On Returning Home To Rural Illinois After Burning Out In San Francisco


If I ever have children, they will find out with the briefest of Internet searches that I was once forced to harvest marijuana overnight for an aged supervisor in return for a breakfast burrito. When they ask, I’ll tell them that yes, this happened, and also something that this recent New York Times article on youth exploitation in the workplace didn’t mention, for relevancy’s sake: that the messy, exhausting, stinky work was accompanied by the stilted voice of an old British man reading The Hound of the Baskervilles. When the tape ran out, we’d start it over again, and resume snipping. A hound it was, an enormous, coal-black hound.

I was interviewed for the article because I had found myself at the end of a very frayed rope. Until two months ago, I lived in San Francisco, that greenish Jacuzzi of activity and young people (greenish from the urine of drunkards, of people who have stayed too long, of excitement, of excess, and of trying too hard to hold it all in). I applied to more than 150 jobs, took five unpaid internships, and scuttled from café job to café job. One of these café jobs was wonderful: a standard bluish Jacuzzi bubbling with artists, two caring employers, and the freedom, nay, encouragement, to dress as Mark Twain on Halloween.

But these jobs were supposed to be temporary jobs, these internships were supposed to funnel somehow, slowly, into employment. I bicycled doggedly through the fog every morning, circling, it felt, some invisible or obscured goal. Found quietude only when I started bicycling really fast, turning conversations and thoughts and scenery into a gray blur. My smile had long ago shifted into a shield off which people would glance, and I felt useless, bad at everything except for making adequate lattes and prostrating myself to the jittered banter expected of a barista.

So I bowed out, not with any real feeling, surprisingly, for I loved this place, or said I did.

Coming home to two newly vegan parents, watching Swedish crime dramas with them each night, needing a haircut and receiving, for the millionth time, that of a freshly minted squire, I’m not sure if that rope has finally frayed into two pieces or if I’m remembering some basic version of myself. I wake up every morning to the tree I thought I left behind seven years ago, which waves its branches through the window the way old people wave their hands, up and down from the wrist, and I feel something there is no adjective for, as far as I can tell. A resigned sort of near-exhilaration. An exhilarated boredom, maybe. I don’t remember San Francisco unless I try to, and then I think about the handsome schizophrenic man who compared me to a half-toasted bagel one morning, or the “Egyptian baptism” I stupidly received in a Dolores Park underpass.

Here, I can’t stop listening to my parents’ music that I remember hating in high school and unconsciously absorbed, especially La Traviata, which will always seem to me like a single undecipherable, two hour-long Italian word. My eyes think they register the peripheral flash of my long-dead dog, the same way I registered the immense familiarity of strangers on San Francisco streets: they were café customers, or OkCupid visitors, or the mole-dotted bald head in front of me on a Muni bus. When it falls, the snow doesn’t seem like the kind of snow that fell in high school, it’s fatter and slower. My room is now a weird lavender color and full of my mother’s academic treatises on the history of dirty jokes. I’m not sure how or when to leave. There are no hills to bicycle down, just red brick streets stretching like dingy tongues out into farmland. 

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