If You’re Going (Back) To San Francisco

In the summer of 1993 I was in a pretty bad place emotionally. I was five years removed from graduating high school and was going nowhere fast. (Bonus points if you get the Streets of Fire reference) I was stuck in a dead end job, had dropped out of college and was living at home with no prospects and no real future. 

To make matters worse, I had discovered the Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac a few years earlier so my mind was filled with writing and traveling. A copy of On The Road went with me everywhere and I saw myself chronicling my life in words someday just like Kerouac.

I just had absolutely no idea how to make that happen.

After another fight with my mother (which was probably my fault) I was out of patience and out of options. So I called my friend John who had moved to Berkeley, California the previous year and desperately asked if he wanted a roommate.

To my shock, he said sure.

To this day I’m still not exactly sure what brought on the decision to move across the country. I don’t usually make big, life altering changes to my life like that on a whim. I plan and talk about it, but never actually do anything. It’s a personality trait of mine that I always despised and still do.

But a few weeks later John had sent me a plane ticket he had gotten from a friend and there I was. Standing in the San Francisco International Airport with little to no money, a few possessions and absolutely no clue what the future held.

I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time.

I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a crappy part of town with John and another friend of ours named Grant. I slept on an air mattress on the floor next to the kitchen while Grant slept on a futon in the living area and John got the bedroom. I spent my days writing in a coffee shop I discovered while walking around Berkeley and my nights reading, talking and hanging out.

Unfortunately my friendship with John almost came to an end as a result of us living together and numerous other factors that the two of us have only begun to unravel. But my relationship with Grant, who was only really more an acquaintance at that point, turned into a deep bond that the two of us cherish to this day.

Grant and I would take a day each week and head into San Francisco to explore the city and the people who lived there. We spent an entire day roaming Golden Gate Park, another was spent walking around the Haight-Ashbury District. One afternoon we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, which to this day is still one of the greatest experiences of my life. And we discovered a restaurant with the best chocolate milkshakes we had ever had.

When I eventually ran out of money and realized the living conditions weren’t working, I went home. I took a notebook filled to overflowing with writing and some of the greatest memories of my life and spent three days on a Greyhound bus, heading toward Philadelphia.

I swore that my return East was only temporary however. My plan was to save money and head back to the West Coast as soon as I could. I had found a place where I felt like I belonged and where life made some kind of sense to me. I had to go back.

A little less than two years later though, I met Lisa, the woman who would become my wife. And everything changed.

I knew that my plans to return to California were out the window about three months into the relationship. I was quickly falling in love and Lisa had become the entire focus of my future.

That being said, a part of me never really came home from Berkeley. I consider it one of the benchmarks of my life, a period of time that profoundly changed me as a person. And a small part of me always wanted to return.

I wouldn’t give up a single moment of my life with Lisa for anything, even with her terrible illness and eventually losing her. The deep pain of the last few years that has almost ended me is a small price to pay for the two decades of laughs, love and affection we shared.

Lisa is gone. That part of my life is over and nothing will bring it back. But I’m starting to think it may be time to reunite with a part of myself I almost forgot about. A part of me that realized just how amazing life can be, when there are endless possibilities in front of you and nothing to stop you from becoming anything you want.

I think it might be time to consider a new chapter in an old book I thought I was long finished with.

The Other Things You Lose

When your person dies, whether it’s after being together five months or 55 years, it leaves a hole in your life that isn’t easily filled. And as I recently learned, it isn’t something that you “move on” from. You don’t “move on” from losing a piece of yourself. Instead you move forward with the memories and love of that person and it will affect every decision and every aspect of your life until you pass from this world to the next. 

The list of things I lost when my wife Lisa passed away almost two years ago is longer than I can explain to most people. I miss her smile, her laugh, the inflection in her voice when she said “Hi” every time I got home from work, the way she hugged me with everything she had, the softness of her cheek. Those things I expected.

What I wasn’t expecting were the things that I also lost that you wouldn’t think of. Silly things that would make zero sense to anyone else but mean everything to me. Things that made Lisa and I the couple we were and became important parts of what made us “us.”

Like the movie When Harry Met Sally. I know that I will probably never be able to watch the movie again. I’ve come across it while channel surfing a number of times but cruise right by it, knowing all too well that I can’t stop and watch it.

When Harry Met Sally was the first movie Lisa and I watched together. It was maybe our fourth of fifth date and we decided to stay in and watch a video on her VCR (ask your parents if you have no clue what a VCR is kids.) I suggested When Harry Met Sally, which I happened to own and she had somehow never seen. I brought it over and we laid some blankets on the floor, made some popcorn and had an amazing evening together.

Asking me to watch that movie again would be like asking me to experience joy but know that I can never have it ever again. It would tear my heart out and leave me a sobbing mess. Hell, I can barely watch Notting Hill or Wall-E without crying like a two-year old.

Or Red Lobster. Yes, the seafood restaurant Red Lobster. I know there is a very good chance I will never eat there again. Because of what it meant to us.

Lisa and I both loved seafood and when we had a craving for lobster or crab or shrimp that needed to be satisfied, we would get a little more dressed up than usual and head out to the Red Lobster in North Whales. It wasn’t around the corner so it wasn’t a trip we made that often, maybe two or three times a year. Usually for our respective birthdays and sometime around the holidays close to Christmas.

It became something of a tradition for us. We would go there, have a couple drinks and almost make ourselves sick eating way too much seafood. Both of us loved the cheddar bay biscuits (who doesn’t?) and would go through two baskets, sometimes more over the course of the meal. Then my loving wife would make small talk with our waiter and get to know them a bit because Lisa loved talking to people. That would lead to him or her slipping us a bag with a bunch more biscuits to take home with us.

That was Lisa in a nutshell.

I’ve been able to go to a lot of places where Lisa and I went together and have managed to get through it. But going to Red Lobster would just be too much, which I’ve accepted and learned to live with.

Or how about the fact I can’t eat grilled cheese sandwiches anymore? Or listen to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap? Or read John Grisham novels?

People have actually told me to get over it and “move on” or some version thereof. And I will pleasantly smile and nod while thinking to myself that they should go fuck themselves.

These are the silly types of things that you lose when you lose your person that no one warns you about. The things that tear you up almost as much as losing the person themselves. On the surface they may seem like nothing but in the history of who you are and who you were in that relationship, they are everything.

I miss Lisa just as much today as I did the day she died. And I know I’ll also miss those cheddar bay biscuits almost as much. And I’m okay with that.