My head is so completely fried from having just worked my fifth consecutive full day (with two more looming ahead) that I can barely type, let alone form coherent and incisive thoughts. But before I drag my sorry self to bed for some magazine reading and sighing alarm re-setting, I figured I'd try to get out of my head the kernel of something that lodged itself there earlier today, at some point during the process of packing my client's monumental collection of glassware.
So it's this: I find it both fascinating and somewhat disconcerting to be in the midst of so much transition without actually being in transition myself. There's the move job for Client #1, whom I've known and worked with weekly for about a year and a half now, and for whom I think this process is slightly traumatic and significantly sad, though she's not letting on. There's the move job for Client #2, whose home I unpacked when she moved here late in 2005. To say that the prospect of (and preparations for) moving again has her seriously freaked out would be pretty accurate.
And then there's the goodly chunk of time spent with the ex-Chicagoan over the past week. It's interesting to be able to play the role of Long-Time San Franciscan, to pilot someone around to all of my favorite spots, to inculcate someone into the cult of Complaining About Muni (though, truth be told, he'd most likely get there on his own quite soon). But it's also fascinating to try to vicariously relive the experience of being new somewhere, to remember what it's like to leave huge chunks of your life--friends, family, stuff, routines, haunts--behind, with no clear sense of when (or whether) you'd be able to gather those chunks again if you needed them.
At dinner last night he was (seemingly uncharacteristically) quiet-ish, and told me how looking at pictures of his old apartment on iPhoto earlier in the day reminded him of how many books he'd either given away or left in Chicago before he moved, and how what had been eight full bookshelves was now, here in San Francisco, barely two.
And it could well have been fatigue, or boredom, or frustration, or some indefinable emotional lacuna, but what I sensed while he spoke was a tinge of sadness and longing that neither the Pinot nor the sea bass nor the restaurant--and certainly not I--could do much to assuage.
I said something about how books are often the hardest thing to give up, or the thing we miss most when they're gone, or maybe something about how sometimes we wind up letting go of too much, though our original intentions were good.
And those are all true, but it occurred to me later that I wanted to tell him a totally unrelated story, of how, after my car got towed within a few weeks of my own move to SF (ostensibly because I'd blocked someone's driveway, though I remain skeptical), I called my parents in tears, sure it had been stolen.
That was the spark that set things off: I thought someone stole my car. And what kind of city must I have moved to if, less than a month after my arrival, and in the fairly safe neighborhood of Noe Valley, and (if I remember correctly) in the middle of the day, my car could be stolen? I remember weepingly telling Mom how achingly I wanted to be back in Boston, how heartsick I was for what I gave up, how I was sure I'd made a mistake.
She, of course, talked me down, gave me the registration info and license plate number, reminded me that I would acclimate to this new place sooner or later. I called the DPT and discovered that the car had been towed, not stolen, and that I needed only to endure the (hideously painful) process of paying the fine and retrieving it from impound to get it back--no police report, no searching for the thief, no attempting to find an alternate means of transporation in the meantime.
Ultimately, I drove home relieved, but still with the heavy sense of piteously missing a random assortment of things and people and places that, at that moment, summed up all Boston had been for me: David and James and brunch at Fritz and Harvard Square and Tealuxe and Patrick and sitting with Paula in the back yard and Val and Kelt and Kristina and, for god's sake, even Hemagen. I was thousands of miles from all of it, and the longer I stayed in San Francisco, the farther and farther away I'd get. I came home--which, at that point, was the house on Cesar Chavez with Amy and Kristin and the unbearable polyamorous hydrocolon therapist who was soon to tell me that she wanted me to move out because she didn't like my "negative energy"--and curled up on my twin futon in my tiny room and cried, for everything gone.
That was the closest I came to packing up and reversing my route and re-ensconcing myself in my Boston world. But, of course, I did none of that. I don't remember what came next: possibly I called Hemagen and had Dave make me laugh, and got sniffly when James told me how much he missed me, and smiled at Anthony's voice calling out my name in the background. Possibly I went down to Palo Alto to report for work, and let that maddening but sweet little world buoy me up. Possibly I turned myself over to Kristin and let her be the dose of familiarity I so desperately needed. I can't recall.
What I do know is that as the weeks stretched into months, I became less aware of what I'd left behind and let myself fall in love with new stuff. It would be pat (and patently untrue) to say I didn't still have my moments of aching for Boston, but in time they dulled enough that I largely stopped noticing them. Within a year, I was mad and stupid with love for San Francisco.
So I didn't tell the ex-Chicagoan this story last night (though, D, on the off chance you're reading this, I'm telling you now), and maybe that was for the best, all things considered. But I still sort of wish I had, because I wanted to acknowledge what I thought he might've been saying without actually saying (though, if indeed he didn't mean a thing beyond what he actually said, the point would've been moot at best), wanted to let him know that even a raging homebody like me can eventually adjust to something and somewhere totally new.
But I think what I most wanted to get across was that, yes, I know what it's like to miss another city's mass transit system, or a particular book you've left behind, or a bar, or a certain kind of weather, or even a stretch of sidewalk that's so familiar it bores you just to think about walking it. I know what it's like to ache for what you've known for so long, even if it doesn't seem ache-worthy.
I know how transitions like this can carve out and julienne your heart, and make you doubt yourself and your decisions and the people popping into and out of your world.
And, on the flip side, I know what it's like to watch someone do his best to gamely adjust to what's now utterly known and unquestionably familiar to you. I know, annoyingly, that there's nothing anyone else can really ever do to mitigate the sucktastic parts of these transitions for someone, as much as you (read: me) wish there were. And sometimes change follows change follows change.
So D, keep missing that chunky OED and Chicago's less lackadaisical transit drivers and the Hide Out and the sweet bartender who used to work there and the sensation of frozen nostril hairs (if not the resultant bloody noses).
But in the meantime, there's City Lights and Aardvark, the relatively un-touristed Hyde Street cable car line, the view into the great nothingness of the Pacific from Land's End, seriously kick-ass cocktails at the Presidio Social Club, and the heart-rending prettiness of driving north across the Golden Gate, which, on a good day, makes me choke up with love and awe and gratitude.