A few weeks ago, we visited the Bay Area for the first time since moving to Portland. I was a little afraid to make the trip (even though I didn't have anything liquid in my carry-on bag!), fearing that I'd be struck with remorse for having moved away. I only spent ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it felt more like home to me than any other place I'd lived. I loved catching sight of the Bay when I was up in the East Bay hills - seeing that breathtaking panorama of water and bridges, with the city and the hills rising up in the west. I never took those views for granted, and they always took my breath away, even after ten years. When I'd travel for business back then, the descent into SFO was such a joyous experience. I'd think "I'm home! And I live in the most beautiful place on earth. I'm SO lucky!".
So I was overcome with anticipatory anxiety as the flight from Portland touched down at Oakland Airport, wondering if I'd be so distressed at having left the Bay Area that returning to Portland would be painful.
Didn't happen that way at all.
For one thing, the freeway that connects Oakland Airport with the East Bay might be the ugliest highway in California. The "Nimitz" is your archetypical urban freeway, surrounded on both sides by warehouses and shopping malls, without a tree in sight for miles. Unlike 101, the freeway that goes from SFO to San Francisco, where you see views of the Bay to the east and the hills to the west, the Nimitz is a dull, depressing and singularly unwelcoming entry to the Bay Area. (I drove the Nimitz to and from work for several years, and knew every damned exit between downtown Oakland and the Dumbarton Bridge by heart, and I hated every minute I spent on that road. If it hadn't been for Books on Tape, I would have turned into one of those maniacs whose road-rage boils over into violence, I'm sure; as it was, I finally 'read' Sense and Sensibility and a bunch of other books, thus saving myself and my fellow travellers from heaven-knows what kind of carnage.)
As we drove through Berkeley to our friend's house in Kensington, a mile from where we lived, I was struck by how dull everything looked, in comparison to the lush green of Portland (I conveniently forgot that things look very different in January, when it's the dead of winter here and the magnolias and camillias are in full bloom in the Bay Area). And I realized that I actually liked it better here in Portland.
What a relief.
We saw several good friends while we were there (nowhere near as many as I would have liked, but ...), at dinner and brunch and dinner again. On Sunday, we attended our friend's memorial in Tilden Park, in the exact same spot where her retirement party was held five (or six) years ago. The memorial was both sad and very beautiful, as her friends spoke of their love and admiration for this remarkable woman, and I was very glad we were able to be part of the celebration of her life.
We saw so many beloved friends at the memorial, people I met in a 'virtual community' back in 1992, people who are still a part of my life via this community, even though I've moved away. But it it me that what I really cared about, what I missed the most wasn't the =place=, but the people.
I miss my friends.
I miss being able to email Eric and suggest that we have a cup of coffee together on Wednesday. I miss driving to Weight Watchers meetings with Ruth, and picking up some veggies and fruit at the El Cerrito Plaza farmers' market when the meeting ended. I miss having breakfast with Darlis. I miss having Sandy or Ron deliver our organic veggies when I was too tired to drive over and get them, and I miss giving Bonnie, their sweet dog, a carrot from the box as a treat. I miss seeing Giselle, always lovely, always beautiful, always vital and interesting. I miss dinners at Ajanta with Jen and Drew. I miss the Sing Things, where I could see so many of these folks, in rooms filled with music and singing.
It's hard to make friends when you're no longer working, when your illness makes it impossible to predict whether you'll be able to drive somewhere and do something after you arrive. Even volunteering is difficult - almost impossible - because of the dreaded MonSter. So my usual ways of meeting people and making friends are no longer available to me.
And ya gotta have friend. Y'know?