(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.