In a few weeks, I will put what relatively few possessions I have into storage, get behind the wheel of my aging Volkswagen convertible, and drive down I-5 to Los Angeles.There, I’ll attempt to write a book about what happened to me in San Francisco. I came to SF nine years ago in a 23-foot Winnebago. I had first seen the city when I was 20, knowing immediately and without a doubt that I belonged in it. It took a long time to get here, but upon arrival, I could feel the marine air and crystalline light envelop me like a vaporous shield, encasing my happiness and warding off the anxieties and melancholy of my youth.
Nothing bad can happen to me here, I thought wondrously. I remember declaring, “This is it. I’m going to be buried in Colma.”
Within two years, I’d snatched the job of my dreams, made several fascinating friends, began having more fun than I’d had since I was a kid, and bought my first house—a lovely little Georgian in the Castro, where dinner parties regularly morphed into late-night dance-offs. I began to open up not just socially but sexually, no doubt due to age but also due to the city’s open-minded sense of experimentation. Tantra workshops, orgasmic meditation, erotic dance classes, and feminine-empowerment circles beckoned. My iPhone blinked continually with invites to galas and boat outings and dive bars, its address book filling with the names of acquaintances who, like me, sought to expand their boundaries. Like everyone we knew, my husband and I lived from one travel outing to the next, always on our way to or back from Tahoe, Napa, Mendocino, Mexico, Hawaii, New York, Europe. In the midst of all this, I reached for the one thing I didn’t yet have—a child, partly out of a natural biological urge, partly out of a desperate, if semiconscious, sense that I needed something irrevocable to anchor me amid all the colorful, entrancing motion at the surface.
San Francisco’s sheen has worn off, or more precisely, mine has. Its shimmering beauty and limitless potential didn’t protect me from anything, least of all myself. Quite the opposite. It ripped the lid off my life and said, “Look. You can have anything you want.”
When I signed a lease and realized I was actually leaving San Francisco, I stopped sleeping. For several nights over several weeks, I’d lie awake until dawn, angst-ridden, praying, damning, wondering what on Earth my future held. At a Giants game, while standing in line for garlic fries, panic crept up my spine, sending me to the restroom in sobs. For the truth is, I’m horrible at change. I’m no adventurer. This whole time, it was San Francisco that was the adventurer. It opened its wide, wild cloak, and I stepped in and let it sweep me up.
When I emerged from the restroom, it was the seventh-inning stretch. The crowd was standing and swaying along to Journey’s “When the Lights Go Down in the City.” I looked out over the bay and up at the circling seagulls. Every sight I laid eyes on—the kayakers waiting for a homer, the giant Coke slide, the sliver of Bay Bridge off to my left—tore at me. Helpless, I whispered to myself, “Don’t worry. It’s not going anywhere.”
That’s the kind of city it is. The kind that breaks your heart. The kind that’s hard to leave.