A few days ago, my Mom and I were in the kitchen talking about her recent trip to Cleveland. It was one of her closest friend's surprise birthday party, and she and my father had visited for the weekend in order to celebrate. Somewhere in the discussion, she disclosed this thought to me: "If I could move back to Cleveland, I would do it in a heartbeat. A heartbeat."
Feeling sort of perplexed, and - oddly - offended, I asked, "...why?"
Her answer was something along the lines of "I love the city," "It's my first home," etc. I don't remember it exactly. I do remember, however, staring back at her with a tilted head and a misplaced sense of shock. Leave the metro? Go back to Cleveland? What? Cleveland was never home, what are you even talking about? I couldn't even (and can't, still) wrap my head around the idea.
Ohio has always bothered me for reasons I cannot explain. My parents were both raised in Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs, and came here only so that my father could attend the University of Michigan (go Blue!) and go on to work in the then-thriving automotive industry. They, and subsequently, my siblings and I, have lived in the Detroit metropolitan area since that initial move. I was born in Ann Arbor and have never lived outside the state. In visiting our family in Ohio (we have no extended family in Michigan), I have always - even when I was little - left with a distaste in my mouth and an eagerness to get back behind the state lines I know. Ohio is flat, boring, uninteresting. Cleveland offers me nothing. At least, this is what I've always thought; I'm not sure why. It sounds selfish and pretty darn close-minded.
It's more than just disliking Ohio, for whatever reason. It's more than how much I've come to loathe being in Holland, Michigan, or even in Grand Rapids. It's more than how I smile almost every time I take a drive through my hometown, Plymouth.
I have a deeply rooted, tangible, fierce loyality to Michigan, and more importantly, to Detroit and its surrounding metropolis - and I have almost no idea why this is. When people discuss the death of Detroit, I become noticeably sadder, even though I know how much this "death" is warranted and correct. When I meet people from the southeastern area of Michigan while living at school in the west, I get excited, feeling that I can relate to them in a way I cannot relate to anyone else. When simple, stupid, completely insignificant things happen - like a rock band not name-dropping Detroit in a song that names almost every other major American city they want to "party in" or something - I'm just a little, tiny bit offended. What?! Why?
I don't live in the city proper; I never have. Plymouth is about a 20-30 minute drive outside of Detroit, and about 15 minutes from Ann Arbor, a city I lump in with "Detroit" and have a love for that is a separate topic entirely. I haven't experienced the hardship that the people who live within the city have, I don't know all the major roads, and I don't go there as often as I would like. I trash talk the city without realizing it, and yet, I still identify myself as a born and bred Detroiter. What gives me this right? Do I even have it at all?
What makes me and about 98% of all other southeastern Michiganders love Eminem, even if we hate rap music? What makes me so passionate about the Red Wings, even though all other hockey doesn't interest me at all? What is it that's pulling at my heart strings when I see the abandoned buildings downtown? Why on earth would I love a place that I technically don't reside within, that is failing right before my eyes, and that is the reason for so much hurt, crime, and shame?
I've been trying to answer all of these questions lately, and really, I haven't come up with an answer. I think it's in my blood to have a strong connection to home; I don't have the wanderlust that most young adults my age have, and, having no desire to travel the world just yet, I'm happiest when I'm in southeast Michigan. I want nothing more than a summer filled of Tigers games with my closest friends and being as far away - within Michigan - from Holland as possible. I think my connection to my home, my undeniable fervor for upholding Detroit and my homestate, is part blood, part mind. I may not be experiecing all the pain that the city is going through, but I can sure as hell feel it. I don't have to live inside the city lines to get this sensation. The closest thing to a conclusion that I can come up with is this:
We all need somewhere to belong, somewhere to call home. We need a place where all of our heart can be situated, even if we choose to move frequently and quickly. We need somewhere to lay down roots, even if we don't know just who we are yet and what those roots really mean. We all need something to identify with.
This dying city, this sighing metropolis, this place that people are abandoning by the thousands - this place is my home. I am a proud, strong Detroiter. I may not know why this is, but I know that it's true.
Don't let 'em say you ain't beautiful.