In the L.A. of my dreams the city shouldn’t be this hard to live in

Zinzi Clemmons on the grounds of the University of California, Davis in Davis, California on November 13, 2021.
(Cayce Clifford/For The Times)
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This story is part of Image issue 7, “Survival,” a collective vision for the L.A. of our dreams. See the full package here.

Dear Grandma,

You brought my father here so many years ago seeking escape, seeking peace, seeking opportunity. You had little else besides your dreams and a AAA map and you made it here from Queens, then you made a home, and then my father made enough of himself to leave.

So many years later, I followed you here. I knew little about this place but I needed a fresh start. Grandpa had passed and his apartment was empty, so we went to live there to get on our feet. Next to golf clubs and barbecue and $1,000 from that one time he hit the lottery, it was the biggest gift he’d ever given me. Its cost: one human life. (Is that our fate?) You only entered it to bring us some groceries and kitchen towels as a welcome. It meant so much to us. Even though they’d painted the walls and swapped out the furniture, Grandpa was still there. I can only imagine how difficult that was, for you to brush aside your pain for our sake.

 Zinzi Clemmons at her office at University of California, Davis in Davis, California on November 13, 2021.
(Cayce Clifford/For The Times)
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Perhaps I sought the same things as you in coming here. We had no money, but our little dreams were beginning to sprout new leaves, and we knew about the powers of California sunshine. We suffered, we were tested, but those dreams grew and took root. You decided to love my husband like your own grandson, and you gave him what he needed more than anything at the time: family. We fell in love with the ocean and the lazy Saturdays and the horizon that stretched out wider than anything we’d ever seen. We found people we loved. It was the first home we made together, the first home either of us had found in years.

These letters are part of Image issue 7, “Survival,” a collective vision for the L.A. of our dreams.

Los Angeles: It shouldn’t be this hard to live. You’re so enchanting and so peaceful that your docility masks the deep struggle at your core. And it’s true, I could never go along to get along (that’s always been my problem, my mom told me), and maybe if I had I’d have gotten that promotion and we’d be living on easy street, 90042. Maybe it was my fault. But other people discovered our paradise, and it wasn’t ours anymore. Every year the rents got higher, and it felt like there was nowhere for us to go.

Zinzi Clemmons on the grounds of the University of California, Davis in Davis, California on November 13, 2021.
(Cayce Clifford/For The Times)

Grandma, you love it here so much. You tell me every time I see you. You love the sunshine, you love the glamour, you love the trees you can see from your apartment window, and you even love riding the bus. You’d think this life you’ve made, so common in its beauties, is too small a thing to snatch from someone. But every day is a quiet threat, every year survived a feat of will. You’ve lived a great life and a hard life, and I want you to stay here as long as you want.

Zinzi

Zinzi Clemmons published her debut novel, “What We Lose,” in 2017. Her essay collection “Freedom” is forthcoming from Viking.

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