The trip to Napa had a bit of back story.
In the days before we left for San Francisco, the financial news outlets kept saying Armageddon was over. The Dow had reached 13000 again – the first time since the spring of 2008. There was a sense of ding dong the witch is dead!
It was peculiar. And I didn’t buy it, mostly because 2008 was still so present for me. That was a year I was never going to forget.
In 2008, as New York teetered on the precipice of doom, and just before everything significant began happening in my life, Frederic took me to Asia de Cuba for a birthday lunch. I was leaving my job, so we thought it’d be nice. Over scallops, I handed him a manila folder with a story inside. I was just starting to write fiction then, and the envelope contained a supremely shitty story I’d written in second person. The whole thing was dramatic – the location; the meal; the envelope please. As we stood to leave, he looked me in the eye and said: I suppose this means I can seduce you.
We laughed a nervous laugh because neither one of us was sure whether he was kidding, and then went back out into the damp, overcast Madison Avenue afternoon.
It was one of the few moments I can recall where I clearly knew that I was on the cusp of monumental change and I couldn’t ask for help. I couldn’t say what I wanted or needed; I was stuck.
A week or two after that, I was off for a layover in Seoul, then on to Beijing, and then I didn’t go back to work for a year.
For some reason, the real lesson I took away from that experience was to never, ever again write fiction in the accusatory second person. That was a much easier lesson than the obvious.
When I finally did decide to go back to work, around my birthday in 2009, I made a pit-stop in Los Angeles. I had gone to Los Angeles for two reasons. The first was that my ex-husband and I had been at a wedding in Las Vegas where he had faked the stomach flu and we’d never made it to the event. So I called my parents and asked them to come pick me up.
The other reason was that my best friend had said, When you know it’s over, come home.
So I did.
Before leaving Vegas, I had curled up in the windowsill of the hotel room while my ex-husband loudly fake-vomited in the bathroom, and I had taken a phone call to accept a job in Washington. That was the job that would, a few months later, routinely send me to SFO, where I would rent cars and drive the Northern California coast. And where I learned to drink whisky and spill sherry and survive transcontinental jetlag. It was also where I refined the art of meeting people in airports.
Back in the present day, as the Dow again hit 13000, we were headed not to South Korea but to SFO. Strand met me at the office, then we were off to JFK for an uneventful flight, and then we arrived in San Francisco.
On the Airtrain, on the way to the rental car counter, I remarked: I used to come here all the time. But the last time I was here picking up a rental car, my arm was in a sling. The words were waspy synecdoche – car; sling – because my last visit to SFO had been not long after my birthday, at the end of a watershed week. It had been the week of the car accident; the week of finding out about Bill; the week Legs had gotten married and I’d flown to San Francisco alone, and I had been met in the airport for a few precious moments and I had once again been unable to say: Everything is changing and I am stuck, before I drove to the coast and debated how things would go on. It was the week after I’d gotten our Mt Whitney permit; the week after Frederic had told me he was to be married.
Without saying more, except for remarking to Strand that the rental car counter guy had thought we were a couple, we picked up the car.
Passing through San Francisco had always been a lonely experience for me. I had begun travelling through there at the pinnacle of a strange and solitary part of my life. And I had never gone through San Francisco Airport with anyone else before – at least, not in the same way.
So it was me, and the girls, and a car. And the California countryside. And the revelations that came after. I was finally ready to accept others that weekend. I was finally prepared to bring others along on the journey.
We had, according to the news, stepped back from the precipice and the world had begun to right itself again.
But I would be lying if I credited these revelations solely to the finish line moments; to San Francisco; to California. I wouldn’t be telling the full truth if I said that the world had stopped spinning when the Dow hit its 2008 levels, and I passed through SFO with a companion.
You see, with some hesitation and a great deal of faith, in the days before Napa, shortly after Armageddon had apparently ended, I had put a manila envelope in my briefcase – different than the parcel I had once carried – and I had gone to lunch on a gloomy Madison Avenue afternoon with Frederic.