Anna Begins

There aren't too many people I've known for a very long time. Because of my childhood, which was spent moving around from one country to the next---I believe I went to eight schools in eleven years---most of my friendships only lasted a year or two, ending with a flurry of unkept promises to stay in touch. But I met Anna when I was seven, which means I've known her for twenty years this year, which makes her my longest-running friend, and also the person I have put in charge to rescue (and burn) my hidden teenage diaries should I ever die unexpectedly. (They're in a box at the very top of my closet, Anna. Don't read them. Also, hey, nice snowflake top. Says the girl in the pink velour sweater.)

People ask me all the time why Sean and I moved to San Francisco, and I'm not sure how to answer them. It was time to leave the South, we wanted a fresh start, they have mountains in California, we like the cold, we like In N Out Burger: these are all good reasons. Another good reason is the light out here, which I'm sure contributed to at least 70% of our decision. Around five o'clock, it's incomparable. You've never seen anything like it in your life. It turns everything golden. It turns everything into this:

Sean on Sacramento Street, October 2005

That picture was taken in October 2005, when Sean and I visited San Francisco for the weekend, after attending the wedding of a friend in a barn somewhere near Modesto. (And see the house two down from the red one? Believe it or not, that turned out to be one of the apartments we looked at a few weeks ago. Little did we know!) In hindsight, it was sort of ridiculous for us to fly all the way across the country for this wedding, and yet if we hadn't, we wouldn't have been seduced by San Francisco (again), and I'd probably be writing this from an apartment in Los Angeles with mirrored closets and one of those exposed lightbulb mirrors in the bathroom, seeing as that was our original plan. (To move to L.A., I mean, not to rent an apartment with mirrored closets and an exposed lightbulb mirror in the bathroom, though judging from the offerings on Craigslist, it's extremely likely that's what we would have ended up with.)

That particular trip was Sean's second visit to San Francisco and my third. We'd stopped off here together back in August 2001, when we drove Sean's belongings in a Budget truck from Virginia to San Diego, and I'd taken great joy in already "knowing" San Francisco, in pointing out coffee shops and record stores, in feeling like an insider. Because my first trip here had been in the summer of 1999, when I was a young nineteen and smack dab between high school and college. I'd gone with Anna.

It was a random decision, propelled in part by the fact that Anna was coming to the States anyway---she did every summer, staying with my family in Connecticut for two weeks; in fact, she was there that very evening in 1996 when I first met Sean---and in part by a surfeit of babysitting money that needed to be spent. We chose San Francisco because we thought it would be warm. We thought sunny beaches. We thought surfers. We heard California and made assumptions. We packed cute little sundresses and ended up shivering in hoodies for ten days.

We organized everything ourselves. We found a ridiculously cheap hotel, which let us pay by the week---it catered to foreign students studying English and had the aura of a college dorm, which is funny, because that's what it's been turned into now, I walked past it yesterday---and we bought a copy of "San Francisco For Dummies" to share, meticulously counting out $5.86 each. My dad drove us to the airport and we caught a flight across the country, and then a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. I felt ridiculously grown-up and independent. The hills dipped and swooped, the sun shone, the shuttle driver called another driver a "goddamn dildo," and there was a coffee shop on every corner. I thought "I could live here."

When I went back to London last May, Anna told me she was pregnant. I was overjoyed. I started compiling lists of baby names before she'd even thought of any herself. All through my trip across Asia, we e-mailed back and forth. Sophia? Leila? Gabriel? Aiden? I heard a woman yelling at her son "Sebastian! Stop climbing on those ancient ruins!" at Angkor Wat and I emailed Anna "Sebastian! What about Sebastian?" When she found out it was a boy, I went into overdrive. Felix! Jesse! Henry! Rufus! I sent adorable baby clothes that I couldn't stop myself buying. Jude! Jacob! Joshua! Theo! Luka! A week before the baby was due, I ended up chatting with a boy called Archie at a Christmas party and I emailed Anna when I got home that night. "Archie! What about Archie? You wouldn't have to call him Archibald, it could just be Archie. PS: I'll write properly when I'm sober."

Freddie was born on January 8th, in the wee small hours of the morning. When I got the e-mail---a forward from my mother, sent to her from Anna's mother---I cried. I'm not sure why; it was happiness, obviously, and relief, but it was something more. Perhaps it was a mourning, a selfishness. You can't have sugar-fueled sleepovers and go cruising for boys at the beach and take the train to New York to get your belly button pierced when your friend has a bundled-up little newborn. I mean, you probably wouldn't want to anymore, anyway. But still.

When your friends start having babies---Anna is my first friend to have had a baby---you begin to think about things. You think, in seven years, that baby will be as old as I was when I met its mother. You think, I wonder if it will call me Auntie, I wonder if it'll dread my Christmas presents when it's older, oh god, here's another one from Auntie Holly, try to keep a straight face. You think, I wonder if my friend and I will stay so close, now that one of us has a whole new person to look after and keep alive, and the other is just concerned about how to watch Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs when they're both on at the same time. (Don't tell me Tivo. Unemployed people aren't allowed to have Tivo.)

Wherever I walk in San Francisco, these days, I'm reminded of Anna and those carefree ten days we spent here one summer. I say things to Sean like "look! I called you from that payphone!" and he sighs and rolls his eyes. Our apartment is a block and a half from the hotel Anna and I stayed at; last night, Sean and I bought a pint of ice cream at the very same deli where Anna and I bought ice cream eight years ago. But the coffee shop we used to frequent on the corner has been turned into an art gallery. The Mrs. Fields is a Starbucks. The place Anna got her palm read on our last day here is now the men's floor of H&M. The other day I found the Whole Foods we went to---my first Whole Foods ever; I was so frustrated because I only wanted a diet Coke---and, amazingly, it was still a Whole Foods. "I've been here before!" I said to Sean, as though it had been in a past life. Which is sort of how I felt it was.

Coming to San Francisco with Anna that summer planted the seed that blossomed into the decision Sean and I made to move here, to pack everything up and try our lives somewhere new, somewhere where the light at five o'clock is unaccountably beautiful. One day, Freddie will visit, with his mother and father, and I'll walk him past the hotel where Anna and I stayed, the diners we ate in, the shops we loitered in, the hills we climbed, and I'll say "Look! This is where your mummy and I came ages and ages ago. And it gave me this marvelous idea..."

Jan 22, 2007

Gorgeous! I've got goosebumps now, thinking of my own best friend of 20 years, and how much we've done together. Many of my close friends are having babies this year, and I feel like I'm the last one on the playground, calling after them to come back and go down the tallest slide just one more time. Glad I'm not the only one feeling a little wistful about it.

Jan 22, 2007

Every time I read a brilliant post of yours I think to myself - Damn that girl can write! and I am filled with envy that my prose is so meh compared to yours. Your writing is what I want mine to be when it grows up - and oh yeah makes a career change to become a writer. You paint such a complete picture with your words that I wish I could hire you to just write my emails.

Your Anna story is so wonderful and makes me love my girlfriends even more. They are the keepers of my secrets, the understanders of the girl only language and the reason why my blog is called the Sorority. There is nothing like the friendship of someone who has known you forever. It is so different than the friendship of your boyfriend, spouse or lover but so essential. I would not be the woman I am today without my amazing women friends.

Thanks for such an awesome entry. It was a great way to end my day.

Jan 22, 2007

Oh, that golden light! It has long been one of the things I cherish about California, one of the few things I knew I'd miss terribly if we left here. That, and the spectacle of the black silhouettes of palm trees against a purple, yellow and orange sunset. Now that I'm staying here, I cherish those things even more. One day, I'll come through the Bay Area and see what the light looks like up in your neck of the woods.

gina in sc
Jan 22, 2007

the coldest winter i ever spent was july in san francisco. i hear ya sister.

does anna blog?

Jan 22, 2007

I loved this post, Holly. One of my best friends is with-child now, and I anticipate that is exactly how I will feel come April once the little baby is born. How beautiful!

Jan 22, 2007

Goodness, you just tapped so exactly into the vein of my current mood I thought I had to delurk to say - the children thing, old and best friends, and having the children - I'm right there with you. Overjoyed and full of excitement for the future, in awe of their ability to make something(one) incredible but there is that tinge of mourning. Of saying goodbye to those sleepovers and piercings.... My best friend is in hospital as.we.speak birthing her first and I'm just waiting for the call to say she's a grown up now. But at least we get to live like grown ups vicariously through our brave friends while we string it out a wee bit longer... and who knows, it might be that nothing much changes at all.

Jan 22, 2007

Oh, Holly. Teary.

My "whole life" friend Margaret just had a baby two months ago, and though she is far and away NOT my first friend to have a baby (they started YOUNG, those girls) she is my oldest and dearest friend and that means something special. It's a definite milestone.

I moved around a ton as a kid, too (though nowhere really thrilling, unlike you), and she is one of the few people that has known me since the beginning. We've shared a lot, and I hope our kids (when I adopt one day) will share a connection someday, too.

I'm excited to be an Auntie Meg for little Harris.

Jan 22, 2007

This whole entry made me want to put my head down on my desk and weep for days. But in the best possible way.

The light in New York does that same beautiful golden thing in the late afternoon (hence the Frank O'Hara line "in the warm four o'clock New York light"). Doesn't it make you want to fly to pieces with joy?

Jan 22, 2007

My BFF went and had kids when we were in our early 20's and we separated because well, she had kids and a husband and I had a lot of partying to do, we are best friends again after 10 years of being apart and this post made me SMILE then WEEP then SMILE.

Lovely writing my dear. Just lovely.

Jan 22, 2007

i love the way you describe everything with such a sweetness...nearly every stoopid entry makes me tear up...stop it, you

i dont' remember how i found this blog, but i'm so glad that i have...i'll be able to say, look, i read her blog when she was just an unemployed freelancer BEFORE she moved to san franscisco and got famous off that book she wrote...can't wait!

Jan 22, 2007

When I was 29, I became the first of my closest friends to spawn, and....I`ll never forget how my heart broke when one of them said, shortly after, "We used to be so close, but you`re really going to change, now that you`re a mother." It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: she stopped returning my calls.
Therefore, I was so glad NOT to see a trace of any of that in your post -- only joy for your friend`s new family.

I have a SF story like yours. In 1988, I came and stayed with a friend and had a great time, and called my then-boyfriend in Japan from a pay phone in Dolores Park, and drunkenly babbled, "We have GOT to live here someday!" And 17 years later, with three kids in tow.....

Jan 22, 2007

ahh i can totally relate to this post. i miss those days just having fun with best-friends. i don't think i've had a best friend since early high school - i miss that closeness. these post-college days just seem so different and drab. but your post brings back those carefree happy memories of travel and freedom. thanks holly~!

Jan 22, 2007

I love the title. Very appropriate and my favorite Counting Crows song. I am one of those friends who had a baby early on, before any of my friends, and while most of my girls slowly slipped away, the few that mattered stuck around to be wonderful aunties.

Jan 22, 2007

Stellar post, Holly. Just brilliant.

Jan 23, 2007


Jan 23, 2007

i am currently gestating my first child, and this post made me somewhat sad thinking that my friends who are not having children might become strangers to me. i hope it doesn't happen.

Jan 23, 2007

I've had those exact same feelings, and not only just with longtime friends - with ex boyfriends, too. Somehow finding out that people in your past are not actually owned by you, they are not suspended in time, they are not going to remain the same so that they fit into your happy fuzzy memories of them, is very disconcerting.

The only constant in life: Everything changes.

Thanks for sharing.

- M

Jan 23, 2007

My best friend of 15 years is having a baby in May, and I think I will feel just the same about her little girl.

Jan 23, 2007

What a gorgeous post.....

Jan 23, 2007

Congratulations to Anna! I just moved to L.A. last summer and I don't have an apartment with mirror closet doors. Though I did come close to living in that apartment with a hallway of framed pictures of kittens and clowns and wallpaper that looked like a field of daisies as depicted in the 70's. But then I told my husband it would make me cry if I had to live in the apartment with the sad kittens so we found the 1920's place we have now
It is not as cool as your new place looks, but hurray for no mirrored closet doors.

Jan 23, 2007

Oh Holly . . . simply a lovely post - so very lovely.

Jan 23, 2007

It's really something, loving your friends' kids - I cannot measure the amount of joy my goddaughter brings. Or how I love my best friend from college's daughter - and how I remember that one day at Sonic, we promised each other we would be there for each other when our first kids were born. I kept my end of the deal for her (3rd person in the room!) and she gets to be there for me this July.

Of course, things change. And they can be a little annoying, because when it's NOT your kid, there are some things that just are NOT fascinating, no matter how much you love them. But you listen and make MMMHHHH noises because you love your friend, and because one day you will laugh over how she got lyrical over her child's spit bubble.

Horrible Warning
Jan 23, 2007

He will definitely call you Auntie Holly. I am probably the last of my friends to not have kids (at 33, I shouldn't be surprised), and will probably be the last sister as well. But even though your relationship will change, there are new opportunities in all the changes. Also? You get to snuggle and play with a beautiful baby and then give him back when he takes a stinky dump in his diaper. You can totally practice on someone else's kid...all the experimentation, none of the responsibility. It's win/win, girl.

Tom (bro)
Jan 23, 2007


that was my favorite post you have ever written (excluding of course any of them which feature my name, haha.) I definately had a lump in my throat reading it, not really helped by your mention of Auntie Holly, which of course reminded me of "fat aunt Sue" and her lesbian lover! x

Jan 23, 2007

what beautiful writing. it gave me goosebumps

Jan 23, 2007

In another month or two, you will have moved from remembering that first trip everywhere you go to finding all sorts of new things you will want to show her when she comes to visit, so keep a list!

Jan 23, 2007

It's so awesome that things come full-circle. I took a ski trip to Colorado back in college with a girlfriend and lo, 10 years later, here I am, still living in Denver.

I just found out one of my most fun-loving friends (who, incidentally, lives in LA) is pregnant and while I am so happy for them (and by now am so used to most of my girlfriends heading the mom direction), I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel sad that gone will be the days of our debauchery. I sort of feel left behind, even though I know that it's hardly the end of our friendship.

Jan 23, 2007

because i still live in the town where my oldest friend and i met, and she still lives here to we are often reminded of all the things we used to do.

we will often say to each other out of the blue, "remember that time?" and then we laugh and laugh.

thanks for reminding me again, holly of why i love this place.

Jan 23, 2007

That's my favorite Counting Crows song too.

After having three children, I can safely say that I'm a very different person than I was in my "other life". I've made many new friends since I've had kids, but my best friends are still my oldest friends - the ones with whom I passed notes in English class, and skipped gym, and cried over boys who didn't love us. It's amazing, really, that those friendships survive the time and changes that happen with distance and marriage and children. But aren't those always the sweetest friendships? There's something lovely about the security that comes from having a history together.

Oh, and I was in San Francisco last August and spent a half hour riding the glass elevator at the Westin in Union Square at dusk. It was the most beautiful light I've ever seen.

Jan 23, 2007

Ahhh.....Well first off, please convey another one of your fans' big congratulations to Anna and little Freddie. It is so nice to see you enjoying your new home - and the old memories it brings back. Don't feel bad about mourning the changes - the fact that you live so far apart actually helps to make sure that when you do talk or send things or see each other, it will be really special.

As the last of the girls I grew up with to not have kids, I have mourned the changes, chirped over the chubby cheeks, and happily passed the little boogers back when they start screaming or nuzzling my boob (has happened more than once) trying to make it work. Glad to see you enjoying the gorgeous California light - it always reminds me of looking through a glass of champagne.

PS. Have the awful mirrored closet doors. Hate them very much, plotting to remove them. No bare bulb bathroom, thank heaven.
PPS. Special request: How are the cats settling in? Would love to see a picture of them, looking out the window or some other SF treat.

Jan 23, 2007

Ha! I knew you were just waiting for any opportunity to post that photo! Of course I’m wearing a snowflake jumper, it’s obviously Christmas.

I promise I will rescue (and burn) your teenage diaries in the event of your untimely demise. Can’t promise I won’t read them though…and maybe save some of the best bits.

I can’t wait to bring Freddie to visit his Auntie Holly in San Francisco and show him the sights. Hey maybe I can even leave him with his daddy for a while and we can go cruising for boys!


a fine piece of writing, holly.

Jan 24, 2007

Best girl friends are awesome. Even though mine lives in another country, and we don't get a chance to talk on the phone very often, i love mine with all my heart! I look forward to our annual meet up more than i look forward to xmas (and i LOVE xmas). Here's to many more happy moments for you and Anna! And all best friends out there! Cheers!

Sarah Marie
Jan 24, 2007

I love friends. Especially friends that travel with you.

Jan 25, 2007

That was beautiful. I hope you guys manage to stay friends forever -we could all use one of those people who've known us since before forever.