Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

friend of mine came to dinner the other night. As soon as she arrived, she handed me a grocery bag with salad greens in it. Romaine, endive, cilantro, radicchio.

“Everything looked so fresh at PCC,” she said. “I over-indulged.”

I was thrilled to receive the vegetables, but it was the small round head of radicchio that caught my eye.

I knew this vegetable well.

And in the few minutes it took to take the vegetables out of the bag and place them in the fridge I also knew that something was triggered, but I didn’t know what. I put on a smile, but my mind started to race.

The memory rose. And then I understood.

Radicchio has grown for centuries in Italy, mainly in regions in northern Italy, especially in the Veneto region, where it still thrives. But it wasn’t grown commercially in California until the early 1990s. The first time I bought a head of it myself, I had just found myself in a new apartment in Belltown that was supposed to make me happy, comfort me, offer me a sense of place. And for 20 years it did that.

It was in every sense my home.

Now, radicchio reminds me of a time in my life when I wasn’t searching for a home because I had found one. And I’ve been thinking a lot about why we are triggered and how triggers happen in our lives before leaving us and rousing us again years later when a friend comes over with extra veggies to share.

And I don’t know which affects us more, the making of the trigger, or the serendipity of its rekindling. But I’m sure that when it returns in the form of, say, red chicory, it has done so to remind that change is not only good, as they say, but constant.

Even if I worry I’m not up to starting over again in a new home, a new neighborhood, that I will be forever fated to be the newcomer wherever I go.

I’m not fishing for sympathy. I know what a privilege it is, what a luxury, to be able to simply pack up and choose a new neighborhood.

We will pick a new home, four walls and a roof, and we will move in.

We’ll set up our treasured belongings and be nurtured by them through whatever comes next.

In one of my early columns, I said how I could never move inland, that I need to live by the sea. This is still true. I have grown used to looking at limitlessness.

I would miss the sense of limitlessness.

I just need to move a little further north or south of downtown. Because if home is supposed to be the place where you feel you most belong, well, I have this nagging suspicion that I do not belong in Belltown any longer.

Clearly, I’ve had enough of the violence.

Combine that with the fact that I’m not sleeping well. And sleeplessness is a warning I need to listen to.

When my thoughts are a restless din of commotion, I come back to another wise saying: Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I don’t remember the exact date when I realized what was happening on the streets of our inner city, but I know for me that was the day my love of Belltown ended.

I had never seen a man writhe and collapse from an overdose on my way to the post office before. Lots of people walked by, and lots of people did nothing. The fact of our disregard was devastating.

I walked on to mail my package and wandered down to the sculpture park. I sat down on the grass.

And I knew exactly what I had to do.

“The best life consists of a series of little lives,” my friend Ken wrote.

When I want the best example of fatherly love, I write to Ken. And this is how relieved I was to read his email: I cried.

Sometimes I think it is amazing how well our innate reflexes work. I find a good cry takes the edge off.

So here’s what I think. Our city is not alone. I am not alone. Our whole country is struggling with the question where do we go from here?

We are all trying to learn from the choices we have made and will make.

And if I want a view of where my own decisions have led me, I will just look out my new window at my next little life to see every little thing I am supposed to.


— Mary Lou Sanelli has published three works of non-fiction including “Among Friends,” and her first novel, “The Star Struck Dance Studio of Yucca Springs.” For more information about Sanelli and her work, visit