I’ve always had a big crush on San Francisco. In my mind, the city has often seemed like the sophisticated, sexy older sister to my wild, chaotic, and sprawling Los Angeles. While living in Venice Beach, I’d often drive up here — post heartbreak, post job loss, sometimes with a hangover — to clear my head, crash on a couch and get a taste of the Bay Area’s elusive magic.
So, after meeting a mustachioed San Franciscan at Burning Man last year, I felt quite sure that I’d at least take him up on the casual invitation he extended to me during our last day on the playa: “Let me know if you’re ever in the Mission!” I could never have anticipated that seven months later I’d be living with him — just a short walk from Dolores Park — the two of us sheltering-in-place together in the midst of a global pandemic.
I can see the mental image forming in your head — the two of us eating seitan and smoking weed on a mandala tapestry. However, as I type this in the bedroom, he’s one room over, at our tiny kitchen table, sporting a dress shirt from the waist up as he gives a digital presentation to a pharmaceutical client.
He manages a team of consultants — often working ten hours a day or more. From the waist down he’s in Adidas shorts, ready to do his daily digital HIIT class in the mud room that was once designated only for dirty shoes. He’s a regimented human, which is a little tough for both of us, because I’m more of the weed-and-mandala type.
I’m a songwriter for film and television, for artists, for anything I can get my hands on — a songwriter who suddenly has an abundance of time to plant a garden in the front yard, and work on my craft or meditate, but more often than not reverts to watching reality TV (Real Housewives, Love Island, The Circle, 90 Day Fiancé, I’m practically mainlining it at this point), with half a bottle of wine poured into a single glass, wearing a pair of oversized cotton underwear I used to hide at the bottom of the drawer.
Our decision to shelter-in-place together was an easy one. We’d spent every available moment with each other for months and had plans to move to London in the fall. My beach-adjacent Los Angeles bungalow, although decorated (spectacularly if I do say so myself) with your standard Southern California fair of macramé, tarot cards, wafting cigarette smoke coming from the apartment downstairs, rose quartz, cacti, and the neighbors “running a scene,” seemed a lot less chic with the two of us and my roommate trying to work from home. So we packed what we thought would be two weeks worth of belongings (mostly just sweatpants and said tarot cards, which was all we thought we would need at the time), threw it all in my reliable old Honda Civic and headed north.
As someone typically allergic to serious relationships of any variety, (I can’t keep a pair of jeans longer than six months, we’ve just seen too much of each other at that point), living together during a quarantine is a level of visibility I’ve struggled with at times. He, a fiercely independent, wild, successful man (oops, you caught me drooling) has had to learn to change his disciplined routine and lifestyle to make room for me. We’ve learned that in this, we are partners, keeping each other afloat in a sea of CNN updates and disinfectant, information and misinformation, fear and uncertainty.
The sweeping and romantic San Francisco love story — the one that has played out like a movie in my head — has collided with a much more intimate and private love story. We’ve gone from long-distance, sexy weekend trips and a summer of travel plans to weeks of cloistered, cabin fever; to me crying on the floor in the middle of a Zoom yoga class, in a house where we both tend to wake up at night because I had another bad dream and he was grinding his teeth and there is no fan in the bathroom. On one recent night, we held each other in silence because my mom had developed pneumonia and his family was waiting for his stepdad’s COVID-19 test results.
Last year, on my birthday, I took the ferry to Sausalito alone. I bought chocolate in a very crowded Ferry Building, wandering the shops and talking with strangers. I had tears in my eyes on that boat ride, looking at this beautiful city, so filled with hope for the year to come, full of wonder at what would bring me here next. I watched the light shine off the humming boardwalk as the San Franciscans went about their daily lives.
So here I am, finally living in this city and living the dream I’ve had for so long. There are sunny days in the Mission with this handsome boyfriend of mine. My sister lives a mile and a half from here off Divisadero. We make pretend plans to dance all night at Madrone and eat late-night pizza. I wave to her, her dog and fiancé in their apartment while I’m out on the street. My boyfriend is teaching me to skateboard, and we glide along the empty streets with our masks on, looking at the Victorian homes. I walk to the nearby pharmacy, and I feel like a true local.
Then the person behind me coughs without a mask on, or ignores the proper distancing rules. I wash my clothes and shower immediately upon returning home and decide maybe I won’t go again. We walk up Bernal and take in the beautiful views. An off-leash dog walks up to me, tail wagging, and as I bend down to pet it, someone nearby recommends that I don’t, as the virus can live on the animal’s fur. We stroll through the city streets hand in hand in light rain, and comment on each unique building, apologizing to another pedestrian; we got too close to them amidst our daydreaming.
As we pass closed and boarded-up restaurants and shops, he tells me about how wonderful they were — describing the food and the cocktails. I close my eyes for a moment outside Flour and Water and picture the dress I would wear, the shade of lipstick smudged on my glass and how we would laugh with the patrons next to us at the long communal table, sitting shoulder to shoulder without a care. When we get home I put on the big underwear and pour half a bottle of wine into one glass as I cue up Love is Blind.
In many ways it feels like I’ve been waving at San Francisco through the window, from six feet away. She’s still lovely. And one day I’d like to know her neighborhoods more intimately and take in their unique culinary delights. I’d like to dance on her dance floors, peruse her shops, stroll through her markets and meander along her winding streets. I yearn for the day that I can again buy chocolate in a very crowded Ferry Building, to take the boat to Sausalito, and watch the light shining off the humming boardwalk as the San Franciscans go about their daily lives.
Quarantine Thoughts is an ongoing personal essay series focused on how the coronavirus, social distancing mandates and the economic fallout of COVID-19 is impacting locals. Read more essays here.