If San Francisco Is So Great, Why Is Everyone I Love Leaving?

We are witnessing two migrations. One is a continuation of the California dream. The other no one talks about, though it affects nearly everyone I know.

Diana Helmuth

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I’m driving down the 101 toward San Francisco International Airport. A gray blanket of fog pours over the hills in the distance, smothering what would be a luminous California sunset. Eleanor is sitting next to me in the passenger seat taking deep breaths. She does not like to fly.

I hesitate, then finally ask what’s on my mind, cutting the air between us. “I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but since this is the last time we’ll be hanging out for a while, I feel like we have drifted over the last year. Is there something I did wrong? Is there something you want to tell me? You know, before you leave?”

We are driving to her one-way flight bound for Pittsburgh. She’s moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have both lived since we were kids. Our parents, who were themselves mixed transplants from New England and other parts of California, settled in the Bay in the ’70s and ’90s. Eleanor and I met in high school—two weirdos who recognized each other’s outsider-looking-in approach to the world. Now on the cusp of 30, we have 16 years of friendship between us. We did a podcast together. She went to work with me the day after my father died. We have gotten lost in the desert together, twice (before smartphones). On separate occasions, we have cleaned up each other’s vomit. We were once referred to as “hetero life mates.” And today she is leaving.

There are other friends out in Pittsburgh who have made a calm life as artists, cooks, house-cleaners, and creatives: an impossibility in the Bay Area, unless you have family assistance. Eleanor visited them a few months ago, and charmed by their stability, the brick-paved streets, and the affordable apartments that lined them, it became impossible not to see how well she could do there too. Among other talents, she is, first and foremost, an artist.

I’m not.

I’m telling her “I feel like we’ve drifted.” What I really want to say is “What could I have done to make you stay?”

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Diana Helmuth

Natn'l Outdoor Book Award winner. Post Modern Cupcake. Pretty Cool but I Cry a Lot. Author of "The Witching Year."