If I learned one thing while I was visiting family in Virginia over the past week, it was this:
I am completely, entirely, categorically, wholly San Franciscan now. (And I couldn’t be happier about it.)
More than year ago now– fifteen months, to be exact– I boarded a flight to SFO with a one-way ticket, big hopes and dreams in my heart, and an alarming lack of money in my pocket. I was done with college, I was finished with the concept of graduate school and burnt out at the prospect of even pursuing a PhD (something I had aspired to earn since my age was in single digits). Despite my education, finding a job in my home state had been next to impossible, and my dream job just didn’t exist there. Having set my heart on living in a big city at a very young age, I knew that I had to get out of Virginia and that if I didn’t do it quickly, I would feel like I had failed myself and that all of the work I had done to educate myself so that I could leave was in vain.
Once I got off the plane, I felt so selfish and guilty for leaving my friends and family behind that I avoided even discussing the first time I got home.
My first few months in the Bay Area were pretty shitty, but my love of my new city carried me through. I landed a string of unglamorous jobs– a crappy nonprofit, tutoring, an embarrassingly underpaid position in a prominent SF gallery– and stumbled from sublet to roommate to sublet and from interview to interview hoping that I would be one of the lucky liberal arts majors who was smart enough and savvy enough to make it in the tech industry with no knowledge whatsoever of coding or computer engineering.
When my interview at Twitter didn’t go my way– and neither did the one at Facebook or Square, I was incredibly heartbroken. Around the same time, I interviewed with a quiet little startup and took the first position they offered me. I spent three months juggling two part time positions, one which sent me to a few fantastic, far-flung places with little notice and another that saw me spending almost 3 hours a day just commuting. It was difficult and exhausting and I still don’t quite know how I made it through, but I did and I met some fantastic, incredible, inspiring, world-changing, problem-solving people along the way… people I would have never known, people I should have never known given the measurable statistics attached to my existence.
For the better part of a year, I avoided any talk of an official visit to Virginia to visit family or friends. I had quit feeling guilty for moving, but the idea of leaving the City panicked me. I had finally landed my dream job and didn’t want to take vacation time yet, the last place I wanted to be during the holidays was stuck at the dinner table with an arguing family (multiple divorces = major grudges and politics)… And I had just started to fall in love with San Francisco thanks to weekends full of exploring with a new friend. Why would I leave, even for just a few days, when my love affair with the city had just heated up?! It wasn’t until I started laying plans for summer at work that I felt that I needed to visit my family.
Last week, I finally did just that.
As I drove around, roads and buildings that should have been familiar to me felt anything but. When I scanned the streets, it was as if an incongruity alarm in my head had gone off and only I could hear the sirens, I looked around and none of it made sense– where were the hills? The skyscrapers? My brain felt like an incompletely downloaded Google Map overlay; I kept trying to load the map in my head, in my heart… but all my eyes wanted to see was San Francisco, all my ears wanted to hear we’re city noises. I was in Virginia and I was with family, but I was not home anymore.
Before I left, two people very dear to me said one very important thing to me– that even though I was leaving San Francisco, no one could take it away from me. As I prepare for my landing at SFO in the next few minutes, I realize now more than ever that they are right, very, very right. I don’t know why I ever felt that going back would take this beautiful, infinite place away from me… But I do know this.
In ten minutes, I’ll be home. And home, San Francisco, is where my heart is.