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I Left San Francisco for Portland. Do I Miss the City? Yes. Will I Ever Move Back? No. | by Aubrie Johnson

I can love San Francisco from afar and acknowledge that we’re not meant to be together

A person holding a potted plant in a living room that’s empty except for moving boxes.
Photo: Peathegee Inc/DigitalVision/Getty Images

This week in The Bold Italic, we are publishing The Californian’s Dilemma, a series that goes beyond the headlines about the “California Exodus,” featuring essays from San Franciscans about why they’re choosing to stay or leave. Check back daily for new essays.

It’s 2002. I’m 12 years old, from an “almost poor” family, and have never left my hometown in Ohio. Life consists of my family, school, a creek with crawfish in it, and sometimes, if I’m really good, the mall. The most exciting place I’ve ever been is a nearby farm that’s run by a large Amish family who lets you chase their pet chicken right before they wring its neck for dinner.

Anticipating that my lack of life experience might prove dangerous in the future, my mom booked me a plane ticket to visit my godmother for a week, who lived in the Bay Area. Once there, she took me to San Francisco. I saw my first skyscraper and had my first shouting match with a complete stranger on the street who wanted me to buy his mixtape. It was love at first sight. Four years later, I became a Bay Area resident.

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I lived in San Francisco for 14 years, but I could only afford about three of them. The first 11 were spent working unpaid internships while crashing at my godmom’s; dropping out of college to find work; couch surfing in a warehouse; sharing a five-bedroom in Ingleside with seven housemates (a pretty tame housemate situation, if we’re being honest); and depending way too much on various significant others, before finally finding a Real Job that paid Real Money and allowed me to see my city for what it is. For a while, just existing in the Bay Area was a point of pride for me. Successfully paying another month’s rent was an accomplishment.

It wasn’t until 2016 that I was able to experience what some would say makes the city worth living in. Camping in Yosemite! Wine tasting in Napa! Road trips to L.A…

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