When Everything Ends
Love is not about believing.
We left the central coast early in the morning on Friday. We still hadn’t finished the coffee in our mugs when we pulled out of the driveway. I was wearing white pants and so I tried to balance the cup delicately in my hands while T. drove up and down the windy road that leads towards, and sometimes away from home.
We combed through the Goodwill near King City and left empty-handed. We looked at the waves in Santa Cruz and stopped at the strawberry farm to use the porta-potty and take a new photo in the big painted berry with the hole cut out, but the berry was gone. We looked at the waves in Pescadero and took a walk on an empty beach. Then we looked at the waves behind the parking lot in Pacifica; still nothing.
Eventually we parked in San Francisco on a steep hill outside of Bob and Kerry’s house where we stayed for the next two days. They weren’t home yet and dinner together wasn’t for a few more hours, so T. took the boards off of the roof and slid them into the van while I hung up privacy curtains and locked the steering wheel in place. I asked him if he wanted to walk with me over to my old house in the Mission and maybe stop at the park on the way back. He agreed.
I moved out of the old Victorian on Valencia ten years ago, but my landlord talked frequently about his plans to spruce it up with a fresh coat of paint long before I left. When T. and I got there and looked up at it, the house was the same color it had always been, a faded, pale pink.
I stood at the bottom of the stoop and craned my neck towards the front door.
“Well, this is where I used to live,” I said.
T. told me that he remembered going to a party at the house one time. He said he got in trouble for pissing on the tomatoes in the garden. I asked if he remembered who scolded him. “Probably your boyfriend,” he said.
Even though our timelines and our friends overlap, T. and I have no shared memories of living in San Francisco. We suspect that our paths crossed at least once, maybe at a party or a show, and sometimes I feel like I do know him from before.
I imagined our first time in the city as a couple would feel good, but it wasn’t long after walking around that I realized how disorienting and awkward it is to try and make memories while surrounded by ghosts. Was I trying to recreate my early twenties, or did I not know what else to do with a place that was once my home but is no longer?
I felt self-conscious and kind of sad on the walk, but we made the most out of it by sharing an obvious San Francisco activity together: taking inventory and comparing notes. Block by block, we scanned the storefronts and counted the remains of what we remember and made peace with what had replaced the things that were missing.
We stopped at a familiar doorway. From the sidewalk, I peered into a dark room that we both once knew as Amnesia, a small bar and venue for intimate shows. I was inside, wearing a faux fur coat and falling in love with a skateboarder who worked nearby at a shoe store that also no longer exists. T. and I kept walking.
The next day, we piled into the backseat of Bob’s car and he drove us to the Outer Richmond. Him and T. were playing a house show in a friend’s apartment later that night. We left the Castro and drove through the Haight and I saw myself again, seventeen years old and picking out a pair of green leggings for a Halloween costume at American Apparel. I was also there, riding my bike to the Academy of Sciences five years later, high on some mushrooms I had stuck between two pieces of bread smeared with peanut butter.
Zipping through the panhandle, the car headed north on Stanyan and made a sharp left at the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park. We drove west, directly into the setting sun, parallel to the trees abutting Fulton Street and the park’s periphery.
I looked out the window and between the groves of Eucalyptus trees, I saw myself walking with a man fifteen years my senior who never became my lover and who I still think about sometimes. I was there, south of the paddock where the Bison live, wearing all white and twenty-three years old, watching a woman in waist-high waders fly fish while a man of mine made a video of us together.
We got to the Richmond and I followed T. up a small staircase into a building while carrying a pack of beer. The apartment was a corner unit in a two-story building. The walls in the living room were made of windows, and from them I could see the water of Ocean Beach glisten.
Even as more people began to arrive, I hardly knew anybody. Just Bob and a few of T.’s friends from the area who I had met last summer during a tour. Bob ordered pizza for everyone. I grabbed a slice from the box on the table, and then another, and I scanned the titles of books on a shelf in the kitchen while I chewed.
I noticed index cards and white sheets of 8.5” x 11” paper were taped to the walls in most of the rooms. “THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF SMOKING” headlined one of them, and a checklist followed. Savasana. Go surfing. Juggle. Another sheet was called “LIFE IMPROVEMENTS” and had various home projects listed on it, one as simple as “Get a Scandinavian coverlet”.
I watched the guests read over the cards and down the lists. Some of them seemed visibly unsettled by the overt display of vulnerability, a person just trying to be human. It’s rare to be invited into someone’s home and to see so much of them. I liked that whoever lived in the apartment didn’t feel like hiding what it took for them to care more about themselves.
I keep lists like this, but they live privately in my notebooks. I don’t want anyone to see what I think I should get better at, or what I think I need more or less of. I don’t want to give people ideas. If people see more clearly the parts of me that I don’t think are good enough, then maybe they’ll start to agree with me.
If it was my house, I would have taken all of the lists down before people came over. I want people to think I have it together, or at least that I don’t need to remind myself to lay down or take a walk, even though I do sometimes.
People mingled while Bob and T. and another man set up their gear. I noticed a woman arrive and position herself in the corner of the room. It had been over a decade since I had last seen her, but I recognized her curly hair and curious, memorable eyes.
She sang songs in a backyard in Bernal Heights once. I was there under twinkly lights, listening. What I remembered more than that night however, were the encounters I had with her Instagram profile shortly thereafter.
I gathered at the time that she was partnered, and I continued lurking her profile as she got married, and then pregnant, and then became a mother. It was all very standard stuff, but I couldn’t look away. It felt indulgent to witness a woman so actively chosen and seemingly worshipped. A good man had committed himself to her; I saw that he even posted her face sometimes too.
I never learned anything more about her, just that she was the woman with the nice voice who made a family that looked nice too, and sometimes made me wonder if I’d ever be chosen like her.