Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 3

Robin Williams Tunnel, Meghan Tutolo (2022).

If you think I’m annoying now—high-energy, excitable, gabby—you should’ve experienced the younger me. I mean it. I was the high-impact human equivalent of an energy drink.

As a kid, nothing was nothing more exciting to me than going on vacation. We never went anywhere too far, mostly Lake Erie or the Outer Banks, but the where didn’t matter. For—at least—a week before the trip, I would bounce around singing:

“I’m so excited! I just can’t hide it!”

These were the only words to the song that I knew, and so I sang them over and over until everyone in my orbit was smoking from the ears. I can distinctly remember the feeling in my body, the going-on-vacation excitement: the fluttering under my ribs, the burning in my cheeks, my head filling up with air like a birthday balloon. Even then, the anticipation of things was a high I knew I could tap into. I would remind myself intermittently “you’re going on vacation”—like some weird kid reward system. Just thinking about an upcoming trip generated an instant bodily reaction: endorphins or dopamine or whatever those good-feelin’ brain chemicals are. I was essentially a drug addict, right?

But then, I grew up, as we all do, learning through a lifetime of delays and disappointments the inevitable lesson: hope is precarious. The more you build something up, use it as your cushion, the more devastating it is when it doesn’t work out.

Do you remember that excitement? If you close your eyes and think about it, do you feel it in your body?


Thursday, July 28th 2:00 p.m. PST

Finally, I had arrived.

It was the moment I’d been waiting for, for months. Between the excitement and the exhaustion, I felt like I was either dreaming or a high-functioning zombie. It was in this sleep-deprived surreality that I got my luggage, signed for my over-priced rental car and stepped out into the …cold?

If you haven’t heard the punchline yet (the quip relayed to every out-of-towner that ever squawked about the cold weather in San Francisco), I’ll save you the trouble:

“Did you think it was hot in the Bay because it’s California? Haven’t you heard the famous quote by Mark Twain? ‘The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.'”

You’d be best to avoid the weather topic at all. Acting surprised about the cold weather in front of an actual San Franciscan is like telling them the same bad joke they’ve heard over and over again for their whole lives.

The temperature on the black Toyota’s dash read: 62˚F.

“Woo! It’s so cold here!” I texted K.

What I wanted to say was OMG! I’m here! Mere minutes from you! Where are you? Hurry! Let’s hug! I brought layers.

But for real, I wanted to find her, drive to wherever she was, knock on doors, run to her in the style of some shitty made-for-TV movie where the lead characters are annoying and predictable. This was the smart, talented and beautiful human on whom I had dumped my guts (by the truck loads) in letters for more than decade. At any given moment, she was 2500 miles away from me. I imagine something like a quadruple-stuffed Oreo—our cookie selves separated by too much filling, all that country in-between.

Not today, though. Right now, rightthissecond, we were like 30 miles away. So you know, fuck the niceties and the “patience is a virtue” crapola and let’s get to the good part, I thought. I was dizzy. She wasn’t really asking many questions, though, or taking my “I’m here” bait.

Chill out, Meghan. She has a life and is probably at work. But is she even excited?

I continued north on 101, leaving the ghostly fog of San Francisco and its slow-moving traffic behind me. Once I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and could actually drive, it felt like someone had cut loose my heart from its tight seat in my chest. I entered the rainbow-lipped tunnel, and as I shot out the other end, I watched the clouds part in a cartoonish way to reveal a blue, blue sky and the fireball sun.

Did that just happen?

K and I had gone back and forth with a few small-talk-y texts thus far. Nothing about my being there. Nothing about seeing me. That distancing again. I could feel my heart dropping inch by inch, an anvil tied up by a rubber band. Up until this point, I was still making every excuse I could for her. I know myself. I could be over-zealous. I’ve spent a lifetime learning to cap my intensity. Plus, I was in an especially vulnerable position—exhausted, alone, depressed, without familiar chores and tasks to keep me busy, in the throes of a trauma-versary, and well, PMSing (as I would later learn after I got my period on my birthday a couple of days later.)

I hate to have expectations, but I suppose I was waiting for her cue, in a way. I mean, if my friend had come to see me, I’d be a mile-a-minute: How are you? You excited? How was the flight? Where are you? Are you hungry? When do you want to hang? She asked nothing. It just didn’t seem normal. What would you do if someone you cared about and never got to see was visiting your city to see you? Is it unreasonable to have expectations? Please, tell me.

Again, I tried to ignore these thoughts, pushing down the insecurities as they bubbled up. Instead, I drove, daydreaming about every street, every plaza, every clump of houses.

Is this where K lives? Is this the store she shops at? Is this the view she sees on her way to work? Has she ever dropped a letter to me in this mailbox?

Maybe it sounds creepy, but when you know someone mostly through letters and you’ve shared with them your most intimate self for years—through death and loss, jobs, relationships, school, children, moves, health issues, etc.—stepping into their world feels magical. It’s a world you’ve only been told about, seen scarcely in timeline photos and Instagram stories.

The firm female voice from the Maps app snapped me back to reality. According to her, I was almost to my hotel—a destination just 5 minutes from her house, I recalled.

“Are you sure that’s not too creepy-close?” I asked her before booking it.

“Nothing could ever be too creepy-close,” she said.


By the time I got to San Rafael, I was peeling off layers of clothing. It was 78˚F—a whole 16 degrees warmer in a matter of 20 miles?

I checked into my hotel, Hilton Embassy Suites. It was a business traveler’s type spot with the vibe of something trying too hard to be relevant and modern: tiled showers, white linens, empty spaces, corny light fixtures, uncomfortable patterns everywhere—you know what I mean. In an attempt to give K the play-by-play she wasn’t asking for, I texted:

“My hotel is swanky!”

“Enjoy! Which hotel?”

Which hotel? I booked it while I was texting her. Maybe she forgot. But… “enjoy”? Seriously?  

Well, that did it.

My eyes filled up so quickly, too quickly to bypass cry mode. I squished down on my eyelids hard and wiped them with my sleeve. I looked at myself in the bright halo of the bathroom mirror—the equivalent of a pinch-check to see if I was dreaming. I could feel so many things in that moment (fear, disappointment, love, excitement, worry, exhaustion, vulnerability) and it scared the hell out of me. See, when you’re the doer type and you’re not at home surrounded by the zillion-and-one things you have to do, everything sort of catches up with you. And if you’re alone? Well, that’s just another buffer gone.

Breathe. Just relax. You’re here. Quit being a child. You can wait. She’s just not as excited and that’s ok.

I washed my face, took off my shoes and pants, and then, slid under the cool white sheets. I thought maybe a quick nap was the reset I needed. I imagined the white of the sheets and tried to go blank. I pushed everything else out.



Thursday, July 28th 5:30-ish p.m. PST

It was an hour or so later that I woke up. As soon as I opened my eyes, that fire of excitement gurgled in my belly. The thought of spending all night in that hotel alone was absurd. I didn’t want to waste a second. I was in California, damnit! So I ran down to the parking lot and sat in my rental car, debating my next move. I pulled out my phone to check on our conversation. There were no new messages, just a purple byline under our texts punctuated with a small crescent moon:

“K has notifications silenced.”


That is the moment I turned to liquid. Heavy metal. The buzzy silence of the hot car, windows up, warmed my face and filled my lungs. I felt it coming and I couldn’t will it away. I cried. I cried in a way I hadn’t let myself for years, gasping and choking, while I sat contained in a stranger’s Toyota surrounded by the bluest of skies, a melting sun and parking lot palm trees none the wiser.