In Love in San Francisco
by Isaac Fitzgerald
I came to this city in love and with everything I owned stuffed into three bags — it was San Francisco, so six people in a three-bedroom apartment seemed like something that could work. But when a week turned into a month she said maybe I should try Craigslist; then she told me sure, no problem, McCoppin Street wasn’t that bad, see, your room even has a window.
I never finished painting that room. Halfway across the wall opposite the bed I ran out of money and then I ran out of paint, or I ran out of time, or I ran out of energy. And she was leaving anyway, and then she was gone, and what I had left was an unheated room, a kitchen with mice so bold they ran along the countertops while you ate cereal at the table, and a window overlooking a concrete stoop covered in dog shit. And my journals. As our relationship devolved, I’d written more and more, and when she left I had a stack of dreary journals about heartbreak. But they were also filled with memories of the places where I loved to be in love all over this city that I thought had turned its back on me.
The Wave Organ, like San Francisco herself, is gorgeous and hard and weird. We walked out on the dirt path past the fancy yacht club to listen to the acoustics of the tides bounce off the sculpture’s concrete pipes and into our ears. After the bottles of wine were empty, we stripped down to our underwear and jumped into the bay, Alcatraz at eye level as our teeth chattered and we held each others goosebumped bodies. Her black hair was wet and matted to her forehead when we kissed, our mouths filled with the Pacific.
Less than two years later I was again dunking my head into the ocean, up to my thighs in salt water, my jeans and boots still on. My friends had dragged me out of the bar and drove me over the hills, through Golden Gate Park, to Ocean Beach. They walked me up and down the sand, under the shadow of the Cliff House, eventually leaving me to my own thoughts as I walked out toward Japan, still clothed. I was sobering up, she was gone, and the city was still rejecting me. There was no reason to stay. But I would: like I had done with her, I would overstay my welcome in hopes that San Francisco might change her mind.
The morning after the first time she broke up with me (not the time she left for good, putting the entire country between us, but the first time, when we fought in public and she cried and her new friends looked at me with a mix of disappointment and ambivalence), we fucked and then made up and then went to the Seward Street Slides. Two long concrete racetracks, side by side. We held hands and slid down them again and again the city rushing by our faces with the wind. A thermos full of Bloody Marys and us full of forgiveness for words we no longer remembered.
The bar I ended up in after she was gone for good was famous for its Bloody Marys. I watched the door in exchange for drinks, giving my money back to the bartender after my shift. My job was to tell people what not to do: No photographs. You can’t sleep here. Get off the table. Eventually I was asked to wash dishes in exchange for a little more money. I made setups. Cut fruit. Stuck olives on toothpicks, wrapped stringbeans around them. The extra money went to the bartender too. I would drink quietly, keeping her trapped in my head, afraid if her name passed my lips she’d escape my skull forever. I’d stay after every shift, until closing. A co-worker asking me to leave. “You can’t sleep here.”
The month before she left she moved in with me. We both knew it was over, but she couldn’t make her rent. One night she didn’t come home, stayed with a friend she said. Slept with a friend, she said, minutes later. We fought about it, even though there was nothing to fight about. That’s who we were, or who I was. She was someone different. Someone new. Someone who knew when it was time to leave town. But after that fight, that last fight, those last few weeks, those were our best. We took photographs of each other by the ocean, by windswept pines, in bed, up late, drinking beers and waiting until it was time to part ways. It was over, but we wanted evidence. We went to all our favorite places, concrete slides, wave organs, museums, hidden bars we claimed as our own. Photographs of San Francisco that we happened to be in.
And then she was gone. Just me and my journals and the mice and the dog shit. Drinking quietly. Working job after job with no plan except to stay. To meet someone new. To drink wine with them and throw ourselves into the bay. To prove to the city that I loved her by being in love in her again.
Artwork by Jason Novak
About the Author:
Jason Novak is an artist.