Once, a long time ago, I told you I would love you forever. I never intended to lie to you.
I am back in San Francisco, the place where we once lived together. It has been … what now? 15 years? Or is it 20? I don’t remember things the way that I should. I can’t remember the last time I saw you or the things we said to each other. I can’t remember the sound of your voice, though I do remember it made me happy. I can’t remember the way your skin felt beneath my fingers when I would caress your cheek, traced the curve of your jaw down to your neck and shoulders. I do remember I loved to touch you. I can’t remember how you used to smell. The scent when I would hug you and rest my face on your shoulder; it smelled like a flower, a particular flower, but I don’t know which one. I know that I loved that smell.
And I remember I loved you, the idea of you. So when you asked one night on the beach where we walked barefoot in the sand, would I love you forever I answered without hesitation, yes. And I meant it, with all my heart I meant it. Now I can’t remember your voice or your touch or your smell.
I am standing on the Wharf and the fog is thick. I cannot see the bridge. The Golden Gate is obscured completely by a wall of white and grey. It is as if it has been erased from the landscape. And I stand there looking toward the blank space and I tell myself that I can make out the details. In my mind I attempt to trace the outline of the familiar structure I have seen a thousand times. I imagine I can touch it. I know that if I stand here long enough the fog will blow away and I will be able to see clearly. But I am tired; I find it hard to wait. I leave before the fog clears, before I can see.
On the corner of Height and Central was a grocery store. We shopped at grocery stores on corners in the City. Supermarkets took up space and space was a rare commodity. So the tiny markets on corners served our needs and if the market didn’t have it we didn’t need it. The market was where I bought cigarettes and bread. It was where I bought beer and ice cream. And milk and post cards and cans of beef ravioli. We bought Raman noodles and napkins, toothpaste, toilet paper and condoms. It was where I would walk past the rack of dirty magazines pretending I didn’t notice them. It was where I bought the bottle of wine we drank when I told you I was leaving, the one that stained the carpet when you dropped it.
The air is chill when I leave the Wharf, that beautiful San Francisco chill that is warm and moist and sticks to you, energizes your steps. And the air is filled with the smell of salt water and seaweed and chowder and sourdough. It smells of decay, it smells of life. And in the air hang sounds, seagulls crying and forced laughter and tired children and the muffled conversations of people pretending to be lovers.
I walk past a crowd watching a man paint a fantasy landscape with aerosol cans to a techno beat. They applaud when he is done. There is a man who claims to be a magician begging people to watch him. He has a top hat and a deck of cards. People pass him by. And there is a homeless man asleep on a park bench in a sitting position, a long stream of spittle hangs from the corner of his mouth. Another man in a suit stops to take a picture of him.
All around me is the day ending and transitioning into night. From the clubs music plays, evening cruses on the Bay begin to board. Dinner rush in the restaurants begins as the t-shirt and trinket shops call out last minute deals before the doors lock. I think of all the places I could go. I could revisit the old haunts, relive the old days. I wonder if you are out there, out in the City.
I imagine walking into a restaurant, that old sushi place we liked on Divisadero maybe, and you would be there sitting at the bar drinking Saki from a box. As I walk by you would touch my arm lightly and say my name in a quiet, astonished sort of way. Is it really you? You would say. What are the odds? I would say. And we would hug and reminisce and remember. I think I should go out then, into the City to find you. Instead I go back to my hotel. I don’t know my way around anymore. In truth I don’t belong here anymore. I am a tourist now.
The wine you dropped was red; a table wine with an Italian name, a blend. You drank it from a water glass filled nearly to the top. You held it to your lips without drinking as I told you I wanted to move out. When the glass fell to the floor I reacted instinctively grabbing napkins and trying to blot it up. It’s okay, it’s okay, I said, I can fix it. I can make it right. And then you said please. Please stay, you said. And I did.
I stayed because I loved the sound of your voice and the way that you smelled and the way that your skin felt beneath my fingers. I stayed because you asked me to and because I said I would love you forever. We pretended that night never happened. We pretended I never said that I wanted to leave. We pretended that everything was the same as it always had been. The only thing that was different was the dark, red stain on the carpet.
It was never the same of course. Pretend as we did it was never the same. Till eventually, one day you sat me down with a bottle of wine and told me that you were leaving. Distant, you said, I was distant. Not the same. You said you would always remember me. I promised I would do the same. I don’t remember the day you left.
I am sitting in my hotel room looking out the window onto the City at night. The buildings are bathed in a dull, blue light with occasional splashes of yellows and reds. The fog continues to roll in wrapping around everything and hiding it from view. I struggle for a while to make out details in the distance. I know that if I sit here long enough the fog will clear. But I am tired; I find it hard to wait.
Originally published Oct 3, 2013