It happens again, as it does every time I drive past Green Valley Elementary School— a tiny shiver down my back as I glance at the playground.
I see my 11-year-old self chased into the school yard by a pack of evil, marauding fifth graders with water balloons.
"Get her! Get her!" they shout as I hide behind the slide, tears streaming down my face as I wait for the teasing classmates to give up, or head to the buses on the last day of school before summer break.
Driving again, this time through there is another wave of anxiety as I glance toward the gates of the ritzy development that fed most of the kids into my high school, Monte Vista.
Certainly the Diablo and Roundhill neighborhoods where I grew-up were nothing to sneeze at, but when Blackhawk opened its gates in the early '80s, "looking the part" was elevated to new standards, particularly for peer pressure-tortured teenage girls.
I envied the girls from Blackhawk who streamed onto "Monkey Hill," aka Monte Vista, in new outfits from McCaulou's, while I— the offsping of a divorced mom struggling to pay her mortgage—saved paychecks from the hotdog stand on Hartz Avenue to keep my wardrobe up to snuff.
How could I possibly doom my innocent three-year-old— my chortling happy little guy strapped into his carseat behind me— to this life?
Didn't I swear up and down the day I packed my bags for U.C. Santa Barbara that I would never return to "The 'Ville," let alone raise my family here?
And yet, I begrudgingly admit that as a parent and burned out city gal with almost 20 years of urban living under my belt, Danville looks a whole lot different, and better, than it ever did.
As a parent, I can appreciate the small town charm of Danville, not to mention the safe neighborhoods, kid-friendly eateries, clean sidewalks and good (free!) public schools. Gritty San Francisco life loses its appeal the third time your car stereo is stolen, the tenth time you're caught in the rain circling the front door searching for a parking spot and the eighth night in a row your baby is awoken by screaming sirens at midnight.
Also, I wonder how many of my traumatizing Danville memories have been enhanced by years of retelling? To be sure, much of what I experienced said more about my own insecurities and awkwardness as a young girl, than about Danville.
What's more, Danville actually is different now compared to when I grew up here in the late '70s and '80s. For one, there's finally a downtown.
At one time the span between the Livery & Mercantile and Clocktower was a stretch of road with sparse pedestrian traffic. The revitalization of Hartz and Prospect Avenues in particular, with the addition of great boutiques, restaurants, and the Iron Horse Trail, has changed the character of Danville from a drive-through, car-centric town, to one where families stroll, play, ride, run, eat, drink and hang out.
On a warm summer evening, there are few places this former city girl would rather be than kicking back on the patio of Pete's Brass Rail sipping a Chardonnay with her curly fries.
True, the affluence has not dimmed in Danville and might have even increased if I count the number of Range Rovers pulling into my son's preschool parking lot.
I am sure that there are still plenty of "mean kids" lurking in the hallways of my former elementary school. Somehow, though, I know my son is going to survive and thrive here, just as I did many years ago.