I’m not sure when the caution seeped in but I blame it on the lockdown. The year of looking at other people and seeing threats, of being unable to have friends and family come to visit, and of living without travel has left its scars. This past year has been a tentative one; going to a movie theater was as big a step as walking on the moon and meeting a friend for a glass of wine was a flickering pleasure that could be postponed when a new variant showed up. Even now the building I live in allows no visitors and when I walk down its hallways, I feel as though I’m living in an abandoned hotel. The streets outside look like a set for a Mad Max movie, with their smashed windows and sidewalk junkies. Dreams I had of living downtown and going to an evening symphony are laughable. I scurry home at sunset these days and even in daylight my excursions have been abbreviated ones.

Then my friend Chawadee came to town. She and her family traveled from Bangkok, explored the city, hit the ski slopes, and made a side trip to San Francisco. They all trusted their vaccinations and they lived fully within that shield and under their masks. After spending time with her, I saw how diminished I’d allowed my life to be.

I’m in my seventies. I can’t afford to lose this kind of time–at least not anymore than the two years we all had denied to us. So the other day, I made a small incursion into what my life once held. I left my neighborhood and walked to where I used to live.

I’ve been to Chinatown recently but only on the light rail. I’d been taking the train since last summer, after seeing a partially naked woman solicit customers from the doorway where she lay sprawled with her companion and having figures lurch into my pathway in silence, if not menace. But I wanted my life back. I walked down First Avenue and found it was regaining its life too. Shops were open, restaurants had customers, and I wasn’t the only pedestrian on the sidewalk. Murals painted on protective sheets of plywood still covered windows but the ones that had removed those shields were unbroken. It felt as though the city was slowly opening its eyes, stretching, and moving out of a prolonged nightmare. And so was I.

I walked through the freeway underpass that divides Chinatown from Little Saigon for the first time in two years. One side was lined with tents; the other was empty. My favorite banh mi spot was still open and the sandwich I bought was as delicious as I remembered. Near the library a plum tree was already in full bloom and the cherry blossoms on Jackson Street were growing fat. The world as I once knew it is still there. All I need to do is walk into it.