So you get a lot of flack.
I don't really understand it.
Okay, that's a lie. I kind of do. I'm guilty of talking about you in less-than-pristine terms. I'm guilty of making jokes about the stereotypes that, unfortunately, some people still take seriously. I'm guilty of cross-applying some of your more underdeveloped areas to the gorgeous city that I grew up in. I hate it when people disrespect you, when they make the same generalizations I perpetuate (though I know that I am always teasing -- I'm never sure whether the others are, or whether they're serious), when they don't recognize how amazing you truly are.
You are a gem. You are my best-kept secret. I think of you and I think of the grass, so perfect and new and green, sun shining through the dew on an early spring day. I think of you, I think of the clouds and the way the blue darkens at the horizon more noticeably than anywhere else. I think of you, I remember the stillness of muggy summer nights, the mosquitoes biting while the laughter is still thick and heavy. The motherland, the place cherished, held most highly in my heart. Your brooks, they run more laughingly than the brooks I've seen in other places. Your trees, they're older. The smell of your ground is richer. Sometimes, I have to sit down (even in the middle of the mud), to lie down, to embrace the earth. Your total effect is breathtaking.
I haven't left you, not for good. Michigan is my new place of residence, and will be for at least four years. I might sidetrack into Africa for a while. I might go somewhere with bigger cities and bigger sounds to try out teaching for a while. But you have the bigger silences, and you have the bigger fields (the ones where I just have to fling my arms out, the ones where I want nothing more than to embrace the are), and you will always be my home. I knew so many people who wanted to leave you and didn't understand them at all, could not comprehend why they wouldn't want to stay forever, and ended up being one of the only ones who left. But I never truly left, did I?
I remember pollen dusting my hands and my cheeks, remember laughing with pigtails streaming, remember mulchy playgrounds and loamy fields and masking tape on a chain-link fence. One square hectare (measured painstakingly with a short measure of rope), the center of my heart. I remember musty bookstores, dark and cool on a hot afternoon, dry and old in the rain. Lazy summer nights spent running through fountains, braless and barefoot, dancing to live music while dripping everywhere. Country drives to crickets and the smell of new flowers and fresh rains in the early evening, pickup windows rolled all the way down, culminating in meals of delicious fried mushrooms, to the banana peppers I never quite manage to finish. Running through the heat (despite the sweat) after a soccer ball with people half my age, flopping down after with an aging cat and a box of markers, jetting off after to curry chicken salad and eclaires. Winter days spent underdressed with emergency runs to the springs, staring at the barren trees and the mud that hasn't quite frozen, breathing deep and ignoring my shivers. A small trail outside of a smelly school with secret side-trails, fallen logs, rusting swingsets, sweaty palms. Daytime drives that I know blindfolded, the dents worn into the carpeted steps to my room, wood and green and yellow and sun and so much road. So much freedom. Fourth of July fireworks with fresh ripe cherries, nights spent sleepless, 6:30 am runs to waffle house, midafternoon trips to authentic Mexican restaurants. The feeling of fullness, the need to embrace everything, the intense love held towards so many little things (like that one sharp turn towards home at that one ridiculous intersection, like the mosquito bites on my ring finger and the late-night drives on too-fast country lanes, like the satisfaction of a hug at the movie theater with the best water). The trips out east, the dilapidated housing and the perfect, beautiful trees.
(I love it here, too. Whenever I'm at my angriest and most displeased, I'll go outside and even though it's been grey for what seems like years, there will be sun tinting the tip of the chapel and it will be all rosy and warm despite the cold and I'll feel that swelling in my heart yet again and hate the way that I can't do anything but love this place so fiercely. The dirty snow and the flashes of grass and the misshapen stairs, the purple walls and the ant-ridden floor and the perfect air.)
I don't miss you. You're too much there, too present, for me to miss you.
I recognize that you have your faults. The obesity, the lack of health, the strip mining and the pollution and the more negative aspects of the Bible belt. But then again: you have one of the most educated cities, the cohesive pull of college basketball, the most epic water system. You're warmer now, on the whole (and yet as soon as I leave you, you get icy and gorgeous and altogether too tantalizing), you're frustrating as hell, and you're beautiful as anything. You have the accents I tried to escape and that I now crave, the caints and the tars as opposed to the caaaaaan'ts and tires of the northern Midwest.
You're not the only one for me. There will be others, and lots of them. But I'll keep coming back to you, because you are my first and you are my only and you are the home of my heart.