At least once a week I wonder to myself how the hell I ended up out here. By “out here” I mean the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, a relatively picturesque region of small quaint towns, five colleges, a few craft breweries, lesbians, trans folk, and more kombucha than could fill Lake Eerie. In moments of particularly intense ingratitude I call it Bumfuck, U.S.A.
I mean, I can trace the path backwards to the job that I was working in Boston, for an enormous online retailer who encouraged us to work from home and, wanting to find a place within driving distance that I could afford – my own place – I looked outside of the expensive city and more or less by accident landed out here. The job ended a few months later and I’ve been employed by a university ever since.
But I’ve struggled to make friends and to carve a life out for myself that is full of any real meaning. I endure rather than live, more or less held together by duct tape, a chihuahua, and a couple of long-distance friendships, and I mean, thank God for them.
A handful of far-flung men have come and gone, and though I’ve recently taken up my still-unfinished book again, I’m way too familiar with the deepest dankest corners of my Netflix queue.
I walk across campus like a ghost, invisible to the fresh-faced youth. I think I was cruised by a gay dude once during my entire time in the Valley, and I mean, c’mon, a dude needs validation.
I never wanted to leave San Francisco. Three years ago (fuck how time grinds), on the cusp of divorce, deep down in PTSD-mode, I couldn’t imagine subjecting myself to an apartment with roommates – the only viable option for staying. So I ran up the coast to Portland, stung and exiled by the gods of money and love. And thinking about the city that I called home for 18 years hurt too much so I forced myself to think of other things.
What I’ve figured out, in hindsight, is that I drastically underestimated the importance of human connection in the place you call home. They’re the reasons to keep living – the bonds we create with others, the folks who have our backs.
And I’ve thought about where I would like to live next, what city is worth saving money for, and I’ve come up with a half-hearted two or three, apprehensively, and I was talking to a good friend in New York City on FaceTime a couple of weeks ago and describing the state of my brain when I left San Francisco, how I couldn’t then imagine living with roommates but that I would embrace them now just to stay in the place that felt like home.
“Then why is San Francisco off the table?” he asked.
I was struck kind of dumb for a second. “Because…it’s so damn expensive?”
“So what? Do something for me. Close your eyes and picture yourself living back there, surrounded by people who know and care about you.”
And I couldn’t help it – I teared up, and I put my hands over my eyes, and then my friend started crying too.
“Fuck you,” he said, walking away from the phone and across his kitchen. “I’m gonna go drink some milk,” he said. He opened the fridge. “And fuck you again.”
“You did it,” I said. “So fuck you.”
“Why are you crying?” I said.
“Because sometimes people being nice is more sad than happy.”
I didn’t argue with him, that for me it was kind of the opposite – my tears were of happiness, or more about gratitude, the future kind of gratitude, when you picture yourself – when I picture myself – rejoining society after a long spell of utter isolation, and rediscovering moments of joy or plain satisfaction. Human fucking connection.
Later he said, “Picture yourself stepping off the plane at SFO,” and I started crying again.
It’s probably not possible. It’s so much money. I’m torn in two – the dreamer and the realist. I have a job more or less waiting for me but I’d probably need two. The city’s changed, keeps changing, has changed too much. Friends have left. I’ve got a (quiet, sweet) chihuahua and landlords hate dogs. I need to save up money. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do, but I can’t stay here. I’ve got to figure this out.