M thought we’d postpone the trip until June, but he underestimated the pull of California. I may be Yankee-bred, but I’m California-born, and that handful of years I spent there shifted me in some fundamental way a born-and-bred New Englander can’t comprehend. If I don’t feel the humid air and smell the eucalyptus once a year — preferably before the cherry blossoms burst out on the East Coast — I get very cranky. And nobody likes a cranky Okelle.
So what if we had just expended time and energy taking two households and combining them into one? Since when has an empty bank account — or exhaustion — ever stopped me from hopping on a plane to someplace warm?
When I’m feeling ashamed or embarrassed, M will say, “I love you because you’re a woman of strong passions.” Which calms me down a bit, strips away the old intensity of perfectionism. And allows me to forgive myself for dragging him off to my homeland before either of us was really ready.
On the upside, I’d been saving for the trip in advance and definitely stayed within my budget. On the downside, he bought the rip-off rental car insurance and couldn’t say the same thing. On the upside, we tooled around in a Mustang convertible so new, we had to break open the shrink-wrap on the owner’s manual. And he finally me the rest of my family. And after almost 800 miles negotiating the tiny roads that run from valley to valley, he was ready to admit that maybe California had a certain appeal. The upsides have it.
About 24 hours after we arrived at SFO, after an extra-long day that took us from the Embarcadero to Muir Woods and then to the rest of San Francisco, we met his brother at a Boston bar called, ironically enough, Connecticut Yankee. The aroma of 100 years’ worth of spilled beer greeted us at the door. Since I can no longer drink the tasty, hoppy, liquid bread — and since I’d spent the better part of the day pounding pavement and mud with my jet-lagged legs — I was more than a little cranky by the end of dinner. Cranky enough to make a bratty declaration and go for a walk before the check came.
Here’s what I wrote while standing at a mailbox outside of a boarded-up dot-com startup, taking deep breaths and regarding the San Francisco skyline while hipsters bar-hopped all around me. I won’t apologize for it, but I will say it’s very much worthy of my inner 13-year-old, who was very much running the show at that moment:
stand with legs closed
san francisco’s silhouette in the distance
inhaling, heart pounding
one breath, one moment, one breath
sometimes nothing heals but time
sometimes nothing fills the god-shaped hole
all day walking
through the city
through the redwoods
foreign city, foreign parts
distress of disconnection
a technology deeper than time
wider than space
one moment, one moment
and then the next