After nearly a half decade of weaving between two continents, desperately flailing between cultures and ultimately watching each from a distance, I have returned home to San Francisco.
Ordinarily, no one would care and the chances are, you still don’t, but this experience pertains to more than simply moving to one place, and then moving back. It is about disassociation, borders and stories in a world where each mean everything and nothing simultaneously.
The world we live in spreads richly across information towers and pings across satellites. What we know, we know it quickly, but we don’t know it long, nor do we know it well. The accessibility of what we can know, when we need to know it, means that we know just enough to be mostly ill informed. With a bevy of information at our fingertips, skimming has become the way we read; Sparknotes out sell the primary text.
There is inevitably a certain level of hyperbole there, but points need to be made and they aren’t made with strict adherence to journalistic codes. I mean c’mon, this is a blog; what do you expect?
I’ve watched my city from a far with longing, jealousy and pride as I dallied around London. Each social media post from friends showed a city in full swing; life spinning in concentric circles of fun and glory that I was decidedly not a part of. I knew the fun, I could smell it, breathe it in and pass it out via memories. However, it’s like chewing on a kale salad while everyone around you is going to town on a steak covered in butter: yeah, you might be healthier, but you’re certainly not happy.
I wanted to be home. At that time in my life, San Francisco was this mythical place in which nothing was ever dull. Beers were on constant offer; food was dirt cheap and delicious; and, most importantly there were jobs. My oh my, were there jobs. Everyone was making six figures, taking cabs every day and living the American dream.
Meanwhile, I was toiling away in grey London, jobless and with a woman that was falling out of love with me a little more every day. Of course my world paled in comparison to the milk and honey of my mind. What wouldn’t live up to fantasy?
Time moved on; I became single, found a job (same time, funnily enough) and began to find my own London. London is very much an acquired taste. It most certainly is not some place that comes to be a favourite for travellers who spend more than a couple days in the capital en route to other destinations. The people are gruff, sour and absolutely loathe their routines being disturbed, which is the sole occupation of tourists. Those traits are easy to ignore on the Tube when your eyes are still starry and the excitement of seeing Big Ben, Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace wear away. The saltiness starts to shine through and the hapless traveller begins to see that they aren’t actually welcome in the places they are going; brightly hued rain jackets are giving your naivety away.
But, after a time, I fell into the dark-wool-coat-on-a-rainy-day guy; I stopped nodding at people I made eye contact with; rage filled my bones any time someone disrupted the strict no talking policy on the underground; and, I always walked with a pace that would make you think I was being followed.
Right before my very eyes, I had become a Londoner. I had doused my sunny Californian disposition and traded it in for the grim frown famous across the North Atlantic.
Without realizing it, I had built a life and a home in a place that I never believed would provide me one. So, when my time came to return home, the place I had so creatively mythologized for so long, I didn’t want to go. There was still so much to see, to experience; I had just found my feet after 5 years and ignoring that seemed to border on criminal.
But, return I did. I traversed miles upon miles; I watched cities move beneath my plane and then I began the decent into San Francisco. It was that moment where the clarity of what my heart wanted came to me. Every previous journey to San Francisco, I felt this wild pounding in my heart each time I saw the lights and hills of my home, growing closer foot by foot. This time, I felt sad.
The details of my homecoming were fairly uneventful. Life had changed, and visions of the home I had before leaving, and what had kept me sane for those difficult years in London were long gone. They folded into the past, and I was in a place I didn’t recognize.
Money swelled at the seams of the city. The impoverished were being cast out for development, which would cater to the tech giants claiming large portions of San Francisco. The cost of living climbed with the mind-boggling salaries being handed out. I wandered into a strange exclusivity that I certainly didn’t fall into.
I had become a foreigner in my city.
But, what I found most uncomfortable was the way I was quickly spliced from two worlds. I felt neither apart of where I was, and from where I had just come. My values didn’t align with my new/old home, while the 5,000+ miles did little to suggest I was deeply rooted in my London life.
Not being tied to anything, I felt as though I were just drifting out into the wild waves of the open sea. Without a paddle. Without a compass.
The weeks have unfolded, and I’m slowly beginning to find my nook in this place, but not a day passes without thinking about the wonderful people I miss in London. It is just so interesting. For years, a person can clamour so desperately for what they had, and their personal vision of the evolution of it. But, it is a personal vision, not the actuality.
I spent four years of my life looking over my shoulder, or staring off into the distance, forgetting to look down every now and then to see the world beneath my feet. Now, here I am. I’m looking down. I’m taking my moments one by one, and savouring them like little hor d’oeuvres.
But, it’s hard not to look over my shoulder and think about what I’m missing out on. I’ve grown though. I reserve the wild glow of London for the moment between asleep and awake where I can be everywhere and nowhere all at once.
There is dreaming and there is doing, and finding the balance is the new game. I don’t expect to return to London and find the world I’d made exactly the same, but instead, I can’t wait for the time that I can get back and make a new world.