I remember circling the City in a plane, spying the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, and thinking, "It looks like a toy!" Short, tall, and almost glowing orange in the California sun. It looked too real to be real. Like an oversized caricature on a tourist's map. I remember a friend waiting for me on the ground with a sign with my name on it and hugging.
Flash forward almost a year to San Jose, and I remember standing in line at a Starbucks. I was dancing in place to the swing music played over the shop stereo. The man next to me turned and said, "Since we're both dancing, why don't we dance together?" and held out his hand. We danced until our orders were called.
I remember watching the sun rise with a guy I'd met the day before as we walked along the light rail tracks. It was too early for the train to arrive at the station we'd started from, so we were walking to the next station where the train would be running. Didn't matter that the walk probably took about as long as waiting. We walked. We talked. The sun came up.
I remember one night a month later, not long before I moved away from that city, standing on the light rail platform saying goodbye to friends and that same friend gave me a hug, picked me up, and swung me around because he remembered I'd said no one had ever done that to me before. It was the perfect "I'll see you again one day." And I remember us going out with other friends, this time in San Francisco, in the Castro, on his 21st birthday, two days after my 26th. I grinned and said he could finally buy me a drink. And he did.
For a summer, I lived with a friend in SoCal. We got year passes to Disneyland and visited the park whenever we felt like it, even for just a few hours. It felt like freedom. I remember the Pinnochio ride breaking down, and we thought it was our fault because we'd been taking pictures of ourselves making faces. It was not. We took pictures of each other with the scenery while being escorted out by a park employee, who kept asking tiredly, "Please don't do that."
Back in the Bay, I remember walking home one night along the same route as a coworker whom I'd always found fascinating, but he never talked to me. Never really talked to anyone. He had his earbuds in and I respected that, so we walked in silence. About halfway to my turn-off, he took out his earbuds and started talking to me, I guess because walking right next to someone you know and not talking to them is awkward. He talked about philosophy, his major. He quoted Locke. I must have answered capably enough because the next night after work I found him waiting at the door asking, "Are we walking home together again tonight?"
I remember another night, another coworker and friend rode me home on our bikes and he confessed that he liked me and wanted me to be his girl. I felt flattered, and awkward, and like I was in a 50s teen movie. I had to turn him down. I felt bad. We remained friends. He was a killer breaker.
One night I crashed with a friend, and we played video games until we fell asleep. The next morning he told me he'd thought about stealing my tights because they were nicer than his.
And there was that time my boss indignantly told a journalist that none of her employees were gay and a coworker told me, "Glad I didn't put that that on my resume."
I remember friends getting into an impromptu break battle at a goth club. The winner got a free drink, but he didn't drink alcohol, so he gave it to me.
There were the only frat parties I've ever attended, at a Christian house outside San Jose State, with heated root beer pong competitions and lots of dancing.
I remember a woman clutching the Bible and preaching to us passionately in Chinese on the bus; taking the boat to Alcatraz, looking back, and finding the most beautiful view of the City; wandering Golden Gate Park in search of bison; the house painted rainbow.
For my 27th birthday, I remember drinking Tokyo Teas, a Lemon Drop, and a shot of Jameson that ended up with me on my knees puking onto the curb outside West Portal Station, friends bribing a cab with $40 to drive us the 5 minutes home because the buses didn't run that far out, and everyone at work the next day pleased that I'd had such a great time. (For the record, puking does not equal a good time.)
Once, I made up my own walking tour of the Haight and North Beach, following in the footsteps of 60s and 70s rockers and beat poets. I took pictures and made a travelogue scrapbook for my father whose dream it always was to visit San Francisco. When I finally gave it to him, he turned the pages and studied them with care. Then he looked at me, puzzled, and asked "Who's Sid Vicious?" It was in that moment that I realized I was losing him.
I barely remember leaving. I know my roommate of two years and her boyfriend at the time drove me to the airport. I know we stopped at In-N-Out for my last meal. I can still feel how tightly my friend hugged me when she said goodbye. I know I needed so many hugs. At my going away party, I didn't cry until Reyna started crying, and it made her cry more and we hugged and cried.
I might remember the flight. It might be a different flight. I think I watched the sun come up over Lake Huron. I don't remember. There's so much after that night that I don't remember. Don't want to remember.
But I do remember California.