Ain’t Where You Was
“You might not be where you want to be, but you got to be glad you ain’t where you was.” – unknown
I’m not yet where I want to be (back in the Sunset, gazing out at the fog and the grey ocean from my large picture window), but I am damn glad I ain’t where I was. I have more of what I want than I once did: a home of my own, a patch of earth, a job that, while still full of its petty indignities and irritations, pays the bills decently and allows me to buy fancy cheese on impulse. And I earned it: I’ve been working since I was 15 years old; hustling, climbing, clawing, earning, learning, mastering, and mustering up whatever it took to put in another day.
My gay husband (and best friend of 22 years) and I had a three-hour conversation the other night and he pressed me to remember all the mornings of getting up at dawn to take the 21 Hayes bus downtown to make $9 an hour taking messages in a security brokerage or putting in 11-hour days at a dotcom for none of the payoff promised; all the cleavage I flashed and booty I shook when working in the nighttime trades; the endless cheap sandwiches from Lee’s eaten at ugly desks in windowless offices; all the freezing, endless waits at Muni stops and the profanity and creepy come-ons and space invasions thrown my way once I rushed into the warmth of the train; all the sexist requests to order cookies for meetings the men never cleaned up after; the narcissistic bosses and duplicitous coworkers; all the sighers, toe-tappers, loud eaters, pursed lips, raised eyebrows, and people who just can’t do their fuckin’ job without having their hand held or ego stroked. And don’t even get me started on the ninth circle of hell that is the copy machine.
I lived in a flat with two girls for five years and the other (sleepless) night, I counted how many jobs I had in the those five years. The answer? Ten (and that’s lumping all the freelance production assistant jobs as one): a bank, a veterinarian’s office, a trophy wife’s Pacific Heights estate, the brokerage, a law office, a university, various freelance production jobs, a music marketing company, a porn website, and a dotcom.
He also sharply reminded me to recall all the sacrifices I made in my accommodations in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US outside New York (and I think that’s debatable now); all the crazy, thieving housemates, the psychotic, manipulative landlords, the janky cheap fixes, the basement studios, the hauling my dirty drawers on my back several city blocks to the laundromat, the outrageous ‘security deposits’ that landlords considered signing bonuses and never returned, the refrigerator shelves and kitchen cabinets each designated to a housemate, the guests and crazy lovers and exes of said housemates, the disgusting carpets and the cave rooms with no light.
I know what it is to grind. I know what it is to pay my dues, to accept less than I want or deserve, and I recognize that half of success is just getting the fuck up, putting one’s shoes on, and getting on bus or in the commuter lane. I am proud to look around at my succulent garden, my bottlebrush tree, my house with rooms I don’t even use, my four plump little dogs, my swelling shoe collection, and feel something in me almost collapse and the tears rise up as I remember those endless cold mornings at the bus stop, on the bridge, in the gridlock, in the grey soulless glow of the Xerox machine, the unkind fluorescent lights, year after year after year, a girl alone in the world, just showing up, just grinding, just believing that someday I’d have something better to wake up to, to go to, to be proud of.
I’m still that girl. Now the trip to work is too hot rather than too cold – a result of both age and geography – and rather than shivering at a bus stop I dash through a scorching parking lot. I have a home bigger than I need and I spread my things throughout it and it’s mine, though I look out the window at the green lawn and long for sand and sea instead and I tell myself, someday.