Nothing is my first rodeo when it comes to sex. I have lived, learned and slept around a lot. But until coming to Berkeley, I knew very little about love. If nothing else, this is the first place that I’ve witnessed love’s radical and transformative power, because it’s the first place I was able to access it myself.
Even now, I cannot take off my rose-colored glasses. How could I, when it was on campus, on a bench in an alcove in the redwoods, that I first told my partner, “Hey, I like, really like you”? When she took my hand and whispered, “I really like you too,” I knew that I had stumbled upon something miraculous. With her, love didn’t feel like a shot of adrenaline, it felt safe; it felt like being enough.
That same night, after a Halloween party, in an above-ground pool under the stars, I said, not for the first time but for the first real time: “I love you.” There it was, beneath the freezing October sky in the midst of a pandemic, love — perfect and cliched and entirely our own. She said to me, “You are my home,” and we cried until we couldn’t tell the chlorinated water apart from the tears streaming down our faces. We kissed until we were breathless and until the moon fell behind the trees, before slipping quietly back inside the Airbnb, and quickly under the sheets. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” was all we could say in between kisses, and we repeated them over and over, our faces buried in the pillows and each other’s necks.
A year later, we returned to Berkeley; this time with everything we owned in the back of a pickup truck, along with the emotional baggage of our hometown and all of its bitter disappointments. Our first night in our apartment, under the glow of the setting sun, we passed a joint back and forth and lay naked in bed, blissfully post-coital and mercifully stoned, long enough to see the sky go dark, and to whisper into the night: “I love our new life, and I love you.” In so many ways, we were beginning the arduous task of starting all over.
When I first moved here, people told me things like: Abe’s is the best pizza, Moffit is the worst library and Gig Car is a lifesaver. Throughout this past summer, I collected these bits of advice fastidiously. Eventually, I noticed a pattern. Alongside all of the blithe wisdom that people offer up, there is another, more ominous category of recommendations. Things like: Don’t walk with your phone in your hand, don’t make eye contact with anyone and don’t go out alone at night.
So often, Berkeley is described as the sum of its cons — the grit, the shitty apartments with even shittier landlords, the gnats in every doorway — and maybe, if I had come here at a time in my life where I did not understand the awe-inspiring reach of love, I would have agreed. Now, knowing the ways that love has moved me, healed me, expanded me, I see things differently. What I find that people fail to mention, and what I am reminded of every day, is that in Berkeley, wondrously and defiantly, love is everywhere.
I mean this both literally and figuratively. On the sidewalk, where graffiti spells I hope you know how loved you are, beside street performers singing love is kind, on Telegraph Avenue where a sea of people walk with clasped hands braving the world (or at least a boba shop), on the steps of Sproul where people pour fake blood and cry out for more love and less hate. Every day, on my walk to campus, a man with a microphone screams at me from atop a soapbox: “Jesus loves you and he loves me, too.” Unlike so many other places, the love in Berkeley is not only tender but radical. I see it in the mornings when my partner finds time to make me the perfect cup of coffee and kiss my cheek and at my job where a staff of queer employees asks your pronouns before your name. There is something to be said for a place where this can happen all at once, every day.
Live here awhile, and you go from asking for advice to giving it. I say things like: Make sure to get a copy of your keys, use EBT if you qualify and never leave your packages out overnight. Before, this might have been all. Like everybody else, I would have seen only the worst of this off-beat city on the water. But now, to anyone who will listen, I also say: Make sure to take in all the love you can; it’s out there, waiting to be embraced. Waiting, stubbornly, to embrace you. Around every corner, under your sheets, or in between the redwoods, maybe even in your shitty apartment, there is love to be found.