I wasn’t expecting my trip to San Francisco to be anything special.
But maybe that’s precisely why it was so life-changing. At this point, I was 17 years old, and life was pretty ordinary. My definition of “the future” started and ended with getting a summer job, submitting college applications, and finishing my senior year of high school. Nothing existed outside of this little bubble. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve never liked change. I loved my little bubble. San Francisco came along and burst it wide open.
San Francisco was a place of many firsts for me. As any lover should, San Francisco made me recognize how I only ever lived in my comfort zone. It wasn’t like I had never stepped out of it before, but it was the little things. On a ferry leaving from Fisherman’s Wharf, I let myself lean off the edge a little, just enough so the water could hit my face, capturing my first photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. The picture turned out horrible, and I mean horrible. Over-exposed and blurry in all the wrong places. But it’s still hanging above me as I write right now.
On the same trip, we went on what’s known as the 17-mile drive. The drive features beautiful beaches, trails, and houses. I remember stepping foot on the softest sand I’d ever felt. Being from New Jersey, I honestly didn’t know we had such clean sand and water anywhere in America until that point. My sister and I jumped up and down and kicked it up each others’ legs for just a few moments, but some moments feel like infinity if you play them over and over in your head enough times.
A few days later, we drove to Muir Beach Overlook, which is just over 30 minutes away from San Francisco. When we got there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The hills and treetops competing with the bright blue ocean were breathtaking. To top it all off, two people were sitting on a bench along the cliffside, playing a guitar and singing together. It was the kind of scene you see in a coming-of-age movie.
Perhaps a “coming-of-age” movie is the best way to describe my experience in San Francisco. I’d never felt so young and so alive in all my life. These little memories have made me who I am. My cousin, sister, and I stayed up all night trying to beat the jet lag even if it meant we were exhausted the next day. We drove up to the highest hill in the city, only to find our view blocked by the fog. But it didn’t matter. Time felt different in San Francisco.
On the east coast, life moved at a thousand miles per minute. In New Jersey, I swear you could scream in the middle of the street, and no one would hear you. If anything, you’d get a sideways glance and a few whispers. Forgive me for being a little dramatic. Of course, the entirety of San Francisco wasn’t hearing me, but I finally heard myself. It was a rare and beautiful thing.
San Francisco was the lover I got to run away with for a few weeks before entering my senior year and the last chapter of my childhood. That year, so many changes happened. I took what I learned from San Francisco and signed up for a Civics class during my senior year, where I finally felt free and able to speak my mind on critical social issues. I reexamined who my real friends were and, even though I lost a few, I gained more true friendships than I thought I’d ever deserve. I submitted all of my college applications at 5 am and finally chose one to attend. Then, in a blink of an eye, I was 18 and this big part of my life just felt over.
Now I’m 20 years old, and a lot has changed since then. The person I dreamed I’d become while I was in San Francisco is here within me somewhere, but I look at the city a little differently now. When I left, I remember thinking, “one day, I’ll call this place home.” It was, arguably, the most poetic thought I’d ever had as a 17-year-old and felt more real every time I said it. But then I learned about the city’s sky-high rent prices, which inevitably created a large and under-protected homeless population. I learned from my cousin that the city would suck it’s residents into corporate tech jobs just to spit them out a few years later, tired and unmotivated to try anything new. At that point, most people move, thanking the gods they didn’t stay long enough to see what would happen to the fault line that the city sits right on top of. Now when I try and think about San Francisco, it’s a little painful. It feels like I imagined what I saw; don’t hold it against me for glorifying my first love.
San Francisco isn’t perfect. My love for the city has since faded a little, but, like any love, it can’t die. It was the first city to teach me that places become a part of you. You can go back to them anytime you want. The version of San Francisco that lives in my head is all too beautiful to let go, and the version of me that existed there is still who I hope to become someday.