Originally published by the Hamtramck Review 7/1/22
I will be moving from Hamtramck soon. This is a move with a reason, this is a move on purpose, this is a move toward the life my husband Jeff and I are trying to build. But for all the reasons my head understands, the thought of it still hurts my heart. Moving is something I used to do like a knight in a game of chess- jerking across the board in a mixture of defense and offense without any obvious direction. It was casual and often easy. This move feels more like a transplant. I’m wincing already in anticipation of the roots I will have to rip and tear to leave this place. I am mourning both my memories of the past and my dreams of a future here that will never be. After years of wandering, I let myself make a home in this house, so no wonder it hurts to leave it. As one of my favorite authors, Thomas Lynch, says: “grief is the tax we pay on our attachments.”
I thought I was ready to leave but as winter changed to spring, the move got closer and Hamtramck got more precious to me. Trees and gardens were flowering, my neighbors and I spent our evenings outside, cross-pollinating each other’s lives with conversation, gardening tasks, and shared food. I am eight months pregnant, and they marvel at my growing belly, asking me questions about how “we” are doing and encouraging me on. These people would love my son just by virtue of watching him grow up but most will be strangers to him. And, yes, there will be neighbors in the new neighborhood too, but there is just something about the particular density of Hamtramck that makes it special. I have become extremely comfortable with exactly this level of spacing that allows for conversation across the street, yard to yard, or from porch to sidewalk. The sheer presence of so many families means more pedestrians, more kids at play, more life, move living. As neighbors we are witnesses and participants in each other’s lives. Many of my neighbors I don’t know by name, but I care about them, and they me. This is the essence that lets me sleep so soundly at night, with my door unlocked, and that brings extra joy to my life in countless spontaneous, small, special ways. This is what I am giving up.
What a lot of moping! I have to shake myself out of this and remember that this is my choice. No one is forcing me to go, and I have an embarrassment of riches to look forward to. I have an amazing husband, We will become parents in July, god willing, and we have been working on a new home for a year that we get to make ours. It’s all a beautiful gift except for the fact that to make a new home means to leave another behind.
Hamtramck is not perfect, right? I am exhausted by the litter, the same old potholes, the constant anxiety of walking and driving amid terrifying speeding. I get antsy for open spaces, with a horizon, a view, and space for our dog to run. I hate the flooding and all the work I have not done (and will never do) on my old house. I hate the casual racism that people feel so free to express “from one white person to another.” I grind my teeth at the water bills, the stupid parking meters, the tyranny of the old assessor’s office, the accidental libertarianism of a part-time government.
But even in many of our problems I find something to appreciate. I love how these local problems call us in. How natural it feels to try to tackle them, because addressing them feels accessible. I got a thrill seeing my husband get “radicalized” last summer when the construction on Caniff routed countless careless speeding cars down our street. We complain because we care, and something about our compact proximity contributes to the feeling that just maybe we can do something about it. There are so many ways to be involved here. I have intervened in domestic disputes, cleaned up trash, called out litter-bugs, helped with property taxes, water bills and foreclosure issues, mowed people’s lawns, and given many a lecture from my car window to explain that the right lane on Caniff is not for passing but for turning. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed knocking on doors downstream from the parking enforcement officer to warn people they are about to get a ticket on street sweeping day! It goes without saying, many people here have helped me, too. This network of care, responsibility, and reciprocity is what I appreciate so much about this place.
I was full of doubt and fear when I first moved here. I really did not know if this was what I wanted, but I did know that I was sick of constantly moving, that this place had potential, and I was willing to give it a chance. I was inspired by the old man, Ben Jaros, who preceded me in this home after spending each of his 98 years here. It gave me the clue that home isn’t something you find just by searching, it’s something you build by staying. And that’s exactly how it’s been for me. I have grown up in this home. I arrived as a jobless vagrant divorcee. Almost immediately after arriving, I found a job that actually paid me to do the work I’d been volunteering in for years. I was able to buy the house. I was able to offer shelter to countless roommates, friends, people in a tight spot, and a refugee family who loves this house as much as I do, since it was their first in America. I have run for public office here, written articles and stories in the local paper, sang songs in the coffee shops and knocked on hundreds of my neighbors’ doors for various reasons. I had my first pet, dear Alto, who made me happy to come home every day. I wove myself and was woven into this dense fabric of community.
When I first met my husband Jeff, I was that groundless lost person. I needed him in a way that wasn’t healthy. I saw the potential for a relationship with him, but it was as though we couldn’t properly love each other because he was too busy rescuing me and I was too busy trying to become someone who didn’t need rescuing. We were apart for a long time. When we reunited, I had been in this home a few years and I was a much more grounded person. With a lot of courage and chemistry, we gave it another shot, and this place has grown from being my home to ours. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to share it with him.
A few weeks ago, Jeff was out late working on the new house and I took the dog for a walk. It was a beautiful night with a breeze. I had no less than three conversations with neighbors- all strangers- enjoying the evening air. I came home to my gorgeous spiraea bushes that had just come into bloom and smiled to see them, one more year. I started doing laundry and listening to music when a song came on that I hadn’t heard in awhile, “The Eye” by Brandi Carlisle. I used to love to sing it at Cafe 1923. I sang aloud while I folded until I arrived at a line in the third chorus that immediately choked in my throat: “you might make it further, if you learn to stay.” I started crying on the spot. That was my line! That was the mantra that gave me courage to put down roots here. That was my thesis and final message in my first “Hamtramck Love Letter” and it’s a lesson I take to heart.
After the tears passed, I went through another wave of fear. If I believe this lesson, how can I leave? Am I making a terrible mistake?
Throughout most of these past few months, I have been trying to figure out how to become absolutely sure that it is the right decision to leave, and the certainty has eluded me. But now I recall another old lesson- I don’t have to be sure. Does this new path have potential? Absolutely. And am I willing to give it a chance? Apparently so. Today, as before, I have the courage to risk making a mistake. I will leave behind the shelter of this special place with eternal gratitude to it for helping me get something worth sacrificing it for.
Read the original “Hamtramck Love Letter” here.