Sometimes homesickness leads to gluten sickness.
It turns out it’s hard to make new friends after moving to a new place if the only people you see on a daily basis are your coworkers and the schizophrenic street people prowling the path you take to those coworkers, and if you don’t live in a real “neighborhood” per se.
I basically live at the mall. When I walk out the front door of my apartment building people dart around me in a frenzy, laden with shopping bags, shouting about extra value meals. My apartment is conveniently situated between a Burger King and a Forever 21, if that helps conjure it for you.
I live on the eighth floor. Sometimes as I step over the threshold into my living room there’s this moment where I can still hear the distant rumble of shoppers down below and I pretend there’s a riot going on and I’m conveniently stranded at the top of a very tall tower—where, in any other circumstance, I might see myself as trapped. My heart yells, “Pull up the drawbridge! Loose the alligators into the moat!” and I yank the door closed behind me with a whoosh and a thunk, smiling like a crazy person.
My boyfriend gets home from work before I do. He watches me come in—sees my expression askew, my heart beating in my neck—and runs over, asking softly, “What is it, honey bunches of oats? What’s on my baby’s mind?”
And then: “Honey, put me down, please?”—because in my animal excitement I have yanked him off the ground. I’m not particularly brawny but I’ve heard that in moments of real panic human beings are capable of great strength.
You know the stories. Cars crash into water, some ten-year-old escapes and pedals to the surface, gasping—then dives back down into the dark, like a million meters or whatever, to bust through the driver’s window with her tiny fists and unbuckle her mother.
So I put down my boyfriend eventually, but not before injuring my lower back with a bear hug that speaks loudly of a certain kind of loneliness—one that comes from being almost constantly surrounded by bodies without anyone to actually talk to. My coworkers clock out at 5PM, wave goodbye, and step out into their private lives. The unmedicated personalities I encounter at pedestrian crossings on my way to the office change so rapidly and shout such offensive things that it is hard to get attached. I am a secret fan of the elderly man I saw today wearing a “NO SEX” placard who rolled his eyes and roared at me, “You rub your butt on your sister!” (which is true). But that doesn’t mean I want to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with him. And heart-to-hearts are basically the only form of conversation I’m interested in.
In other words, I have grown ornery—which is the word for lonely if your loneliness has aged like cheese to the point of reeking. Lonely for what my psychologist affectionately calls, “human interaction.” So a few weeks ago I blurted out to one of my coworkers that I missed all my friends and had nothing to do—knowing full well that his girlfriend would call me that weekend out of pity and invite me somewhere, which she did.
We went to Delores Park and unfurled fleece blankets. It was unseasonably warm and the manicured grounds were packed—though not as crowded as Central Park or The High Line would have been on such a day, which was a relief because it made me feel slightly less nostalgic for New York. Other girls showed up and chattered back and forth about “last Friday”, when apparently someone had gotten black out drunk, and that was unexpected, so they were laughing. They drank and I smiled frantically, fighting the urge to throw my arms around each of them—not because I loved them or was desperate to be there, but because I wasn’t sure how else to interact. It had been a while since I’d done anything, really, with anyone but my boyfriend. With him I have the kind of rapport where physical touch often replaces the need for verbalization. They were all talking about people I didn’t know. I was having trouble finding the words.
Just then a teenage girl scampered by wearing a long skirt—her elbow crooked under the handle of a wicker basket the size of a rolled up sleeping bag.
"Edibles?" she asked brightly, making eye contact with each of us. She swiftly turned her gaze to the next blanket of strangers. "Edibles?" Within a few seconds she was gone.
"What are edibles?" I asked. My new friends explained the concept to me.
Why did not everyone want these edibles? I wondered.
"We grew up here," they explained.
"Old hat, eh?" I punched one of them playfully in the arm because I don’t know how to make friends. "Well, I grew up in Wisconsin, so"—before I could finish the thought I was sprinting toward the teenage angel with the giant basket.
"Are they gluten-free?" I asked sheepishly, holding out a wad of cash.
She bit her lip. “Eh, maybe?”
"So, no." I smiled, trying to look nonchalant. San Franciscans are notoriously accommodating of practically any food preference. But I still worry that I’ll sound like an annoying fad dieter.
Plus I was buying edibles. I wanted to sound cool and use all the right lingo. “Well, whatever,” I said, making a small, pfft noise. “Let’s do this thang—thing.” She shrugged, I shrugged. Five bucks exchanged hands. I crammed the whole edible thing in my mouth and walked back to my blanket, where I silently laid down and spread my body into a sort of plus sign position while the girls around me laughed about other things.
About an hour later someone asked me, quietly and nonjudgementally, “So, how ya doing?” I recognized the tone—it’s one I’ve grown used to since moving here. It’s a native San Franciscan tone—belonging to a voice that has since childhood shrugged off bearded drag queens, men lounging in the Castro wearing only their cock rings, and women pooping in plain view on the sidewalk. A tone that has seen everything, presumes to judge nothing, and yet fends off heart-to-hearts by saying things like, “How ya doing?” instead of, “Are you okay?” “Are you freaking out?” “Are you about to shit yourself?” Because it wants the answer to none of these things.
"So, how ya doing?" she asked again.
My stomach growled and I beamed, squinting at the clouds just beyond her interesting hair. “Well it kind of feels like I ate a brick,” I told her. “But man is that sky is pleasant as fuck.”