Tuesday, 21 June 2022 23:26

I Left my Heart in San Francisco

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Day one

As soon as I stepped out into the 40-degree morning and saw my breath leave my body, I felt like I could live there. The plane ride from Jacksonville to San Francisco was one of the best I’ve experienced. Even in the days of mask wearing, the trip went off without many issues, despite having a 30-minute delay on the first flight from Jacksonville to Dallas.

The Lyft driver was a friendly fellow from India who chatted pleasantly as he drove me to the Hilton Hotel in Burlingame that first night. The check-in was quick and easy, and even when my room key didn’t work when I swiped it, the front desk attendant had it quickly taken care of. I would only be staying there one night and staying with a friend the rest of my time there.

Feeling groggy from being on Eastern Standard Time, I jotted down some notes in my travel journal as I sipped my coffee in the hotel lobby the next morning. My phone dinged a notification. Thinking it was a text message, I opened it only to be reminded of “three years ago” with a picture of my husband and I out on some trail.

I occasionally get pictures of us on my phone. I try not to look, but sometimes curiosity gets the better of me and I sneak a peek. We always look so happy, like everything is fine. In the photos, there isn’t any indication that our life together is drawing to a close.

I remind myself that pictures never tell the whole story. Smiling faces in the photos could have been crying ones mere moments before. Our society has programmed us to “smile for the camera” no matter what. Even small children are incentivized with toys and happy meals if they can just smile for this one picture.

After I am settled at my friend’s house, I leave to explore the city. I end up walking by the piers along the bay, famous for their maritime museums, seafood restaurants, and both live and colorful, plastic sealions. I realize I am standing in Fisherman’s Wharf. There are so many things to do, places to eat, souvenirs to purchase. People mill about, snapping photos next to the sealion statues or the World War II submarine. Alcatraz can easily be discerned about a mile away. I will tour the famous prison later on my trip.

Seagulls swoop in close to tourists, trying to steal a piece of pretzel or French fry. I stop for a bite at the San Francisco Brewing Company inside Ghirardelli Square, the famous chocolate factory further down the bay’s boardwalk. The comfortable feeling of escape thrives within my soul. It’s what always happens when I’m away from the source of my fracture wound. In this case, the memories of my marriage and former husband. I tell myself I want to live there.

Day two

The next day I awaken to perfect temperatures, not too hot and not too cold. I perch just shy of Coit Tower in Pioneer Park to write down some thoughts in my journal. I’m climbing the tower for a view the The Golden Gate Bridge. The bay is speckled with white sail boats and glittering water reflecting the sunshine. A slight breeze makes the US flag flutter against the cerulean sky.

Even though it’s only day two of my trip, I get this uneasy feeling of what will happen once I leave. Will my anxiety return? Will I fall into my typical pattern of wishing to go back and repeat it over and over again? The real question is why these things happen. Why can’t I ever leave the past in the past and be thankful for the experience? What is it that I am running away from?

The pull I had been searching for on my trip to North Carolina is suddenly loud and clear. Could I actually live here? I already live 900 miles away from my family, but to move across the country in a different time zone? The thought both compelled me and beckoned me to try. The nudge could have been coincidence. Only some distance and time would tell.

Day three

The once foreboding penitentiary looms like a warning the closer the ferry gets. Alcatraz. The infamous prison where conmen like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and “The Bird Man” Robert Franklin Stroud spent years of their lives on “The Rock” as they called it. It is a hermetic fortress with little hope of escape once the clank of the gates close. With the strong current of the Pacific waters, sub-zero temperatures, and a mile or more swim to the mainland, prisoners would be hard pressed to even think about planning an escape.

Yet that is exactly what happened in 1962 when three prisoners were able to successfully plan, carry out, and leave the confines of their prison. After that, the prison closed its doors forever. Now a popular tourist destination for anyone visiting the San Francisco Bay area, I was finally about to set foot in the prison I had read about when I taught six grade English.

I had wanted to visit Alcatraz since 2018 when my husband and I made a trip to Los Angeles for a wedding. Little did I know that Los Angeles and San Francisco were about a six-hour drive apart. It’s amazing how things that were once so far away happen eventually. You look back and see the journey that got you there. Things had to happen just the way they did, otherwise, I may have never been able to visit Alcatraz. It gives me hope that all the other things on my “bucket list” will eventually arrive with time someday.

Last Day

In contrast to the day before, my last morning started out foggy and dreary, the result of a cold front swooping in the night over the bay, obscuring the buildings and views of the Golden Gate Bridge from my friend’s apartment building.

Still, I did some exploring at the Golden Gate Park and Buena Vista trail. From the top of the trail, the skyline blurred from the fog and mist of the night’s rainfall. But by the time I arrived in Mission Delores Park, the sun had broken free of the clouds and the view of the city was once again pristine.

My last stop that day was the country’s most famous street, Lombard Street. It is also known as the crookedest street with eight hair pin turns zigging and zagging from top to bottom. Like Lombard Street, I felt that the twists and turns I had experienced lately were a good metaphor for the last year. As I followed the street’s winding curves, I thought about where I was a year ago, both physically and emotionally. I thought about where I would be a year from now, both physically and emotionally.

It is hard to see the changes that you experience when you are living in the bad moments. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the long, twisting tunnel. It takes some deep reflection and looking back on your journey to really see how much things, and you, have changed.

  

Conclusion

As I thought, my anxiety started to pick up on my last night in San Francisco. I wanted to stay longer. I wasn’t ready to leave such a beautiful city, one in which I felt the pull I had been searching for months. But the reality was I had a life in Florida, at least for now. I boarded the plane and said good-bye to the city that stole a piece of my heart.

I can’t explain the pull travel has on me. It is a desire to explore a place I’ve never been and at the same time, explore a part of myself that I have never seen. When I travel, my worries and troubles abate and I am fully consumed by the experience of being in a new place. It helps me forget about my past and the people who have hurt me.  

My San Francisco trip was no different from any of the other trips I had gone on. It allowed me to forget about my past, my imperfections, and my pain for a few days. I toured a new place, met new people, experienced new vibes and energies. Every adventure is worthwhile, even if it must eventually end.

Could I live in San Francisco? I think so. But maybe now is not the right time. You never know where your journey will lead you. So maybe eventually, I’ll end up right back where I left a piece of my heart.

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