On coming home, first I am apprehensive. Then I remember the mundane, stupid, lovely things. Then I remember that home is home.
I can understand everyone on the bus as it ropes through the veins of my city. I understand entire conversations in all their fascination and stupidity, rather than just a couple words here and there.
My brain works half as hard, I already know where everything is. No foreign trains to catch, nothing lost in translation. No unpacking and repacking. No checking for bed bugs. No be out by 10:30 or else. No can I leave my bag here, behind the bar, for a few hours. Please, I am desperate. No exchange rate, no stopovers, no layovers. No winging it, no breakfasts continental.
Getting back, I see there is much more than here and there. There is the here that makes the there look different. The there that changes the way I see things here. There is the in-between. The Swedish airport, the hamburger that tasted like rat and cost 207 krona, which I was too tired, too dumb to realize is 23 dollars and therefore screamingly not a bargain. The Scandinavian woman at customs, grilling you, interrogating. Where do you come from, what is your job, what business do you have in America. All the business, ma’am. What I’ve got trumps everything. The business of home.
It was after three weeks of speaking to only one person, and random British children on the beachside that made me realize how deeply a person needs other people. How quickly friends can be made and how perfectly people can love each other in one clean first shot. Sharp shooters we can be, when given a chance. I saw it. In a tiny village in Tuscany. Monterchi. It only took five bottles of wine and a swimming pool at midnight. It only took one common acquaintance to make us all family. For three days, at least.
In the winter you have the mountains, and the East, and the cold, and the slopes. You spend your time in between ski lodges with their waxy wooden bar tops and swanky New York bars where you eat alone amongst a sea of marble and smarter people. The cold chases people indoors and that’s where the magic happens, quicksilver, when you didn’t see any potential for magic at all.
In the faraway places, there are so many opportunities to be. Secret abilities and superpowers come out like Northern Lights. Who knew I could pitch a tent in the dark, in the snow. Who knew you could make Texas Toast in a windstorm, when the propane is out. Who knew we could be entertained for hours by a game of Dizzy Bat followed by two hours of Mafia, a silent park, and some biblical trees.
In Sirmione there was the waiter, the one with long hair who slid you his number and asked you to the festival, that one that happens every September in Umbria. What a face that boy had. But in San Francisco there is the bartender on Chestnut who always charges you for two drinks. Even if you order five. Even if you order eleven. Which shamefully, regrettably, you know you have.
So don’t lie to me, you’ll miss the lake and the running away that looked a lot like sitting on a dock, lounging on a cliff poking up out of the Tyrrhenian. Blissfully unaware of anything ugly. But you’ll come home to the boys in baseball caps and down vests—the ones so intent on not loving anyone well, the bottles of wine and cans of beer you bring to the green every sunny Saturday, the spry and shameless man that performs pantless calisthenics at Alamo Square every weekend afternoon. The way the hydrangea and ivy crawl up sides of mansions in late summer, the manner in which these buildings sit atop our many hills, giving the impression that someone just shook out a blanket and here we settled, San Francisco. These familiar things are your things. And I’ll say that’s something, isn’t it?
I didn’t do anything profound. Didn’t go off and fight a war, didn’t lose myself in the jungle. Didn’t manage to find myself in the desert. Still, it was this luminescent thing, being away. No matter how many times I wander, it simply does not get old.
But then there is my city. Little pastel, overpriced perfection filled with so much that is mine I can’t quite calculate how I managed to make this lucky little life. Going away is made all the more wonderful because on the reverse it is this we come home to.
// Photography by Sacha Verheij