Everyone knows that few things in life turn out the way you'd expect. That is especially jarring when those expectations revolve around a dream that you've held on to for years and years.
It was 1999 when I left San Francisco to head back east for my transplant. For various reasons, I never went back with new lungs. In 2002, when I was diagnosed with Chronic Rejection (or "Chronic" as the cool kids say) I was surprised to find that not returning to SF was my biggest regret. When I lived there, I was struggling for air and could barely get around, except by car. I had dreams of walking up those steep hills, full of life and breath. I loved that city like it was a person and missed it dearly. When I was blessed with another transplant I vowed to make that one dream come true.
Since my 34th birthday was approaching, I decided this would be the perfect time. I booked my ticket and packed my walking shoes. When people would ask me what I was going to do when I got there, my response was "walk up a hill". Admittedly, I did not have lofty goals.
The first morning in SF, I woke up early and set out to meet the day with my best friend at my side. We headed for a neighborhood that I had spent a lot of time in and wanted to rediscover. We walked up the first big hill and I was met with a surprise. It was not fun at all. Yes, I could do it, but I still huffed, puffed and felt my calves cramp up. (Yes, I am very out of shape!) I had no feeling of accomplishment. No feeling of pride. I just wanted to avoid those stupid hills at all costs.
When we finally got to the neighborhood, known as "The Haight", I couldn't believe my eyes. It was dingy and lifeless. What I had remembered was a world of brightness and vibrancy. It was none of those. On top of that, I felt like I had never been there before. It was foreign to me. While I could remember the street that was going to cross at the next block (confirmation that I had, in fact been there) the fact remained that I felt like I was in a completely unfamiliar place. It did not feel like home, as I thought it would. It felt only like a distant, foggy dream.
I began to feel a twang of panic in my chest. Nothing could have been farther from my expectations of what this trip would be like.
It occurred to me that, as I walked through this strange and not-very-wonderful place, that my dream of walking up a hill was merely a metaphor. What I was seeking was not a brisk jog to feel my lungs expand, but a palpable knowledge of how far I had come. Tiffany in 1999 and Tiffany in 2007. How much had I changed, grown? I thought I could find that in the compare and contrast of a walk up a San Francisco hill.
While I did not find the proof of my transformation in exercise, I did find it other places. I found it in nooks and crannies of the New San Francisco. The place I discovered in 2007, not the one I exaggerated in my mind for 8 years. That place, the one in my mind, does not exist. I know that now and it is a relief. I can let go of the idea that if I lived in California everything would be perfect. I see now that where I do live is just fine. I also see that I can walk up those hills anywhere. I look forward to carrying that understanding with me, even in the flat world I currently reside in.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip and nothing that I thought it would be.
PS. Nothing to report about the book. The editor is still working on it. I do plan to keep you all in the loop, however, as things progress!