A bonding experiment between four friends, renting a vacation home on Balboa Island, grew into a singular lifetime experience.
The four of us have been friends for many years. We live in different cities ― Encinitas, Marina Del Rey, Pasadena and New York City ― and decided to rent a four-bedroom home on Balboa Island for five months. Two of us were planning to stay there permanently, while the other two wanted a special hide-a-way place to migrate to and from our permanent homes.
We discovered something very quickly. When you put four strong, single, successful women of a certain age, who have managed their own homes, families, and for some, a business, into one household, there’s bound to be some dissention ― beyond the proper way to load the dishwasher.
One thing for sure, separate bedrooms were a must. The days of dorm living were decades behind us, physically and emotionally. I personally would rather share a man with another woman than a bedroom. Set in our ways and routines, we all needed a private place to escape to, if only to lie quietly with our iPods connected to our ears and a Kindle in our hands.
Bathrooms, well that’s another potential problem. We had three bathrooms and a crazy outside shower, but with all of us having different schedules we adjusted quite easily. We shared beauty products that promised miracles and decided most of them were greatly overrated. Turns out, we spent less time getting “made up” than we did 20 years ago, maybe because we’re just more comfortable with the face we see in the mirror, even if youthful beauty had surrendered to the signs of a well-lived life.
We were eager to share clothing, accessories, and styling advice just like schoolgirls and we were always running up and down the stairs for a necklace, sunglasses, purse or scarf that would really “make” another’s outfit. The most exciting challenge was helping our housemate, who was to be the mother-of-the-groom, find the perfect outfits: one for the rehearsal dinner and another for the wedding. Between the four of us and our individual closets, she looked divine.
Each of us was completely different from the others, making it always interesting, sometimes challenging, but never boring. One was a devout minimalist, and became crazed with what she called clutter. To her the boats anchored in the bay were the epitome of clutter. They floated all different directions and drove her crazy. The toaster had to be put out of sight after each use, and the dish detergent had to be placed in its labeled ceramic holder.She even made a chart for billing purposes so we could determine who used the electricity, gas and water. No one even tried to fill out the damn chart. Then there were the colored stick-on dots for each person’s food. We each had a different color ― but couldn’t remember whose color was whose. We tried them for a day or two but found that the dots fell off so we decided to go on the honor system.
The one with the new job and the long commute to work came back to our home exhausted. We treated her with tender loving care. Then there was the roommate who had found true love. She was off with Mr. Right a lot of the time, and when present in our Balboa home, her body might have been there but her head was in the clouds. The next roommate was stuck in an on-again, off-again relationship that was driving her and us crazy. We wanted him to move to Montana, and leave her alone.
We let each other know our plans ― when we were going out on “play dates” and “sleep-overs” so the others wouldn’t worry. I did suggest, as a feeble joke, that we set up a curfew, but the others expressed their contempt. In general, we were overly considerate of each other, maybe because we weren’t “family” and didn’t take each other for granted. Whatever the reason, it just worked.
We took long walks, and peeked into the beautiful homes of the elite along the bay front. We rode the ancient ferry across to the peninsula side and the fun zone. We walked up to the infamous “wedge” where the waves slam against the rocks, challenging the surfers. We even saw the CSI team rolling a gurney across the sand with a body bag when someone challenged the wrong wave.
We discovered wonderful resale shops in Corona del Mar, just above the island, and bought designer items we never thought we could afford. At Recycled Rags, I purchased a Bottega Veneta suede shawl with leather fringe that I normally wouldn’t had the nerve to even dream about. Just down the street On Que Style enticed us to browse its luxury clothing and accessories, and the Dior sunglasses begged me to take them home.
Balboa is a Brigadoon-like island. It’s as if each night, pixies sprinkle magic dust all over the place. The people are friendly and welcoming, greeting strangers with words and smiles. The sun literally somersaults off the water and casts a golden glow on the beach cottages. Boats of every kind and cost cruise up and down the surrounding channels like models on a catwalk. Life seems to move at a slower pace that matches the slow ripples that tickle the sand beaches.
During our 5-month stay, our friendships grew stronger. We survived a garage sale (probably because we sold mainly to each other) and someone was always there to lend a supportive ear. We learned to be more honest with each other, and discovered things buried but not forgotten. We came to grips with mistakes and learned to love each other more for facing and sharing the things we guarded inside. It’s hard not be the real, non-edited you when you spend that much time together.
As the days rolled towards our departure date, we were a little bit sad in our own ways. Every walk on the island was more appreciated, every sunset more special.
I strongly suggest trying something like this yourself. Get a few good friends together and share a second home for a good period of time. Consider it a well-deserved sabbatical. It might not be a villa in Tuscany, but it can be an easier commute. You will learn that friendships need to be cultivated in depth, that the world does not revolve around you, that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for others, that listening without judging is an art that needs to be practiced, and that love is what life is all about.