Planes cruise low in San Jose. I hear them roaring by morning and night, refusing to be forgotten. I watch as they pause for traffic; I watch as they cross the sky between buildings. I wonder where they are going and avoid thinking about where I have come from. I wake with the honking geese and try to take pictures of them overhead in the evenings. I marvel at how we learned to fly.
The light rail never stops clanging in San Jose. The constancy offers companionship. I listen to it as I walk by St James Park. I listen to it and to distant sirens and shouts as I fall asleep. I listen to it and to my heart pounding in my ears as I hurry back to my private room. I close the door behind me just before 11 p.m., collapse onto the carpet and stress-eat a mochi donut. I can still hear the passing trains; I realize how I’ve learned to take care of myself.
Streets are named after numbers and good people in San Jose. I walk across the city with myself and remember how to breathe. I acquire a sense of direction I never thought I would have: Market, First, Second, Third; San Fernando, Santa Clara, St John, St James. I soak in the sounds of the city. I turn my face to the sun. I put Google Maps away and listen to my boots crunching against the leaves on the ground. I stand outside the cathedral basilica during mass, during a wedding; it is just me, the organ and the choir. I stroll to the rhythm of “Lights in the City.” I dance when nobody is looking. I take in how lovely it is simply to be.
There are a million cafes in San Jose, and all of them are good. I drink coffee and coffee and coffee and am never disappointed. I eat the butteriest pain au chocolat I’ve ever had and am surprised by the sea salt in my chocolate chip cookies. I discover how many flavors you can put in a latte — reduced bourbon, pandan, horchata (not all at once). I learn how many ways there are to spell a name — Leah, Lea, Laia. I take sips as I stroll through the San Jose State University campus. I take sips sitting under autumn trees. I close my eyes and relearn how it feels to be content.
Leaves fall in slow motion in San Jose. I let my gaze rest softly on the golden morning sun; the November komorebi. I take pictures for families at Christmas fairs and think of my parents; I photograph suburban homes adorned with American flags and send them to my dad. I get lost in flea markets. I walk through silent galleries and cry in art museums. I ask for tables for one and order lavender lemonades and eat as slowly as I can. I write poetry in crowded bars. I feel five days fly by. I settle into this city and, along the way, I settle into my own skin. I smile to myself at how I’ve learned to live.