When I look back on my life here in San Francisco I am amazed at all the changes the city has been through and that I have been through in the city. Somehow it seems hard to separate my emotional life from “where I was” in the city. For example, the city that I first moved to in 1988 seems, in my memory, sun-dappled, empty, relatively friendly and relaxed. I found it beautiful. It was filled with baby boomers, then, who were in their thirties and forties. They seemed worldly, yet curious, kind. I was a writer and I instinctively kept myself separate from people, but I managed to find a good writing group filled with fellow grad students from San Francisco State. So I had that, even though at 21 I was the youngest there.
Then came the Loma Prieta earthquake, which I experienced alone in the dingy one-bedroom apartment I was subletting in an old building in the Western Addition. I remember the building creaking noisily as it swayed—a terrifying sound I hope to never hear again.
I moved around restlessly in those first few years, trying to find the right housing situation. I had very little stuff yet, although I was busy amassing books. I could have chosen to do anything or go anywhere once my writing program was done, but instead I got deeper and deeper enmeshed in the city. An older friend had managed to buy a house in what was then a cheap neighborhood, Bernal Heights, and I put down roots in her yard, renting a modest cabin there that I eventually realized was an earthquake shack left over from 1906! I also found my first real job at a university, USF, in the School of Education. I stayed for five years.
In those early years I would have said that I loved San Francisco. And yet I have come to realize as I’ve gotten older that it is really impossible to put down roots in this city. Maybe it is just impossible for me, though the hordes of people I’ve known who’ve moved out of the city seem to illustrate the point. They move for economic reasons, most of them, but also to find a better space for themselves, to open up their lives.
In the spring of 1993, 20 years ago in fact, I was ripe for something or some new experience… I had a steady job and a fairly steady living situation, after all. But what I found that spring would lead me to experience the opposite of permanence and security: the highs and wretchedness of unrequited love. In the very same month I met a young woman, who mentioned casually that she was in a relationship with a man … but they didn’t live together, she reassured me. We bonded like crazy. Then too, at a party that same month, I met a young straight couple who’d just moved to the city from the Midwest. We bonded enthusiastically as well.
There is probably much more to be written about these experiences, though they have informed my writing ever since, but my short memoir piece “That Lonely, Sinking Feeling: A Memoir of Love, Friendship, and Letting Go“ was my first stab at it, the story of what happened in my friendship with “the couple.” I published it on Amazon just before the New Year, 2013. It will have its free promotion on Sunday, March 24, and Monday, March 25. Since I am slowly easing out of the KDP Select program on Amazon, this will likely be the last free promo for this piece.
Two fellow writers have perceptively reviewed it. Shannon Yarbrough enjoyed the dangerous, addictive aspect of the piece, though he wanted more, writing: “West treats us to the intensity and danger of such relationships like in Ira Levin’s ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ while also echoing the themes of a ménage à trois as Patricia Highsmith did in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley.’ The narrator even becomes a bit intense and fanatical as Ripley did, and that’s what kept me reading. I wanted the trio pushed to the edge, but instead we only see the narrator ‘letting go’ as the title states.”
Gina Genovese wrote: “No one has the ability to express her characters’ fears and desires like West. … In ‘That Lonely, Sinking Feeling: A Memoir of Love, Friendship, and Letting Go,’ I found myself wincing at the painful accuracy in which she reveals her characters’ motives. Of course it’s this same painful accuracy that makes her writing so beautiful. It felt honest, and I believed her. … West’s writing, at its best, offers a respite from the very separateness she writes about. Through her honesty (and the inherent vulnerability honesty requires) she reminds us that we’re all in it together.”
Looking back, I believe that my whole strange journey here in S.F. has been a lesson in over-attachment and letting go. Of course we have to learn through raw experience and later, if we’re lucky, we can understand the patterns. I’m grateful to have avoided the really worst mistakes, the ones you can never walk away from. And yes, I’ve learned the “we’re all in it together” lesson as well.