As I looked out the rear window of our taxi, I watched the Golden Gate Bridge slowly fade away.
The last few minutes were the hardest. Every minute I stood absorbing the panorama, I was reminded of everything I was about to leave behind. Everything that I had fallen instantly and unconditionally in love with. Everything I longed to hold onto, beyond my dreams and into reality.
Twin Peaks. De Young Museum. Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory. The view from Rodeo Beach. But most of all, the simple beauty in the way the sun lit up the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny afternoon, in the distant view from Alcatraz.
Although this wasn’t my first visit to San Francisco, I was only able to recall visiting tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods and Fisherman’s Wharf. I realized I had never seen San Francisco from a local’s point of view, and it upset me how unacquainted I was with the city as a result. My brother, who is now a resident, recommended that we see his favorite sights along with those he had been meaning to see.
On our first day there, we spent the day in Alcatraz – which I felt was an act of courage considering its history as a maximum security prison.
The audio tour familiarized us with the history of Alcatraz and its infamous inmates like Al Capone. I briefly experienced a day for a prisoner – and the feeling of entrapment that followed it. Here the prisoners were a number, not a name. “I wasn’t Jim Quillen. Hell, I was Number 586, and nobody wanted that.”
Stepping inside the isolation cell and listening to the prisoners’ highly emotive stories, I began to feel like a prisoner myself. Because outside these doors, outside this hell, was the most beautiful view I had ever seen. A glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge that felt only a heartbeat away, the gracefully gliding seagulls above the sparkling blue water and the explosion of colors that illuminated the garden of Alcatraz – the prisoners were so close to the eternal beauty and happiness. They could smell it in the air they were breathing and feel it in the summer breeze. They could almost taste the freedom – almost touch it, but it was out of their reach. It was everything they could only dream of. That one day, the shimmering city would be their home again.
But even when I wasn’t standing outside the vantage point that was Alcatraz, I was captivated by the beauty and ambiance of San Francisco. My brother took us to see Twin Peaks, a spot he said we could not miss. Standing on one of the highest points of the city, I saw San Francisco and San Francisco Bay in a new way. The high perch allowed me to piece it all together, to admire San Francisco as a whole. I understood why my brother loved living in San Francisco in a way he’d never loved living in any other place.
It was a kind of beauty that I strived to capture through pictures. A kind of beauty that seemed so unreal – like a dream. A kind of beauty that I would never forget.
In that moment, nothing mattered but my own state of reverie. The reverie of San Francisco. It set me free from the confined cells of my thoughts and allowed me to see the beauty and serenity that existed beyond. That I had never opened my eyes to until now, but had always felt missing. It conjured up a feeling of invincibility. It was like I was looking through a kaleidoscope, and there were no limits to what I could see or who I could become.
I wanted to live like today was timeless. Like this dream and the peace of mind that came along with it would never escape me. Because one day, I know I will find myself there again, where I belong.