I flew into Detroit today to meet some writer friends on Lake Michigan, and see some people in Ann Arbor, plus my father who is in Kalamazoo. It's a quick trip and I'm staying one night in Ann Arbor which is the actual home of my heart.
I went to a small liberal arts college in Michigan after graduating high school. I had won a small voice scholarship and was recruited to swim there. It was very, very, very tiny. And really pretty shocking. It was kind of a last chance college because besides my obvious talents (ha.) I was a terrible, terrible student. The school was filled with farm kids, who still thought that colored was acceptable word to use when talking about someone was African American. I'd come from the Detroit area and was horrified. To make matters worse, as my mother told me, this college was the only school to actually go into Detroit and recruit from inner city schools. It was a lethal combination. There was a race riot. The NAACP showed up and so did CNN. The words I heard out of white mouths I will never forget so long as I live. A friend was stabbed in the neck by a man, enraged that his white ex girl friend was dating a black man. It was...terrible. Sad because the school was trying to do the right thing, offering big scholarships and work study programs, but naive in that they didn't know how to address issues of race until everything had boiled over. The school only had seven hundred students.
I picked up stakes, after two years, and found my way to Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor was the place I was reborn. I could not believe I was lucky enough to be there. I worked in the YMCA, I worked at the University of Michigan Press. Still a terrible student, I found myself at Eastern Michigan which was the next town over. There, I worked in the Women's Center as the communications director, and in the Women's Studies Department, the Philosophy department and I even filled in in the Physics department. I worked all the time. Many weeks I worked forty hours.
I rode my bike everywhere, and took the bus to Ypsilanti for classes. I lived in shared houses and made some lifelong friends. I was still a terrible student. I was put off by the creative writing department because a "friend" told me it was only for the "really good writers" and I took a Shakespeare class with the head of the English Department who was deeply annoyed by my many many absences but once told me I'd written the best paper he'd read in years. I struggled with mental health issues. Mostly depression, and anxiety. But I dated all the time.
My last year of school I moved into a big five bedroom Victorian with basically six other roommates. All were gay except me and another guy who I promptly fell in love with. He wanted to be a painter, wanted to run away from his auto executive father and wealthy roots. AFter graduating, a semester before me, he took off for Santa Fe. I graduated the next semester and followed him.
In retrospect maybe it was a terrible mistake. I was offered a chance to do graduate work at Eastern, but I gave it up. I'd won the Detroit Metro Times summer fiction contest and I felt pretty sure that what I wanted was to write novels and short stories. Staying in bucolic, utterly amazing in every way, Ann Arbor seemed antithetical to that.
Every time I come to Ann Arbor I start concocting plans to get back here. Alas. I love New York. I love my house and I love having a little stowaway place in New York City. I know Ann Arbor is not the same place it was twenty five years ago. I'm not the same person, but it will tear my heart a little to leave tomorrow, though there are fun things in store for the weekend.
And I'll be back around here in early December! Shady Ladies LIt Society has invited me to Detroit! And I'm working out going to Eastern Michigan around that same time to do a reading there.
Maybe one day my dreams will come true and I'll get back here on a permanent or semi permanent basis. Until then. I'll keep dreaming, drowning in this nostalgia.