Fresh out of college I moved to San Francisco with some girls I’d gone to school with. There were four of us, and we’d met because we’d all been part of a Christian campus group. We moved to San Francisco in late summer of 1991. It was a bit of a shock, coming from Santa Cruz, the land of pristine fields and redwoods, to a city full of concrete and asphalt and the smell of sewage emanating from the street drains.
What was more of a shock, though, was how different the four of us were, and how clear this became once we were away from the womb-like environment of college and our fellowship. One of us had grown up in San Francisco, part of a large Chinese family that had immigrated to the States from Vietnam. Another of us had come to college from Fresno; our third housemate was returning home, sort of – she’d grown up near U.C. Berkeley, since her father was a professor there. And my background was suburban San Jose. We had very different family configurations and different racial and cultural backgrounds.
What we had in common at the time was that we were all Christians and we’d been part of this group through our university years. But once we started the process of finding an apartment to share and moving in together, the “equalizing” factor of our college fellowship fell away and we were confronted with conflict. How much were some of us willing to spend on rent? We had various, passionate ideas about this. How would we split up chores and expenses like electricity and phone and cooking? (Once, one of my housemates came home from work to the dinner I had prepared, which consisted of a bunch of food I’d reheated. “When I come home, I want a fresh-cooked meal, not leftovers,” she complained. I was beyond offended, but I had no idea how to handle the situation.)
That household out of college was my first adult attempt to get along with other people, much less to support myself financially. I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time, waking up every morning in the apartment we finally settled on, a three bedroom perched on a Mission Street freeway overpass. I wanted the comfortable cocoon of our college fellowship to extend to our household, but that just wasn’t possible. We’d graduated, we’d been released into young adulthood, and the old ways of being college kids together didn’t necessarily translate.
It took a long time for me to understand that the fact that the four of us found different circles of friends, different faith communities, and different kinds of work didn’t mean there was anything wrong: in fact, it was natural. Looking back I can see that the anxiety I experienced then wasn’t really about how close or distant I felt from these three other young women. That was part of it, but not all of it. My anxiety was really about huge things like how to make a living and how to be a writer and did I want to get married to my boyfriend? and how I would conduct my spiritual life.
I thought there was a right way to do this adulthood thing, a recipe that I could follow, like I had in college in the fellowship with my housemates, and there just wasn’t. The fact that the four of us were so different made me mad at most and uncomfortable at least. It wasn’t supposed to be that way – we were supposed to be a mini-college fellowship, just living in San Francisco — but it was (see Why bureaucracy is crazy-making for a bit more discussion on accepting reality).
We lived together for a couple of years before we scattered. I’m in regular touch with one of those women, and it means a lot to me, to have a friendship from that time that has lasted through so many years and so much change. I used to feel irritated when I remembered that household. Now I think of us tenderly, four youngsters trying to figure out how to be grownups.