Whenever I stare out at the San Francisco Belle, the boat in the Embarcadero, I can’t help but think years back to the time I took my Princess Jasmine doll all the way to the city. I’m 21 now, but for whatever reason, San Francisco has always been a silent seductress for this Alabama-turned-Georgia girl. Princess Jasmine and I used to travel to the wharf, and I would wonder if it was always so cold in May while we listened to the clamoring seals. But eventually she got tired, and I got older. We traveled a lot until we couldn’t travel any further.
My junior year at UC Berkeley consisted of many such fleetingly positive moments, but I was mostly bogged down in reminding myself to take out the trash and sometimes lacking the energy to lift my limbs to simply take a bath. During these depressive episodes, however, I still had an inexplicable urge to just go, go, go somewhere when I was too tired to deal with my self-absorbed thoughts. Most of the time, I ended up in San Francisco.
During the ride there, I often practiced looking normal because it seemed like an audition for adulthood in the real world. I synchronized my footsteps with the people who shuffled off the BART train, hastily climbed up the escalator and for a moment, even pretended like I had somewhere to go or someone to meet. But of course, I never did.
It was all still very enjoyable, at least in the beginning. Although I never plan where I’m going to go, I’ve been to San Francisco enough times that my legs mechanically take me to the Ferry Building. A Blue Bottle latte is expensive, but it sure knows how to soak up my regrets from Cowgirl Creamery and wash away the guilt from the unfinished, left-behind, seven-page paper with only my name scribbled on top.
I realized I was a solo traveler, and it didn’t bother me — except sometimes. When I saw the people around me move in and out of the ferry terminal, cramped like footnotes, I imagined some of them heading to dinner with friends, where they’d talk endlessly about their great tech or finance job before raving at The Warfield later. At one point, I, too, was taken with the lure of pulsating humanity, but now I only linger at the fringes, convincing myself there’s something wrong with me. I can’t participate because something I can’t explain is separating us.
In such moments, I suddenly begin to feel ashamed at my inaction, and I wonder why I came in the first place before walking or running to absolutely nowhere until I find something I’m looking for. During a past visit to the city, I heard monks chanting at the Buddhist temple on Pine Street, but it only sounded like a false alarm amid my fervor. And the erratic tempo of clinking glasses and dysfunctional music equipment at the hipster jazz club only reignited excessive finger-biting.
I thought all this newfound free time would help me figure out what I’m missing. My therapist listens when I speak. My family has always been just a phone call away, and the few friends that I have would take a bullet for me. Nothing is really wrong, and yet it is.
What is it? I seek out sad movies, but I never cry. I can’t be bothered to send a text back to some of the most important people in my life, and I have spent an ungodly amount of money on macaroon baking classes that I never showed up to and never bothered to cancel. How can it be that everything’s adding up, and yet nothing is making any sense?
The pandemic has shown me that without a pressing reality of school deadlines and looming adult responsibilities to turn to, there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Although I want to run up and down Powell and maybe wave to the guy outside of BART who plays the drums and then stop by Happy Donut to grab something that tastes like salvation, I can’t. I can’t go anywhere because I’m stuck, and I’m stuck because I can’t go anywhere.
Staying at home has made me miss the times when San Francisco used to call to me, tempting me late at night like a bad boyfriend, forcing me to leave before the rest of its lovers woke up. I know the city’s no good for me — I only become more hyper-aware of my self-consciousness when I’m there, and yet I continue to believe I will emerge having shed the damaged parts of myself.
My therapist helped me realize that the city can’t heal me because only I can heal me. It was an odd sort of realization that felt like a little death when she said it, but I know she’s right because I can’t keep running. Now, I write. I cook. It helps me let go of all the bottled up, conflicted feelings, and it feels liberating to know I don’t have to carry them with me. I went to the city because I was lonely — I know that now. But I also know I don’t always have to be.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.