help."
Three years in Stockton--the longest I've lived anywhere since graduating from Chico in 2001. I've had tremendous highs and a few crushing lows, but I come out at the end of my time here confident that I am a better person for everything that has happened in this small, misunderstood city in the heart of the Central Valley.
When I look back on these three years, I think my thoughts will go immediately to the good things that have happened here: adopting Harley, volunteering with Animal Friends Connection, singing with Chorale, losing 60 pounds, finding a new confidence, discovering Keane (though I had to drive to Oakland to do it), the new friendships both near and far. The distressing parts--noisy neighbors, a bad boss and losing my job, last year's ER adventure--will fade into insignificance because honestly, they don't define my time here. They only served to make me stronger.
Now that I've made the decision to leave, I can see that staying in Stockton would not mean continued growth. I've gone as far as I can here, and it's time to find my next adventure. Will I come back someday and settle here? Probably not. I don't see my life path bringing me back here...but then, I never say never. But I'll never regret my decision to move here three years ago.
Stockton is more than it's reputation of gang violence and frequent crime suggests--it is lovely waterways and a thriving arts community. It is a stubborn determination to take back the city from the "Most Miserable Cities" list in Forbes. It is full of small business and chains alike, staying afloat somehow in a nasty economy and an horrible housing market. It is Haggin Museum, the Bob Hope Theater, the University Bell Tower, and the Miracle Mile. It is the Port of Stockton and the Stockton Ports. It is tree-lined streets and lovingly tended old homes in the university neighborhood, and the surrounding farm lands of the delta country.
This city has its work cut out in terms of battling poverty and gang violence, yes. Underfunded police are stretched thin but every single time I've spoken to an officer--whether it is a police chaplain hanging out at an elementary school to open lines of communication with the children and families of the community, or two officers responding to my call when I feared the child next door was being abused--every time, the police have been polite, committed to the community. They thanked me for calling in what ended up being a false alarm, as they'd rather have that than a dead child.
I suppose in 20 years, Stockton will be just another place I lived, another thumb tack stuck in a map on the wall illustrating my life journey...but I hope that I never forget how I thrived here, how I moved to this place just for a job and left it three years later a better, happier person for my time here. I am excited to see what new adventures will unfold before me, but I also leave a small piece of myself in this "miserable" little city, with the cats and kittens I've cleaned up after, and the community of singers I made music with. Maybe some of what I taught in my two years here will stay with some of my pupils, and they will take their memories of Miss Cooper with them as they become adults. I hope so.
I wish this place prosperity and a turnaround from everything that tries to bring it down.
Thank you, Stockton, for being my home.
Meg of the Little Pink Blog
|St. John's Anglican -- Where Chorale meets|
|On the Miracle Mile|
|Little Manila, in downtown|
|A view of Mt. Diablo from one of many waterways.|
|The Miracle Mile|