The day we left what was to be our final San Francisco city home, the tree that stood for over a century outside of our door, collapsed. As we approached our new exit off 101 I received a phone call from our now former neighbor. “We are sad to see you go, but your tree, it just couldn’t withstand the grief. It just fell over Lisa. You drove away and it fell. Just like that.” I asked whether anyone was hurt, or if the tree had reached across the street and touched the edges of our neighbor's driveway. “No,” she said. “It just kind of fell in on top of itself.”
I understood the despair of the tree. I too felt like I had fallen in on myself. Collapsed. Like I had lost something. We were never supposed to leave that home. It held all the good things. And as far as I knew, we would live there forever.
When I first visited San Francisco as an adult, my gaze fell upon a blue Victorian house alongside the Panhandle. My car, filled with weeks worth of pizza boxes and candy wrappers after a long cross country journey, whizzed by as my friend Laurel drove and Andi navigated with a map as we made our way to the entrance of Golden Gate Park. From the backseat window the home looked a lighter shade of grey blue with white trim and cobalt and navy accents. It was the most beautiful house I had ever seen. And from that day forward I knew in my bones, someday I would be living in a blue house in San Francisco.
It took about 10 years for that dream to come alive and when we bought our little blue Victorian on a hill in Noe Valley, I knew I was home. After living in a first floor flat on a busy street in North Beach for 9 years, a house seemed like an impossible idea. I remember the first week we lived there I always noticed the quiet. Few cars, fewer people. It was the days before the neighborhood became a place to be. “You're moving where?” Our friends said. “It’s included in the map of San Francisco, just down here,” I would joke.
A small house, but inconceivably big compared to our flat, the walls were filled with possibility. It only took a few weeks for us to settle in and realize that we actually needed furniture. We slowly filled the home with a combination of new pieces and carefully selected gems we had collected from the street and salvage yards around the city. Each room in that house told a story, my favorite being the living room. Upon entering the house, a set of original glass paned doors led to a tiny room with a corner fireplace. We had filled the walls with art given to us and made for us by friends. And beneath my favorite print within sight of the front door, sat my bright red Eames plywood chair. It stood out against the other muted colors of the room and made me incredibly happy whenever I came home.
Seven years, two dogs, and a baby later it was time to move. It was a choice, but ultimately one that was made simply because we couldn’t afford to stay. I had decided to be the primary caretaker of our daughter and that meant closing my lucrative psychotherapy practice and having no immediate or certain source of income. I didn’t think I wanted to be that kind of mom, but there we were. Suddenly a role was more important than anything. With that decision, we just couldn’t stay. And I hated myself and everyone for that. But not enough to give up on my other dream. The one where I witness my daughter grow up everyday and be there for all the things. Anger and gratitude can exist side by side. And that’s what this was.
It would be another seven years before I could drive by the house again. To begin to admit that I felt at home somewhere else and would willingly choose that now. I have grown to love the mountains, the hot summers, and knowing people everywhere I go. Where I once felt the city owned my breath, I now know that in the wild is where I belong.
The first time I drove by the house I cried. I was alone and was making my way from a friend’s apartment, who it turns out lived nearby the whole time we lived in that blue house. But I only met her just a few short years ago. The current owners painted the door from International Orange to a pretty deep red. They had replaced the plants on the porch with a beautiful towering cacti and the house looked very happy.
I would pass by several more times through the years. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my daughter, pointing to the upstairs window. “That was your room,“ I’d say. “You can see Sutro Tower from there, remember?”
Just a few days ago, on my way back from the city, I drove by the house with my dad. It was the first time it looked small to me. Like it might not fit in some way anymore. It had been painted and the front staircase and porch replaced with the appropriate replica banisters and spindles. The door was still red and while the paint was new, the owners stayed with the blue theme, which made me incredibly happy. The house looked beautiful. We both agreed the owners had done.
Before dinner, I said in passing to my husband, “we went by the house today, you know the house.” He laughed at my insistence at referring to it as the house, as if we had never lived in another house since. “I know,” he said. “Did they replace the tree,” he asked. “I forgot to look,” I said.
And that’s when I knew I was finally at home in the mountains.