I am moving to San Francisco at the end of the month, for abstract and possibly impulsive/illogical reasons. I have no plan.
My last trip to San Francisco was in 2000, the summer everybody left everybody else, including me. It was the summer I felt fucked for no reason and kept traveling distances to watch other people fight. Mostly they fought about how it's hard to love people and be far away from them, or how it's hard to love people and watch them change into a person you don't recognize, which I think happens like a year after high school, maybe, or maybe it keeps on happening.
First up was running away from Manhattan, where I'd just finished up an NYU photography class and was waitressing at the Olive Garden in Times Square. I chose to leave suddenly, like the indifferent, fragmented, endlessly needy but cold-as-fuck person that I was. I just haven't really ever not known what I wanted more than I didn't know that summer.
It was June, maybe 2 am, when I waved at the doorman of our midtown post-work haunt (I'd befriended the owner's son, who'd sent me some mediocre love poems and earned me the eternal devotion of his employ, regardless of my age) and walked, uncertainly dressed in platform sandals and a brown sunddress that made my legs look good, back to Mike's going away party. Mike, the 27-year-old law student I'd been sleeping with since February, was headed to L.A. for the summer for no discernible reason. He was perversely delighted by our collective disapproval of this decision.
High drama was underway: Jen, another server, had baked a cake for Mike and also confessed her longtime crush on him. So she was crying next to this cake we were scared to eat. Mike was on a rampage, inspired by Jen's friend Steve asking Mike to be kinder about rejecting Jen. For example, the "YOU? HELL NO!" was unnecessarily cruel. This only enraged Mike further: "Fuck you guys! FUCK. YOU. GUYS. I dunneedyou! New Olive Garden, all new friends, alllll new women!"
I thought, I'm sleeping with someone who just said NEW OLIVE GARDEN!
I'd probably cried 5-10 times in front of Mike already but that night I was the calm, embarrassed/horrified babysitter, all crossed eyebrows & arms. On our way out, Mike spun on his heels, grabbed the hand of the new young pretty OG girl and stuck his tongue down her throat. They kissed for two mortifying minutes, I stuffed him in a cab and he remembered nothing the next day. Being with Mike felt like a claymation fistfight in slow motion, like a game of "How Low Can You Go?", where the winner must completely evacuate vast reserves of self-worth.
Mike left for the airport and I trotted back to my apartment where I was greeted by the ballistic face of my psychotic pseudo-beatnick roommate Evan. Gorey-like, the elongated tool of his mouth and eyes dashed at me from all corners, screaming about my BLOWDRYER being PLUGGED IN (apparently a primary cause of unexpected house fires) and also about his IMPORTANT VOICE MAILS from AUDITION PEOPLE which I'd COMPLETELY ERASED like a person with no RESPECT.
After that pissing contest I decided to move out the next day instead of staying for the summer. I moved swiftly about my mess & boxes like a swan out of hell. I quit my job and scheduled a flight back to Michigan.
I bid adieu to my Oklahoma-bred gay best friend from boarding school, Hayden, who I'd moved to Manhattan with from Sarah Lawrence and who'd let Evan move into Our Apartment under false pretenses. Hayden was obsessed with Evan's obvious gay crush on Hayden, though Hayden didn't really want to fuck Evan. Hayden had hated my relationship with Mike, I had hated Hayden's relationship with cocaine and Evan. We were at silent odds.
Hayden was my "other half." We'd been obsessed with each other for three years. We pawed, held, cried, saved, even fucked (we'd decided having sex would make us as close as possible, adding a physical element to the emotional and what we perceived to be a "supernatural" bond between us) -- we could barely breathe without the other. Friendships like that don't last into adulthood, because you should know better by then.
Later that summer, Evan would try to kill Hayden with a broom. In September, Hayden would move to a Navajo reservation and I would start school at the University of Michigan, where I transferred from Sarah Lawrence because I didn't know what the fuck I was doing and thought the in-state tuition was better suited to this kind of indecision.
I hugged Hayden like I might see him again in a few months. We'd never been apart much longer than that.
I never saw Hayden again.
I carried a barrel of anxiety/neediness in my stomach then. It was gigantic, it could swallow plants, but I also tried to keep it hidden by not talking too much. Then before you knew it you were knee-deep in my fucking barrel.
I was like a girl who wanted to be trampled on and was just looking for the right trampler. My personality was up for grabs -- first come, first serve.
I booked a handful of West Coast trips to fill Michigan's endless numbered days 'cause almost as soon as I got home, I started going nuts, and there wasn't enough time to get a new job before school started. My brother and I were silent fighting about our own self-loathing, my Mom was dating a track coach who's son had sold her a ton of Cutco Knives.
I felt like the protagonist in one of those popular late 90s films about sad people w/nice houses. I'd be watching TV but would feel like I was standing at attention in an empty carpeted room, staring out the window, vacuum cocked in my right hand like a machine gun.
Nothing happened. My friends were out of town. Nothing to think about but the past; which I hadn't enjoyed too much at the time. Or the future, which made my stomach hurt.
You might notice that nothing was wrong, really. Like I didn't have any "problems."
Seattle was pleasant -- we went raspberry picking, made a lot of complicated meals, went to a museum or two, took an overnight jaunt to Vancouver where we fell in love with the city, and also, for one drunken night in a restaurant we couldn't afford with big windows overlooking the water, fell back in love with our friendship.
But also Sabri & Genna, who'd been best friends like small beautiful turtles, were having the first falling-out of their friendship for reasons including Genna's disappearances to meet up with her boyfriend and Sabri having read Genna's diary.
I was stuck between Genna & Sabri and their fight, but I wouldn't take sides. They'd been these little rabbits, see. Like little animals joined together, like Hayden and I had been. They were both short, and Sabri was a designer-clad Indian and Genna a pale redhead who preferred Value Village but they had this special thing that made them seem identical.
Now they hated each other and I didn't know anyone anymore. That's how it seemed.
Mike emailed me: i'm gonna get a local exchange # so it's cheaper for my many ho's to call me. so, speaking of ho's, I've already had a date. Yep. going back out with her tonight. she's sweet, but not as sweet as you. as i remember when i first met you you put up this 'facade' :) of how you really are. a bunch of bullshit. you are truly a nice genuine person. see the good things i say about you?
"Sooooooo I'm a total pothead now," Magali told me when she picked me up a the San Francisco airport.
"Magali, guess what? I actually want to smoke pot right now," I said. I never wanted to smoke pot.
"Really? Ooo, this is so exciting!" she smiled. Magali was warm and sunny and optimistic and my time with her was serene, but distant 'cause I thought she could tell that I was changing into a person who might try and "fit in" at the University of Michigan when classes started in September. Selling out, like Ani had told us not to do.
I also knew she hated Mike, for example, and hated my fixation on him as I had no explanation for liking him besides that I was needy.
We saw the Indigo Girls, smoked pot from Magali's sister's Oregon farm, took hikes in boots & shorts and went to museums and mostly I thought about how crazy it was that I'd always had the upper hand in our friendship despite Magali always being infinitely cooler. She spoke three languages, eschewed leg-shaving and other patriarchal beauty institutions, kissed boys and girls, made perfect mix-tapes and sewed fabric into her bellbottoms to make them baggier. I guess I made her laugh.
But then things got bad, just like with Genna and Sabri, because Magali's ex-boyfriend Joe had illogically decided to visit her and she didn't like him anymore. His need made her cranky.
Mike called and said I should fly to LA from SF to see him. And so I did. In LA, things were already sad because Lana, an Olive Garden friend, had decided to also visit LA that week to see Gerard, a friend of Mike's who she'd fucked a few times. She'd also fucked Mike and two of their other friends. I hated hearing Mike and Gerard talk about Lana, like she was a hamburger they'd both eaten. I felt bad for her because I thought the only thing that made her sex life different than mine was that she was really funny-looking and I was only kinda funny-looking and I had that one brown dress that made my legs look cute.
But Gerard had a new girlfriend now, Brittany, who was 16 and rode in the front seat of the van like a terrier, tucking her lanky tan legs beneath her and eschewing the seatbelt for an advantageous body position that enabled her to constantly keep tabs on the passengers facial expressions; like maybe she already knew she was dumb and wanted to make sure her new boyfriend's friends hadn't noticed yet.
"Hey uh, I told you I quit working at The Olive Garden, right?" Mike asked. He always started sentences with "I told you" or "Can I ask you something" and ended conversations with "Lemme go."
"Yup, three or four times, genius." I said.
He rubbed his knuckle into my ear; "Oh, how I've missed my Marie!"
Mike took me back to his place. I'd helped him pack to leave Brooklyn, so I don't know why his barren room surprised me.
"You couldn't even buy sheets?" I asked, staring at the bare mattress he'd dressed up with a pillow and that comforter I'd always hated.
We had sex. Afterwards he said that although he'd dated a lot of girls this summer, he'd missed 'my body,' which I took as a huge complement and rode it like a dream through everything that happened those next two days and big chunks of months afterwards, which would be some of the most numb and miserable and empty of my life.
I'd only planned to stay in LA for one night, 'cause Mike frequently stressed that he couldn't stand being around me for more than 48 hours at a time. When I called Magali to tell her I was staying an extra night, she seemed distracted and more than fine with it, but I felt guilty, like now she knew that I just wanted to be fucked, but also to complain about being fucked afterwards.
We traveled mostly as a group -- Mike, Gerard, another friend, Brittany, and Lana, who cried in the bathroom, messing up her makeup, while I tried abstractly to help her with problems that seemed insignificant compared to my self-loathing and World Hunger.
Mike was uniquely chivalrous at times, like taking sticker pictures with me at Venice Beach and telling me he loved me in a big brotherly voice. For a second it sounded like a fatherly voice, which scared me but not as much as it should have.
Mike said he had a cold and insisted on taking NyQuil for it.
"But you'll be sleepy! You'll sleep through our time together!"
"No I won't."
"But why take drowsy and not 'not-drowsy'?"
"Uh, because the drowsy kind works better? That's why it makes ya sleepy!"
After sake bombs at a strip mall sushi joint, more drinks at a club I'd gotten into with Lana's ID, and, once home (Lana spent the whole way back fighting with Gerard), a joint, Mike fell asleep on the floor. Everything felt trippy like I'd been dropped into the story of someone else's life; or rather like I'd flown myself right into someone else's life.
After Mike fell asleep, I wandered innocently back into the living room, where I was greeted by the unexpected sight of Lana's ankles on Gerard's shoulders and him fucking her like a jackhammer. I scampered back into the hallway, horrified, my head in my hands in the darkness thinking how the fuck did I get here. Lana was gasping, Mike was snoring, the dude was grunting, I was not yet crying but surely would be soon.
What the fuck, you asshole, I said to myself. Who are these people? How did you get here? I was stoned, they were fucking, he was an asshole but a passed-out asshole and who the what the how did my Mom let me go here. I met him at the goddamn Olive Garden. I'm a child, goddammit, I'm clearly unable to care for myself, will somebody please, please, please, please rescue me please just tell me what to do I'LL DO ANYTHING and what did I do with those thoughts, what did I do.
Well I drank the rest of the NyQuill and passed out into cherry-sticky sleep and flew back to Magali's, where she and Joe were at odds. She smoked maniacally and worried about me leaving her there with Joe. Just like I'd left Mike to pick up Lana's devastatingly lonely body the next morning and left Sabri with Genna's secret emotional breakdown and its walls. I'd left Hayden with Evan, and now here I was in this totally fucked place, and it was one of those moments, you know. When you realize you're fucked and you realize, I am a person who takes wrong turns, I am a person capable of gigantic miscalculations of spirit and personality, I am anybody really
I'd seen cities that looked big enough for my needs -- Vancouver, where I wanted to live. San Francisco, where I wanted to live. Los Angeles, where I knew I'd always be visiting people. Seattle, which is a difficult place to complain about because everything seems fine there.
I came back numb, thinking only of the geography and not the people in it. I'd had a good time with the trees, I thought. I had a good time with that bridge. I wanted to be like Sweden, somewhere green where people never changed and always gave me what I'd come for; some place like my first two nights in Berkeley before Joe came, smoking and pouring cream in our cereal.
Maybe we'd emerged to announce who we'd become and then retreated into the new universes we'd been preparing for, alone. We had to tear each other apart in order to change without being sad all the time.
Really, I guess, it was a matter of who had the guts to scream NEW FRIENDS, NEW LIFE, NEW OLIVE GARDEN, NEW GIRLS into a crowded room. Who among us was willing to not only push people away in order to evolve and leave without dying, but to announce this intention to whomever is within earshot? It was better to pretend, after all, like we were just cranky, that it didn't mean anything bigger how selfish we were that year. Me too, including me.
There is a need, sometimes, to run away again, because it's just been so long since I've done it. It's just been so long since I've had a chance to leave, and sometimes I'm not sure what else I can do to show you how much I love you.