I moved here in July 2004 from Maryland via Colorado via Maryland via New Jersey for law school. The plan was to stay here for three years, finish law school and then take the bar exam somewhere I wanted to stay for good, most likely back on the east coast where I would be close to family and enjoy four seasons and a slightly more affordable cost of living. Three years of hard work and vacation is how I saw my stay in San Francisco.
Eleven years later, I’m still here. I did in fact finish law school, but then took the bar in California and remained here as a lawyer for six years before getting out of the profession for good and starting a career in the outdoors industry. After 11 years in the Bay Area, I can no longer say that I’m here temporarily. I might be here for good. And I can no longer use the excuse that I’m here because I’m tethered to something, a job, a license, a relationship, a home. I now must admit I’m here by choice. And I’m just starting to be ok with that.
Today I was reading this article about the most “beautiful Taco Bell”, and I knew exactly where it was. I was visiting a friend who lived in Pacifica and she pointed it out to me. Since then, I’ve taken several surfing trips down to that beach and eaten at that Taco Bell along with every other salty, sandy beach bum. It’s only after being here over a decade that things like that are starting to happen to me. I can’t take the train, the bus, go to an obscure coffee shop, attend a seminar, without running into a handful of people I know. While there are still many areas left to explore, I can comfortably navigate the trails and the roads in the Bay Area, and generally have memories attached to most restaurants, parks, street corners. I was recently walking back from Fort Mason to the Financial District and every block was like dragging up the past. The smell of olive oil and warm focaccia bread in North Beach reminded me of every night of the five years I spent living in that neighborhood, wafting through the window, mixed occasionally with cigarette smoke and the sounds of women laughing. Walking through the FiDi, I thought of all the times I would walk that exact route on the way to law school, then years later, on the way to BART after spending time with my boyfriend who lived in the city and I had since moved to the East Bay. The thing with memories is the new ones don’t replace the old ones, they just accumulate. And my brain is starting to feel like a hoarder’s basement.
I long to live somewhere new. Somewhere I can make new memories, a clean slate. I love the familiar, but there is a fine line between the familiar and the feeling of walking through a ghost town every time you grab lunch down the street. I want to feel comfortable, but not cluttered. I am starting to feel cluttered here, like there isn’t any room to feel new again. There are some places in the Bay Area that I simply can’t go because the memories are too painful, too emotional. And of course the opposite is true too. The reality is, this is what happens when you live in a place this long. I’m just not sure what to do with that realization.
Maybe I’ll still leave one day, a part of me wants that more than anything. But at the end of the day, every time I think about leaving, something keeps me here. After years of believing those things are external, I am now realizing that I am the one keeping me here. Something inside me doesn’t want to leave just yet, because really, I’m the kind of person that if I really did want to leave, I would. Even though I’ll never truly FEEL like a Californian (I walk and talk way too fast for that), I’m here. An east coaster at heart but a Californian by choice.