Returning


It’s taken two solid months, but I think I’m finally coming back to earth after San Francisco.

I remember the first day we were in the city, on the shared-ride van that drove us from the airport to the apartment—I remember looking out the van’s windows at the highways and the hills and the trees that were so California, and I held my breath and felt immediately and completely at home. I remember driving through sunny neighborhoods of stucco houses, the Spanish tile roofs, the pastel colors of the Sunset district. The day was bright and unseasonably warm and we were giddy on little sleep and little food and too many hours spent cooped up in airplane seats. Everything was beginning.

I took the same shuttle back to the airport the night I left. The sun had set, but it wasn’t fully dark. The drive was longer this time, more stops to pick people up on our way, and as we wound through the city neighborhoods, the streets I knew by now, I felt quiet and torn. I’d been alone for weeks at this point, and I couldn’t wait to see Jesse. But in the month I was there, I did not for one minute feel homesick for anything other than the people in my life back here.

The van stopped on a residential street to wait for a passenger. The light was failing, and the fog was rolling in. Inside the houses, people were switching on lamps and watching TV and running the dishwasher and doing homework. Our driver called the passenger again as we waited, shifting in our seats, tapping our feet, clutching our carry-ons.

A door opened across the street, and we watched a man walk down the stairs of his house, carrying a suitcase. He was taking his time, and at the door he paused to kiss the woman holding it open. In my mind now, they are frozen in that moment, bathed in the warm light of their home, just before he is about to walk into the weak gray dark.

When I got home, I felt half here and half somewhere else. Even the mention of San Francisco could make me cry. I’d look through the pictures I took and close my eyes and breathe deep and try to smell the eucalyptus. I’d remember the wind on my face, the gentle fog, the Western sun setting. But I was home with Jesse and my cats, in the same time zone as our families, and close to our friends.

Now, as time continues to pass, I feel myself settling back into life here. Perhaps it’s my classes, my students throwing me an anchor, giving me something to focus on. Maybe it is my friend’s new baby.

Maybe it was the wedding we attended last weekend—the reception, at an old Southern mansion. We sat drinking sweet tea with friends at a long table under sprawling oak trees, our faces gently lit by candles and soft white lights. The day had been cloudy, and now the night sky was oddly orange and felt far away. Maybe it was dancing with Jessica and Amie and Kirsten under a bright white tent, the dark Southern night surrounding us but not touching us. The air was sweet and humid and everything was lovely.

Maybe it is a hundred other things, but I am settling into a sense of comfort here, a sense of being where I am, of loving San Francisco and the memories I have there, but also loving this place for what it is, and enjoying the memories I am currently making here.

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