Woke up to some golden light pouring through and dancing across the dust of her east facing San Francisco apartment, she was gone, work I figured, it was Tuesday. I wandered into the kitchen, a note was on the counter.
'Morning Sunshine, had a meeting, Ill be back in the afternoon and hope you're gone. I took your keys, the car makes it too easy. You probably don't remember much of last night, could see in your eyes you drank to much, I know you miss her. The only way you're going to figure any of this out is if you leave the hard way, stick your thumb out and find a way. You always did best when you could wander alone, I can't have you around, Ill fall in love all over and thats not fair because you won't. Find something to write about, forget about everything else, go back to the beginning, you might see clearly and if you stop looking, it'll be lost'
I poured a bowl of cereal and laughed. Proud of her for writing that, maybe one day she'll know what it meant. Most of my stuff was inside the car, but that was ok, I didn't need it. Slowly got dressed and tidied her apartment, for someone who had everything else together, it was always a mess. Flipped her note over and picked up the pen.
'I love you, keep the car. If anyone asks where I've gone tell them you don't know, left my phone in the bedside table, not sure how long I'll be, just that I'm going north, eventually. Keep smiling, A.'
I stumbled out onto the street, god San Francisco was beautiful, the streets, the fog, the bay, the shops, the people. Rounding the corner I wandered into a coffee joint that seemed familiar, bought a cup and picked up the paper, habitually more than anything, just needed something in my hands. Sitting beside the windows I looked around, around at the people. Some talking, many glued to screens, frantically pounding away at the keys, everyone seemed to have purpose, everyone but me. I had always held myself to a standard that made purposelessness a dangerous place, had it all figured out as if that was something to be proud of. Jobs, degrees, volunteering, whatever to keep myself busy and paint a picture of some glorified ideal. Now I was sitting Uptown trying to decide where I should go, couldn't leave for home yet, it was too soon. Wasn't ready for that, explaining why I hadn't ever come back, why I hadn't come back faster, why I didn't write, why I disappeared. Truly dreaded answering all the questions that epitomized why I left to begin with. I finished the espresso then, feeling it work.
Wandering out onto the street I figured my next move, would’ve sent for an Uber but was without, and stood at the curb waiting for a yellow light. One arrived after a few slow minutes and I sent Mike towards Berkeley, had an old friend finishing up a masters who could be convinced to drive out to Yosemite with me, maybe, maybe find some perspective. Should've brought my phone, guess thats why I left it. He dropped me on campus and it took most of the afternoon to find Amber. Finally after scouring the english department, I stumbled on her in the library- should've thought of that first. Smiling I decided to play, she was at a table completely unaware of anything outside the thirteen inch screen, eyes quickly scanning what I assumed was an unfinished paper. Picking up an encyclopedia from the shelf, 'F', I sat across from her.
'The poor encyclopedia must be so jealous of google' I said to myself, out loud.
A couple people looked up confused, wondering if I was talking to them. Amber was unaffected. I opened the large dusty book and found my favourite F; F. Scott Fitzgerald. Changing my voice into a poor impression of the very, very English man I assumed had written the passage- and spoke.
'Fitzgerald was the only son of an unsuccessful, aristocratic father and an energetic, provincial mother. Half the time he thought of himself as the heir of his..'
'I don't know who you're reading to but it would be wonderful if you stopped' had finally gotten her attention, she hadn't yet looked up but I knew she would after I continued.
'He also had an intensely romantic imagination, what he once called “a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,”'
'thank you for that wond..,' Finally. I looked up and smiled 'no' She flushed and tried desperately not to 'I really am busy and.. and know you well enough.. this visit can't be anything productive for me' She looked back down at the screen.
'ahh sweets, life doesn't work like that' leaving the book open on the table I wandered around peering over her shoulder 'you always hated Shakespeare anyway' and closed her computer, whispering into her ear 'you're taking me to Yosemite'
'no, no, no' She wouldn't take much convincing I could tell, the last time I had seen Amber she was viciously drunk and sleeping in my bed while I wrote in the other room, I took care of her that night before sending her home from LA, she herself was a precociously talented writer, and a truly good friend. We had met a couple years earlier through a pal, having both been in relationships bonded through a shared love of photography, Proust and whisky, since then I had dragged her all around central California searching for beautiful landscapes and some, even more beautiful, escape.
An hour later we were back at her apartment as she desperately explained how bad of a time it was, a paper was due, her thesis was broken, blah blah blah. I laughed, typically, and told her if she really couldn't use a few days away I would figure it out, helping myself to a beer out of the fridge I sunk into the couch. Within half hour she was ready to go, and slumbered onto the couch next to me.
'what are you doing here and why didn't you just, you know, call. how did you even find me?'
'You know, the old fashioned way- looking. It didn't take long, some girl in the english department was very helpful, should've just guessed though. Left my phone at Bella's, she told me to go on an adventure, something about being lost. She's probably right, finally decided to leave LA, headed home.'
'nothing happened, It just seemed like a good time' such a bad lie, she would know better. If something hadn't happened I wouldn't be looking for female companionship, she knew.
'you're an awful liar, home scares you, that much I know for sure, and you'd be with the guys not looking to get away with me if 'nothing' happened'
'Maybe I just realized that something was missing, that I took a wrong turn somewhere, fuck, I haven't written in months. Just coasting around on this cushy cloud I've fashioned for myself. Maybe I just need some answers, maybe I'm not quite ready to find them'
'Don't tell me then' she smiled and got up to grab herself a drink.
I hadn't slept with Amber, didn't plan on it either. She was beautiful, too beautiful, but that wasn't the point. There is something special about the company of a women, something I've never really sorted out, it was just easier. Easier to listen and be listened to, a lot of blokes have a complex about female friends, naiveté perhaps. Would I sleep with Amber? of course, that wasn't the point, what was the point, I wouldn't try; she was too good for me anyway. Jjust having someone who could really feel the emotion I couldn't, someone to call me on my bullshit because she could smell it. Women have a special gift to understand the things that men struggle with. I liked gazing through that window.
By this time we were drunk and hadn't left the apartment. Only got as far as the chess board. I loved chess, she was better, I hated losing, she loved beating me. Eventually as we drank from an old bottle of scotch, she read me some of her work. It was good, really good, better than anything I could hope to write. Pity. As she finished I smiled 'you're better than you think.'
'no! god, I need you to be critical' she stammered taking an ambitious swig.
'you don't need critical, you get that enough from yourself. It has real heart, you have a voice and that's all writing ever is. It just needs to be real, and yours is real. Don't get caught listening to the pretentious professors spout off about literary devices and useless creative-choking rhetoric, your words make me feel like I'm inside of you, like I'm walking around the world staring out through those big, confused blue eyes of yours... pass the bottle.'
She kissed my forehead 'I hate you, you know. For only ever coming when you please. Lets go to the bar, you can find me some handsome steed who's read Proust' I scooped her up like she was my bride and we tramped out onto the quiet streets of Tuesday Berkeley, it might've been Wednesday by now, we didn't care. Stumbling into the pub, she saw a friend at the bar. I thought I knew him, couldn't remember. Looking at the bartender 'three IPA' he responded by moving towards the taps, pointing at Laguinitas 'sure'.
Her friend Chris introduced himself, I didn't know him after all. We sat and drank, slowly, chatting about the crap young impressionable students do. I was hardly paying attention anymore, staring at the pictures behind the bar, wondering about the folks inside.