Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 1

San Francisco Bay Bridge in Fog 2022
Bay Bridge Fog, Meghan Tutolo (2022).

This isn’t the happy story I thought it would be.

I wrote and re-wrote this blog entry over the last month. It kept turning out as more of a chapter than a story—a brain mosaic of narrative tangled with memories and past traumas. Who do I think I am? Ha.

See, the San Francisco trip turned out to be more of a melodrama and less of a vacation, definitely not the event I’d been looking forward to for the last 4 months. The story feels important to tell, but it needs a little prefacing to make sense. So… buckle up? Or not. Boogie on out now, if you want. I totally get it.

Can we start with the song? I’ve had this song in my head since I landed at SFO on the 28th of July.

Hello, San Francisco, baby, I don’t ever want to die…

It was February when I planned the trip. In the middle of yet another Pandemic Winter, I was looking for a reason to keep going, you know? When you live in Pittsburgh—pandemic or no pandemic—February is pretty bleak. Groundhog Phil’s grim forecast didn’t help. So when the callout came up on my Facebook feed that poet Dorianne Laux would be workshopping at a four-day writing conference in California (on my birthday!), I perked up a bit. It definitely had those “meant to be” kind of vibes.

I love birthdays. Not just my birthday, but everyone’s. I love any excuse to celebrate the people I love in the cheesiest, gushiest, most ridiculous way. Still, July hits a little different these days. It was years ago now that Denise died 10 days before my birthday. If you don’t know, Denise was my soul sister—”my favorite person in the world,” I would tell her. So yeah, you could say there is some earned Birthday Abandonment™ trauma connected to this time of year. July rolls in hot and sunshiny, but with a weird ache. I feel it before I know it’s here.

Funny how it was her voice in my head as I was daydreaming about this solo trip across the country:

“C’mahhn. You have to live a little.”

There was more than one reason to visit the Bay Area: K lives there. K and I are what you might call penpals. We’d been posting each other (letters, postcards and packages) for over 10 years now, but she’s known me since I was just a silly, self-deprecating 14 year old posting on Tori Amos message boards online.  (In case you were wondering what kind of adolescent I was… haha. It’s a pretty good tell.)

I referred to K as “probably my best friend, though we’ve never met.”

In 2017, we did meet. And, you know, everything clicked. Though I was nervous as all get out, that same energy and connection were there from our letters. What a relief! It was a short first visit and I was looking for any reason to get out to see her again. This writing conference seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was the two things that convinced me to look into it further, seeing K and the conference. High-tailing it to the Left Coast for just a one activity seemed a little more than frivolous, money- and time-wise. So, two birds, as they say.

I texted K and a couple of my SF friends to see what they thought. To my excitement, K was super into the idea of getting more time together. And boy, not to be too dramatic, but I really needed it. The pandemic era has made mashed potatoes of my sanity and so much has felt overwhelming: health stuff, roof, chimney, a lawsuit?, the thousand small cuts of homeownership, etc. And just like any small business owner, I’d been working overtime to make the money to take care of this shit. The point: there was an excitement there that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mean, I don’t really allow myself that kind of anticipation anymore. (I swear it’s more practical than pessimistic.) But I wasn’t on my game. I was on E—physically, emotionally—and so very willing to push myself harder for this opportunity.

So BOOM. Just like that, the plans were made: I would fly in, rent a car, book a hotel for 3 days in the Northern Bay Area to spend time with her, and then, drive down to Pebble Beach for the conference. Once it was over, I’d drive back up to the airport and fly home.

Let’s throw our bones away, get happy, babe. ‘Cause I’m seeing blue again… 

I’m not sure how to tell the story from here. You can probably guess that things didn’t go quite like that, right?

Spoiler alert: I still don’t know what the hell happened, really, and neither does anyone I’ve tried to hash it out with. But I’ll explain more in the next part.

Until then, go listen to that Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s song.

mt