Holly let her mind daydream about climbing up a hill in Golden Gate park and writing up there, but the August, San Franciscan afternoon was too chilly and windy, and when she did decide to take some sort of adventure around the city, the underground tunnel for MUNI was closed, and she was forced to take a shuttle at West Portal station. Of course, she made a fool of herself yelling “back door! Back door!” a few times when the bus stopped at a stop sign across the street from Forest Hill Station, but not it’s designated bus stop. From this outburst, she felt so embarrassed, that she jumped out of the bus quickly when it finally did release its riders, and without making eye contact with anyone, began to walk furiously in the direction of Golden Gate Park. She could have waited for another bus – the 36 or 43 – to pick her up and take her down towards sunset, but she instead opted to walk along the small body of water next to Forest Hill Station towards the N line which she needed to take for dinner.
Of course, she underestimated how long the walk along the small body of water towards Taraval street would take, such that by the time she arrived in the densely packed neighborhood, all she had time to do before departing for Picaro’s on Mission Street to meet up with the twins, was explore a small boutique shop that caught her eye as she was walking past. What had caught her eye were small booklets with different years on them – the 60s through present – full of clippings, and advertisements, and news articles from the year on the front cover. 1992 was the year the twins were born – today they were a quarter of a century; so Holly picked up the booklet for them, and a postcard of an illustration of the Golden Gate Bridge for herself. She thought for a brief moment of writing him a poem on the back of this postcard, and sending it to him in Chicago, but she quickly decided against this idea – that would require asking for his address, and he wouldn’t even be back in America until the end of September. So, really, she just daydreamed about what she might send him if such a message was appropriate. Yet, her cousin’s admonitions against feeling hopeful to even see or interact with him again tinged the process of fantasizing a with fear and anxiety.
San Francisco Municipal transportation is never reliable. A train that says it will come in 7 minutes usually takes either 3 or 10, and a train that says it will come in 2 minutes often takes up to 15. Yet, the N rounded the corner, up the hill almost exactly on time, and Holly took a seat in a seat where her knees brushed up against the wall in front of her. She paid close attention to the unfamiliar route, simply because she had never taken the N train in this direction before, and was delightfully surprised when it rounded the corner by the dog park on Church, where she had briefly taken piano lessons a few years prior. The conductor told everyone to disembark at Church and Deboce – where it would normally go underground – but that was Holly’s stop anyway, and she arrived at the Spanish restaurant Picaro’s at a quarter till five.
And just as she was sending a text to Mary, one of the twins, asking her whereabouts, she appeared with her sister, Jordan, and a tall Spanish looking man with dark hair, who’s name turned out to be Joel. Soon, the four of them were seated, bread with Picaro’s signature dipping sauce, and happy hour sangria were brought to the table, and more of Mary and Jordan’s friends filed in one by one. Joel’s friend, Mike, was large and Filipino, with long black hair down to his broad shoulders, was the next person to arrive, and he was delightful. Funny, witty, smart, curious about the world. He took charge and ordered some dishes of paella for the group, before even knowing who else would show up, since he was familiar with how long it took for this signature dish to be prepared.
With the assistance of the sweet red sangria, jovial conversation flowed easily, and in a natural lull between topics, Holly presented all the gifts she had for the twins, including some small key chains and bottle openers she had found in the final week of her European vacation. The twins were happy with what Holly presented them, and especially liked the ’92 booklet she had found earlier that day, passing it between the two of them, eager to gain a blast from the past. Conversation flowed once again, and Mike told the group of his time working at GoPro, how he helped engineer one of their cameras. Holly was quite surprised at this; she was still young, and hadn’t actually met anybody close to her age with such a ‘real’ job. So while her thoughts teetered between thoughts of him and the world outside her unceasing daydream, the interesting people allowed the real world to take precedence over her conscious. Staying quiet, but listening intently, Holly heard about their reminiscing of days spent in the film program at their community college, and their comments on the struggles of trying to make it into the film industry without a structured program or actual funding. Holly noticed that Joel was staying quiet, and looked a bit uncomfortable, although he had mentioned earlier he also participated in the film program with everyone else. When the other three let their own conversation completely encapsulate their attention, Holly leaned over to Joel and asked him what was occupying his thoughts.
“I’m a waiter,” he told her, his eyes scanning the restaurant rapidly, which was now busy and crowded and loud, “so this place is just making me feel bad for the people working.” What a perspective to have! Certainly one Holly would have never thought of, herself. Sometimes, she thought to herself, just because you see something doesn’t necessarily mean you notice it.
Soon after, the paella arrived, and the attention focused once on the sangria and conversation turned immediately to politely ravaging their plates of savory rice, and meats. When the paella dish was almost gone, Holly looked up at a sharp noise and heard Tiffany, drunk as always, making an obscene entrance. Bumping into tables and clumsily slurring her words, she asked the table next to ours if she could have one of their chairs, and the majority of the close-by tables in the restaurant turned and stared after she made such a scene. She met their incredulous looks with a slurred and defensive, “Let them stare! I don’t give a fuck if they hear me!” Holly really never understood what Mary saw in Tiffany as a friend.
“Tiffany!” Mary exclaimed, excited.
“Here, take this,” Tiffany shoved a long bag towards her, “It’s alcohol. Two buck chuck! The best for the best!” She included a laugh afterward which sounded so fake and valley-girl forced, Holly couldn’t help but cringe a little.
Mary took the gift, and sincerely thanked her. Did Mary not take offense to this? Did she think Tiffany’s entrance was charming? Did she think the comment about the present was just a joke? Holly couldn’t decide if Tiffany’s tone was rude or not, and she couldn’t keep her eyes off of her.
“Henry said he’s about to get in an Uber.” Mary informed Tiffany, although she didn’t ask, and Tiffany merely rolled her eyes as she slumped down in her seat, already upset that she would have to be around Mary’s boyfriend that night.
“I still think he’s a piece of shit, you know.” Tiffany told Mary bluntly.
“I know,” Mary recoiled slightly, unafraid to defend herself, or him. “But how are you! I feel like I haven’t seen you in a while!”
“Just been working my ass off! Let me tell you, high school kids are vicious. But if you talk like one of them, they treat you with more respect, and I don’t let nobody disrespect me!”
Oh right, Tiffany taught in high schools. Inner city schools, no doubt, which Holly had taught health education at for a couple years while living in the city. Those classes, she remembered, were always so undisciplined and out of control… with young, inexperienced, and hothead teachers like Tiffany working in them, Holly could start to understand why. They just couldn’t afford enough teachers who took their lives seriously.
Although Mary alleged that Henry, was on his way, soon multiple hours had passed, the dishes of paella had all been eaten up, the wine was gone, and he had not showed up. When Holly asked about his whereabouts, Mary responded with, “I don’t know! I think he’s about to get in the Uber,” a response on repeat, indicative of her blind attachment to him: always making excuses and covering up for his flaws. Holly also never understood what Mary saw in him – Tiffany did have a bit of a point saying that he was a piece of shit – but he and Mary had nonetheless been together for over a year, despite the sentiments of nearly everybody that knew Mary – her family, including Jordan, Mary’s friends, Holly, and even drunken Tiffany.
Even though the meal was over, a few new faces spilled in, and Holly had a small conversation with the one who ended up sitting next to her. The new face, Alice, spoke about her imminent, spur-of-the-moment decision to move to all the way across the country to South Carolina, to live with her boyfriend of one just year. The thought that someone could commit to moving across the country with someone they had known for such a short period of time terrified her; of course, she was happy for the girl, but the thought that Mary might be so impulsive as to do something similar only instilled a deep-rooted fear in Holly for her. When Mary and Jordan overheard Alice’s plans, they were both equally surprised and saddened, as they had known her since they were all very young. However, they were keen to learn the details, and then insisted they be invited to the wedding, although there was not one planned (yet).
Mike and Joel decided to make themselves useful, and stood up to find the waiter to figure out the bill. They handled the payment, and insisted that everyone just VenMo them back, as to avoid any unnecessary confusion or turmoil for the staff. After all was paid for, and the last drops of sangria were sucked dry, people began to file out one by one.
Holly was forced to bid everyone goodbye as the lot of them were going bar hopping, and she was still 20. Yet, she managed to take down Mike’s number, and ask for some pictures with the twins. Just as the three were posing, and the flash was rendering them temporarily blind, Henry finally showed up. He said an awkward greeting to Holly, and then just stood next to Mary, clearly perturbed by something, which Holly never found about, as she turned to go.
There is a certain fierceness to a youth in a new city, with new freedom. Holly was sure she had that fierceness in the fall of 2014, when she first arrived in San Francisco. But now, some skinny, confused, what she could only assume freshman Berkeley girls on the BART ride home had this fierceness: their chins held high, eyes sharp and piercing, feeling on top of the world after their first excursion to the city.
“That guy said we should get on the Richmond one to get to Berkeley,” one of their worried voices carried into the middle of the train. Holly thought about helping them, but decided against it. They needed to figure it out for themselves, and they wouldn’t want her help anyway. Holly just closed her eyes and recalled happy memories of him, although she was absolutely positive the recollection would do her only harm.