How I Came to Live Here


BG-Flash-FidelityWe drove through Oakland, a desultory meander along the estuary in the warehouse district where the Port boom cranes line up in a string of white horses and the big freighters hug the shore waiting to be relieved of their cargo so they can turn around and get more on the other side of the ocean that stretched, glinting white and blue under the sun’s attack and it was when I was just about to give up that Helen said, “There, that one,” and pointed to a large factory along the rail lines leading into the western terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad and I knew immediately, looking at the cement monolith punctuated by window banks soaring thirteen feet or more, that she was right so I said, “Pull over,”  so we could walk the perimeter, sneak into the lobby, climb to the roof, look out on the Bay Bridge backed by the silhouette of San Francisco banking the orange bullseye of the setting sun and I could say Yes to this day, this morning with my old life growing smaller in the rearview mirror and my new life crashing through the windshield as we barreled up 880 behind the moving van to a neighborhood crisscrossed by every known method of transportation—from road to rail to shipping lanes to flight corridors—to our Petite Marseilles home to sailors and prostitutes, murderers and pimps, pianists and photographers, the chefs, brewers, drag queens, and tent cities that are my new neighbors, whose lives I now share in the effort to hold down this corner of West Oakland where I had simply seen the sun bounce off the water to call me home to an iron works factory that found a second life as lofts for those willing to take a chance on a city in a place everyone ran from in fear, where people wouldn’t get out of their cars until I stopped under the fabricated, wrought iron marquee that said Phoenix Lofts which, loosely translated meant “Welcome home;” welcome to the 1700 square foot concrete box in need of rugs and art work and people I didn’t know but would get to know, laughing and drinking cold beer, eating potato salad and blaring our music from our radios on our roof  that I share with my Cuban, Jamaican, Israeli, faggot and dyke settlers under the freeway that is routinely accented by rounds of live ammo and helicopters circle in the clear blue sky.



Rebecca Chekouras has appeared in Narrative Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine, Curve Magazine, and the online zine Pure Slush. Her work has been anthologized by The University of Wisconsin Press and Pure Slush books.  She is a 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow and was short listed for the Astraea Foundation Lesbian Writers Fund fiction prize. In 2014, Chekouras helped launch The Basement Series with writers from McSweeney’s and the San Francisco Writers Grotto. She was invited to the Tin House Writer’s Winter Workshop in 2015. Chekouras lives in the Port of Oakland.

This essay is the offspring of a writing prompt given by Whitney Otto during our 2015 Winter Fiction Workshop.