Here in San Francisco, we are staunchly liberal, a sanctuary city. We condemn the NRA as a terrorist group. We bask in the echo of counterculture. We’re dressed in rainbows. We host protests and parades. We talk about mindfulness in our schools. We have world-class educators. We are immigrants. We are intentional and international. We carry yoga mats on our backs. We commute on bicycles. We are mixed-race couples with mixed-race kids. We are outwardly progressive.
But sometimes it feels like a front, form rather than substance The city is unbelievably unaffordable. We pay our public school teachers some of the lowest teacher salaries in the state despite having the highest home prices. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer—and you can see it in the homeless population.
Despite good intentions, we are just as fallible as the rest of this broken world. We have a fascinating history, plenty of light workers, millions of smart and ambitious people, abundant resources and creativity — but I don’t see a revolution happening in San Francisco anytime soon. We’re a bubble of privilege more than we are a bubble of love. And it’s crowded.
I wrote the preceding three paragraphs several months ago, living in San Francisco, grappling with complex feelings about the city. I was trying to understand why I felt so unsettled.
Now, I’m just a few days removed, reflecting on everything it took to leave. The doubt and confusion, lost sleep, missed good-byes, friends who no longer live down the street or across a bridge. The school we will never get to return to. I hate to say good-bye, but now I know there are worse things, like not saying good-bye, or saying good-bye from 10 feet away, without a hug.
My girls will never go back to their soccer team or dance class or gymnastics or swim lessons. I never said thank you and good-bye to my favorite yoga teacher. Moving in the middle of a pandemic makes it feel more extreme. Our life as we knew it changed over night, and then we changed it even more.
These times are shaking all of us up. Like a snow globe, the pieces will land in different places when they settle. The day the movers came to empty our house, we received a video message from our beloved school principal, a strong, compassionate, and badass woman. Giovanna said about her: “she treats us like we’re her own kids.” It turns out that Ms. A. did the same thing we did — she left San Francisco to live closer to family in a more financially sustainable place. Before she left, she fought to stay. She asked the school district for help, but SFUSD couldn’t help her. As a single mom, she needed support to make her life work, which included priority registration for her son who is entering kindergarten. One woman can only be in one place at once.
That’s life in San Francisco. Getting into kindergarten is a bureaucratic and emotional nightmare for many, and sometimes getting to kindergarten is a logistical nightmare because SFUSD is a choice district — they don’t have neighborhood schools and people can be assigned to campuses across the city. Many families count on private schools instead, which have rigorous and highly competitive application processes, as well as large fees.
While Ms. A is clearly heartbroken to leave the community, particularly under the conditions, I am glad for her. This woman deserves the very best. She gave her all to San Francisco, and San Francisco couldn’t rise up to meet her. I’m glad she walked away to find a better life for herself. I hope we all find it.
I’ll miss the people and the culture and the ocean and the architecture. Also, walking to the bay, running across the bridges, sitting on the the sandy beaches and breathing the Pacific Ocean, watching the fabled fog roll in over the pastels, exploring the vast and rich state of California. I’ll miss living close to extended family and Napa and Sonoma. I’ll miss the light in Northern California.
I always dreamt of living in the golden state, and it had the unexpected effect of granting me a new appreciation for Washington state. I wouldn’t love the Pacific Northwest the way I do now without having left it for 5 years. It was the right time to return. As for Emile, the novelty of having homes in two states had worn off. He wanted his family back, and we wanted to feel whole again. It was hard being far away from him, and also my family.
Though we continue to shelter in place and it will be a while before I get to enjoy everything that the Pacific Northwest has to offer, I’m finding comfort in the natural world here. There are green forests everywhere. The cherry blossoms are blooming. The breeze is calm. We’ve had a heat wave and rain. The first drop I felt landed on my forehead, and it was like I’d been anointed.