Monday, March 09, 2009

I'm Leaving San Francisco, But I'm Pretty Sure My Heart Is Coming With Me (Part I)

(Note: Giveaway still going on; see post below this one!)

My ex-husband's parents lived in Greenwich, Connecticut. About ten years ago, I remember a young couple buying a newly constructed house next door to them (and paying well over a million dollars for it, which isn't the point but is maybe worth noting). They were expecting a baby, and had decided to move out of New York City and into the suburbs, because it seemed like the right thing to do.

In particular, I remember how kind-but-somewhat-condescendingly-bemused Dave's parents were about this clueless couple. The wealthy city folk didn't know the first thing about suburbia or home-ownership. Dave's parents took a head-shaking attitude about that. How can anyone afford a house like that and yet know so little about how it works? they seemed to wonder as they returned from a trip to the new couple's house to explain what a furnace was.

Even then I knew. I'd spent my entire life in the 'burbs, and yet I empathized with this couple. Or at least, I wanted to. I had neither city-living experience nor "house smarts"...but given the opportunity to gain one or the other, I'd have chosen the former. (Eventually I did.)

I grew up in a house where if a lightbulb went out, you fixed it; otherwise, you ignored whatever household item didn't work, or you called someone to fix for you. I didn't then -- and don't now -- have the slightest idea of how one learns about furnaces. Maybe in some families, this is the sort of thing parents pass down to their children. To the best of my knowledge, however, furnaces are located in basements, basements are where witches live, and so you don't ever go into them. End of story.

Just because I don't really believe in witches anymore doesn't mean I ever made the full transition to understanding how a furnace works. (Although I dare any one of you to go down to the basement of my family's old house in Darien, CT and prove to me that Mombie, the witch from the bizarre cartoon version of some alternate Wizard of Oz, does not in fact live in the furnace room of the basement. Because she does and she will get you.)

My point is, I spent much of my growing up feeling displaced. While they loved our home, my parents definitely had some city-dwelling tendencies. It took me a long time to realize that I did, too. It wasn't just that basements scared me and home-ownership seemed unnatural, but that's how it manifested itself. Suburbia was the only thing I knew, so it took me a looooong time to realize that it didn't suit me.

When you're a Stranger in a Strange Land, except it's the only land you know and it's actually not strange but entirely familiar, well. That just makes you a Stranger. In Perfectly Normal Land. You're the weirdo.

At least, I was the weirdo.

It was hard to know that I didn't have to feel that way. I didn't feel confident enough to go try something else. Because what if -- as I'd assumed all along -- it was just me? What if I felt even more isolated and displaced and Strange in a new place with zero familiarity?

Like my first semester of college. (Baaaaad times, ya'll. Baaaaad.)

But then one day, there was no reason to stay in Connecticut. No one in my family lived there anymore. My parents had moved, my sisters had moved, my friends had moved. My husband had left. I was as alone and displaced as it's possible to feel while living in the same place I'd always lived. I was clinging to shreds of familiarity despite that they provided no comfort.

So I finally let go. I finally listened to a long-ignored inner-voice telling me I wanted to be in a crazy city where it might be possible to feel unfamiliar, but impossible to feel Strange.

And that is how I landed in San Francisco.

I hoped when I left that I would be courageous enough to stay. I hoped I'd believe in myself enough to give SF a real go. I was optimistic but wary and hoped at minimum I'd stay for a year, maximum two-to-three. Just to get my bearings and figure my shit out.

The last thing in the world I expected was to arrive in San Francisco and immediately feel like I was home.

13 comments:

  1. I felt vaguely superior to this 'young couple,' until I realized I'm not really sure what a furnace is either. Like, I know it heats things, but I couldn't pick it out of a line-up if it was next to, like an air conditioner. Unless they were both on, and the furnace would be the hot one I guess. I'm probably holding women back by admitting this, but fixing things...isn't that what boys are for?

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  2. "I was clinging to shreds of familiarity despite that they provided no comfort." I've felt that way too. I was also living in CT, having spent 14 years there, but my lack of comfort came more from knowing that I was in a rut, and I needed out. I landed in Arizona, and I love it. Though I do have a desire to go back and see it again. I don't know if I'd want to live there again, though.

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  3. I definitely felt that way about DC the first time I set foot in it. It's so nice to feel like you belong somewhere! These streets, these restaurants, the homeless guy playing the trumpet in the square on my way home... they are all MINE. And I love it.

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  4. ..and now your moving to Napa???? I don't get it.

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  5. I too grew up in a house with a yard. Those things you are suppose to take care of and yet, I have NO desire to. Once I had the chance I moved to a city. Unfortunately I married a man who moved me to the sticks. Now we have a house and yard to care for and no one to do the caring. I long for an apartment.

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  6. Your last sentence almost made me cry. I know exactly how you feel and it kills me that I'm not living there yet. I visited San Francisco for the first time in the fall of 2006 and it was like I finally found where home really was. Each time I go out there when the plane touches down I get the overwhelming feeling of being 'home.'

    But alas, I am stuck in the midwest until we can sell our house and find jobs in California - all easier said than done...

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  7. I've felt that way about Austin for a long time now. We're stuck in Fort Worth, but our hearts are down in Austin. We were crushed last summer when our attempted move fell through disastrously and we ended up scrambling for a place to live, still in Fort Worth. I wish much luck upon you.

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  8. Nice post. I cannot wait to hear what Napa has in store for you!

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  9. I identify with where you're going with this... can't wait to read the next part. At 19 I "landed" here from Seattle, looking for adventure. And I found it in spades, but of course it wasn't what I had envisioned. After 15yrs of city living, I moved down the Peninsula, and I wish I had done it sooner because NOW I feel home. Napa may hold the same for you. And I've never seen my furnace because it's under the house and I don't DO under the house. But I know PG&E will come out and change the filter several times a year! The myriad other house stuff is actually sort of satisfying to learn about, and be able to speak about it intelligently. Don't just let/make Ish do it.

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  10. I, too, can relate. I moved from Boston to SF in the 60's. I was home. Then the migration north to the country (Sonoma County)in the 70's.

    The first couple of years we would go to SF weekly missing all the things we had left - the restaurants, the art, etc. But over time we recreated our new lives here. A trip to SF is very special now and not very frequent.

    Home Depot offers some great FREE classes for homeowners for all kinds of projects.

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  11. I learned all about furnaces because I live in the midwest and we have nothing else to do but fix broken household things. It also helps that my boyfriend is a handyman of sorts so he's always teaching me a thing of two about the goings-on of homes/apartments/etc.

    I never saw the cartoon version but I saw the "Return to Oz" that you spoke of starring a young Fairuza Baulk and Mombie is just as terrifying in that movie as she would be in a cartoon! The fact that she can change her heads is awful. I was also very scared of the Wheelers but that might also be me....youtube "Return of Oz"...I'm 25 and still just as scared watching it now as I was when I was younger!

    I have the same feeling of home that you speak of when I go to New Orleans. It's kind of like that quote from Garden State (scours the internet)..."It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place." Good post. Everyone can identify but not everyone is lucky enough to find that home that they miss! Keep up the good stuff.

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  12. We have owned two houses and anytime *anything* needs to be fixed in them I call my father. I'm not sure what people do who don't have a Mr. Fixit Dad, but it also makes me worry about when he's not around any more.

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  13. Beautifully written. Just had to tell you.

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