trainsongs (The Sibelius Chronicles)

I started my new job on a windy, rainy day. When I arrived in San Francisco, one and a half hours after I’d left home, a cold gust of wind greeted me as I got off the train.

Then there was a brisk walk of half an hour, and I took in the forgotten smells and sounds of the city. There were people carrying briefcases and umbrellas, neck craned to support the wedged in phones that they were yelling into, a papercup of coffee part of their emphatic gesticulations as they tried to make many, many points. There were men carrying backpacks with laptops peeking out, Bose headphones about their necks, their thick fingers swiping away on Iphones. There were Lyfts and Ubers many in the traffic snarls at every junction, ferrying passengers about. There were also those giant, white shuttles, skulking about in corners, waiting to carry serfs down to the South Bay fields. I didn’t see any children. I carefully tuned my sight away from the tens of homeless men and women at bus-stops and under shop awnings, huddled tight in rags. I don’t understand the photographers who find it necessary to go all the way to India or Africa to take pictures of poverty and misery.

I’ve been jet lagged and feverish. So everything, from the shine of steel-grey clouds reflected off skyscraper glass windows, to sight of the trash on the sidewalks, to smell of coffee overbrewed, to the locomotion of the train, all sent me reeling slightly in overstimulation. I scraped it through the day, got back tired and hungry, and sat down to make a spreadsheet: time to look for lodging in the city.

Yesterday, I went to see eight to ten places. At each place there thronged about a dozen interested parties, mostly couples. They came prepared with credit reports, with cheques to cover the first and last month’s rent, as well as an additional month’s safety deposit. The places were expensive, with a minimum of three thousand five hundred for the base rent, without including parking and utilities. One of them charged for bike lockers. Only a few had washers and dryers installed inside the apartment. And when I took my customary walk to scope out the surround, I was greeted by the smell of piss, there were littered needles all around, and homeless souls staring at me bleak. I wish this was a writer’s exaggeration. My home state had a problem with stray dogs loose on the roads, and there were heated debates about what to do with them. Here, we’ve moved up the food chain.

“Remind me again why I wanted to move to the city,” I moaned, utterly desolate and devoid of hope in mankind.

“You wanted to meet non-tech people.”

My friend is always too blunt and rhetorical questions aren’t a concept she understands. Non-tech. Yes. About that, I didn’t meet many of them at the renters’ showings. They were mostly tech people.

“I don’t think this is going to work out,” I mutter, looking at my spreadsheet, looking at the dots on the map of San Francisco, looking at the worryingly red crime contours nearly everywhere.

“Moving to the city?” she asks, being literal about it all as she usually is.

I struggle for words then. Moving to the city is only a logistical issue. It is the rest of it I am referring to. Establishing a home, establishing a partnership, establishing a future. The possibility of meeting someone I like, someone outside tech. I am looking at that big three in two years, and I’d hate to wake up on that birthday alone. I feel I’ve been alone long enough, but I am also resolved not to waste time on people I don’t want enough, or who don’t want me enough. I’ve done all of that before, and felt sordid at the end. I’ve also done it right once, and we had flown from East Coast to West Coast and back every weekend until we ran of money and time, and we had completed each other’s thoughts and sentences, and he had always made a cappuccino for me at the end of our meals together. Everything else had always ended with recriminations and anger, with claims of me not being willing enough to fit into the role they desired me to fit into. Not this. We had eaten tiramisu one last time and we played together with borrowed instruments Mendelssohn’s Opus 81. I’d never cried during the period, always floating on a puffy cloud of happiness and contentment as I had been. There had been no pressure to be more or less. There was no exhortation to have a mind of my own, but to resign my will to his. There was only music and philosophy, tiramisu and wine, gardening and long road trips, brunch in Palo Alto and rowing on the Charles. I willfully stopped thinking about all of that, afterwards, and let my friend pick and choose my dates for weeks that dragged into months and then finally to a year. Not one sparked my interest, and I found most of them self-absorbed, with little in the way of empathy. They were really never sure if they wanted to keep it light, or if they wanted to immediately change their Facebook relationship status. They were all about personal discovery and improvement quests, aspiring disciples of Stoicism, detoxing and on juice cleanses, talking about supplements and crossfit, rock climbing and how they love hiking every weekend before brunch. Some had discovered Buddhism. For others, it was yoga and mindfulness. For yet many others, it was about meal prep and readiness for catastrophes. They were analyzing their previous relationships and looking for red flags. There were a few that were empathetic, but they had been battered by the world, and the ruins were not pleasant to see. Most found me too intense for their tastes. I don’t bother being less me these days. I’d tried that before, when I was younger, and it had only done me harm. So life went on, and I changed jobs once again, and decided to run away in between. It took me running away to the edge of the world, to far off Tasmania, to be alone listening to the waves of that great ocean, to properly grieve all that had been, and I came away resolved to look for it once again, now that I know what to look for, for someone fierce and true.

My friend notices that I’d spaced out of our conversation. I attempt to catch up with her, but she knows me too well by now, and she says, “That is going to be tough to find.”

“Well, I found it once.”

She sighs and says ‘Oh Darling’ in such a kind voice that I have to struggle not to cry. She has been trying hard to help me, but perhaps she doesn’t understand what I am looking for. I tell her about Nabokov’s Vera. It is a cherished childhood dream. Ever since I read of them, I’d wanted that for me too. So I’ll just have to keep looking for my Vera.

There are no women in the new group I am working at, again. It is quite nice though. I think they have cleaned up house after all their scandals last year. Nobody says anything hurtful or condescending, there is no ‘ragging’, as is usually the case on the first day to make you feel excluded and an imposter. I am tentatively hopeful about them continuing to be professional. Here is to that, and to finding an apartment in the city, and to finding my Vera.