I found part of my heart in San Francisco.

Before you begin, anyone ever see their life set to music? I do. Certain songs remind me of different times in my life. They take me back and I find myself reliving memories so much more vividly. If you have time just turn on Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic for this read on your Valentines Day.

We met the man by the wooden gate on the sidewalk in between the homes as instructed. He produced a key and unlocked what I had assumed was a garden door. It felt very much like the secret garden. Down the small moss covered stone path in the alley between the striking homes we encountered another locked door and entered into the dark basement of the home. We turned into what looked like a small broom closet and we began our assent up, and up, and up. The 48 steep and narrow stairs wound upwards towards the rooftop of the impressive Victorian house. The dimly lit enclosed space was large enough for us to only start up one at a time. I was happy that small spaces did not bother me.

Once we broke free on the roof via yet another locked door, we were told you could see the bay when the fog permitted and the beautiful Mountain Lake Park was just across Lake Street. Hike a few miles through the park and you’d end up in the Prisidio. We stood on the rooftop deck peering at our surroundings. It was gorgeous. I was still gulping the fresh air and trying not to appear winded. The fog began to roll in and the streets slowly disappeared below us. The owner was still speaking but I was lost in the experience. It was like being on a boat in a dream as the fog swirled and blanketed the streets below. Then a low booming sound vibrated through the air and shook me from my trance… I could feel it from my toes to my teeth. It took a moment for my mind to make sense of it. A curious look flashed towards my husband, but the owner saw it too. “Fog horns,” He explained, obviously amused at my ignorance.

Then it happened. I could not stop smiling. Try as I may to keep my face neutral and my lips still, I felt my eyes widen and the corners of my mouth lift. I had no control over my face. I knew I was grinning like a fool. I was smitten. We’d been over this kind of thing before; James had reminded me in the car to put on my poker face. He had to coach me to do the same anytime we going to look at anything to buy or rent. We had looked at a few spaces online and by the time we decided to make appointments to have a viewing they would be rented. He reminded me that spaces moved at lightning speed here and ALWAYS held competition in renters. This choice spot was no exception. So he had researched and we came prepared with background info, checkbook, cash, and references. He is the negotiator. I’m the one that gives away how much I like things which in negotiation is not the tactic to get the best price.

We walked across the rooftop deck to another door. James ducked slightly to step down into the tiniest apartment I’d ever seen. It was adorable. It had a queen-size bed that took up the bulk of the space, a doll house secretary’s desk, round cafe table for two in the doghouse alcove, two burner gas top stove with a microwave and dorm room fridge in the kitchenette, and a bath with just a claw foot tub. We could stand touching fingertips with our arms outstretched and fill the space completely wall to wall. It was impossibly charming. I heard small gasps and awes escape me and I could not stop. James shot me a look, then a smile, and his face softened and I knew we were going to rent. Inner Richmond had me. Private. Residential. Green. Views of the bay. It held such a private vibe despite being in the middle of one of the largest, most densely populated cities in America. The location far outweighed the lack of space AND it came furnished. The place was immediately endearing to my Alabama heart; I looked out to see trees instead of concrete. We handed over cash and a check on the spot. Two blocks up the hill was hands-down the best donut shop I have ever encountered and if the wind was blowing just right you could smell them being made…

I miss climbing those 48 spiraling steps. I miss the cool, foggy days perfect for exploring bookstores and coffee shops. I miss waking to the low boom of the fog horns. I miss rolling out of bed on my days off, pulling on my jacket and boots, and heading to the coffee shop for our usual order. “Two medium coffees, bacon egg and cheese on a croissant, apple fritter, and chocolate donut, please.” I am not at all ashamed to say I was on a first name basis with the staff at the Allstar Donuts shop. I put on a good 15 pounds (James gained not one ounce as per the annoying male trait) while we lived there despite daily walking the rolling streets of the city and embarking up those stairs multiple times a day, but I was happy. I miss drinking coffee on the roof, watching the fog recede and the day come alive while James completed his conference calls inside. Camping out on the deck in the lounger with a wool throw and book was divine. I could observe the neighborhood and park from my perch without being directly observed myself. I miss scooting down to the yoga studio around the corner. I miss browsing all the shops on Clement Street. I occasionally think of San Francisco and it always brings a smile to my face. It was one of the happiest times of my life. My heart will almost ache and my wanderlust will flare every time anything reminds me of it.

We lived at 10th and Lake for a year. It was one of the most romantic things we’d ever done. We explored the city, wine country, Highway 1, the mountains, the towns along the coast, Lake Tahoe, and beyond. On especially cold and foggy days we would hide away in our snug apartment listening to the sounds of the bay or we escaped from the gray to the sunshine in Sausalito or Petaluma. The hike through Mountain Lake Park, the golf course, and the old military housing to the Prisidio for a picnic became one of our favorite lazy day activities. It’s an era of our life that I will always cherish. I loved every second. I felt we were living. Really. Possessions were few, but our experiences were many. We took care of each other. Our time spent tiny living in the rooftop oasis crammed into that 400 square foot studio apartment was incredible.

If there was any test of our marriage; I’m sure this was it. We were technically still in the newlywed phase, I suppose. We had just celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary. We were 2300 miles away from home; we had no one to turn to except each other. And we literally turned in to each other 100 times a day living in that apartment. We were thrust into unfamiliar territory together… extremely unavoidably together. James worked remotely that year. I was travel nursing. We plunged head first into a life that both scared and thrilled me. I remember almost crying as our car inched bumper to bumper through the tangle of highway into the city the first time, locating the hospital where I’d work, being shocked at the sheer magnitude of crowds on the sidewalks, marveling at the narrow streets with odd traffic lights and signals, and convincing myself I couldn’t cut it. It was the most crowded, peopley, weird place I’d ever been and I was thinking this move was a terrible mistake. I have crippling crowd anxiety. What in the world was I thinking moving to San Francisco? We had a comfy life in Birmingham. I knew all the ins and outs of my job there in neurosurgery. I was comfortable there and even though it was stressful I was good at it. What was I gonna do here- plastic surgery and oncology? I had never done that. Out of my element! My mind was screaming it. Just as I was about to voice my doubts, James took my hand as if sensing my fears. He said, “I’m excited we are here together.” He has the innate ability to calm my soul like that. It’s one of the reasons I love him so.

We were totally alone together in a new city. It was foreign and exciting. We knew each other well; we’d been together for about 10 years at that point in our lives, but observing my husband in this place taking chances and shaping a new life for us out of nothing made me see him in a new light. I knew of his strength and resourcefulness, but I saw it differently there. I knew he was brilliant and witty, but I witnessed it differently there. I fell in love all over again and deeper than before. Being removed from our safety net and support system was one of the greatest gifts we ever had. San Francisco cut away everything else and barred our whole selves to each other. We came alive for each other.

By all rights, this move should have been a difficult undertaking weighing heavily on our relationship. Strain. Stress. But we never felt that way. Everyone warned us marriage was hard work. Occasionally through the years we will discuss it and we always come to the same conclusion that it’s never been hard for us or felt like work. I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Being together is as natural as breathing. I think a better piece of advice to give is that marriage takes effort, thought, and time. We entered our vows with that mindset, and we aren’t perfect but we are happy. You have to choose love- you have to choose your spouse which I guess can be hard work sometimes when all you want to do is be human and selfish.

Don’t get me wrong: we’ve for sure been frustrated and aggravated with one another, but we always talk through it. Fighting has never been us. We discuss things even though my first instinct is to silently brood and his is to choose avoidance or take the stronghold in debate. We make decisions together and we are both intensely stubborn so I’m sometimes amazed that we work things out and compromise. We choose each other above all else.

Someone once said your spouse is the only person in your family you choose. Every other family member cannot be chosen: father, mother, siblings, children. The purposeful act of choosing each other has gotten harder in the early years of raising a family: I see that. He is carrying me right now. I am 8 months pregnant with our second son and exhausted with chasing our first son. James is giving more than he is receiving these days. It’s not unnoticed and I try to be vocal with my appreciation.

So we choose to put the effort and time in daily for each other. I choose to watch basketball highlights for an hour before bed instead of one of my shows. He chooses to go out of his way to pick up dinner when I can’t find the energy to prepare even a sandwich or burn whatever I’ve tried to prepare. (Last week I somehow burned noodles and please don’t ask how.) I choose to cuddle and discuss events when I’d love to sleep. He chooses to put Henry to bed so I can put my feet up. I choose to take time to buy his favorite gross La Croix drink at the grocery store. He chooses to take time to hug me every morning and give me encouragement for the day. I choose to let it go when I see socks on the floor. He chooses to let it go when I forget to take out the trash.

Valentine’s Day is here reminding me that we have been a couple for 13 years now. I fell for him 13 years ago on a double date. We were children then. We’ve grown together. We’ve stuck by each other through sickness and health. We’ve lived and loved with money and without. We’ve adored each other at our best and worst. I love every era of our relationship and appreciate all of them even the tough ones, but today I’m thinking of San Francisco. San Francisco gave us so much. It presented us with adventures of a lifetime. It made us realize how strong we are together. It showed us how much we really love each other. And most of all, we arrived in SF as two hearts and left with three.💞<💗💗💗

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