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September 22, 2021 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021 // The Statement — 4




As I walk past the Undergraduate

Science Building, the early September
sunset paints a gradient from blue to
orange on the reflective windows. I
should be wowed by this: the brilliant
sky, the comfortably warm weather, my
first week back on campus. Instead, my
mind wanders back to the streets of my
youth. The suburban ones with single-
family ranches dotting the sides of the
road, the quiet ones that couldn’t quite
keep high-school me satisfied, the long
ones that had iterations of car dealerships
and fast-food restaurants for miles. The streets
that resemble a midwest automobile wasteland.
Yet here I was, eight days after moving in, yearn-
ing to touch the ground that I had so happily left.

How did I get here?
I have lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the vast

majority of my life, only moving once before that
from Brooklyn, N.Y. This first move happened
just after kindergarten, and by the time first grade
was over, I had thoroughly exhausted my teachers
and peers with my fun fact about being from the
Big Apple. How many five-year-olds can say they
just came from the cultural center of the Western
world? At North Park Elementary, I was the only
one, and took a unique pride in where I was born,
despite only having lived there for five years —
eighteen months of which I actually remember.

This affection for New York stood in stark

contrast to my feelings towards Grand Rapids.
Our modest yard, which enthralled my urbanite
parents, did not live up to the hype (in my five-
year-old opinion). The grass was brown and dry
from midsummer’s heat and prickled the soles of
my feet with disdain. In Michigan, there was no
subway system to whisk our family around, only
minivans and five-lane roads. The crickets and
cicadas nonstop symphonies scared my brother
and me to tears while trying to sleep on our first
night. The city — or should I call it a town — was
too small and too far away from the childhood I
knew and loved.

This negative first impression of Grand Rapids

created a pessimistic lens through which I viewed
the city for the remainder of my time there. It was
much too hot and humid in the summers, with 90º
becoming less foreign and more annoying. The
limited activities within walking distance weren’t
as much as a problem while my younger brother
and I required parental supervision, but as we grew
independent, the entertainment desert that existed
within our lush, tree-lined streets became painful-
ly obvious. By high school, my friends and I would
simply drive from strip malls to chain restaurants

back again, the asphalt roads a conduit to a cure
for boredom. Exciting events on the weekend
included hunting the aisles of big box stores for
Squishmallows or discount holiday candy, a place
to exist away from our families and school.

I had always hoped that my parents would

move somewhere else, swooped to the West coast
by the winds of a new job, or a lack of inspiration
from this silly midwest river town. They con-
sistently lamented the conservative politics, the
name of rich corporate executives plastered on
every vertical surface and the culture scene that
was small enough to make their art school sensi-
bilities feel claustrophobic. Somehow, my father’s
sisters and mother were enough of a glue for us to
stay put, and my parents have now lived there lon-
ger than they did in the Big City. I graduated high
school with the determination to not do the same.

And so I ended up in Ann Arbor, barely say-

ing goodbye to my dad when he dropped me off
at East Quad Residence Hall on that late August
afternoon. There were things I missed about
home of course: my cats, my family, my own space.
Nevertheless, I relished my freedom in a new city.
Stringing together extended itineraries of campus
events, bike rides to new parts of the surround-
ing city, trying new dining halls and eateries
under the changing leaves and crisp skies of fall.
I avoided home over Fall Break, instead opting for
a backpacking trip in the Upper Peninsula. By the
time Thanksgiving recess appeared on my calen-
dar, my parent’s house was foreign. Even though
it felt good to be home for the holidays, my Grand
Rapids cabin fever caught up to me by Christmas,
and Ann Arbor was the place I would have rather

Similarly, winter semester went by without visit-

ing home once, until University Housing’s infamous
pandemic email kicked me and my hallmates out of
the dorms. In an instant, living with my parents in


Rapids went from a rarity to reality. There was a
sense of premature conclusion when my mom
and I pulled into the driveway of my childhood
home, under the drab gray sky of mid-March.
Though I felt a new sense of ease, this breath
of release from uptempo university life soon
became a sleepy trudge through online school.
My decorated desk at school was now a laptop
on top of a clothing storage bin. My limbs hurt
in this crouched position, their only movement
being between computer tabs. My need for vari-
ety hurt as well. I did homework, interspersed
class with three half-prepared meals, watched
TV and went to sleep, all within 20 paces of each
other. As final exams faded into early summer, I
woke up in the same bed, ate the same food and
lived with the same people. The only ounce of
change I experienced was the season I saw out-
side my window.

I sought to make some change for myself, and

rode my bike extensively around the city on my
days off from my return at my high school job. I
rode along rivers, traced trails and biked through
the sloping subdivisions and tired traffic lights of
my hometown. Without the typical hum of mid-
westerners driving the streets, the city spoke for
itself in a way. I went through neighborhoods I
knew existed but never got to know, digging into
the landscape that shaped my youth, stripped
back from the rhythms of daily life.

By the end of that monotonous stay-at-home

summer, I was ready to move back to Ann Arbor,
even if it only was for a new laptop background.
I felt like I knew Grand Rapids, or at least a ver-
sion of it, inside and out, and a change of scenery
was necessary. I vowed to never spend that much
time at my parent’s house again. I quickly accus-
tomed myself to a new routine, immersing myself
in the new hybrid world of school and work for
the semester.

Once in a while, I would see class-

mates from high school walking
through the nearly empty landscape
of a university online. We would talk,
trade surface-level feelings and anec-
dotes, before eventually turning to
Grand Rapids as something we had
in common. Through these conver-
sations, we shared snapshots of our
favorite views coming into the city:
the skyline rising in the distance driv-

ing north on US-131, the lookout from

the west side bluffs looking over the river.

These were visual cues of knowing that we

were home, we were safe and we would soon be in
the calm of our childhood bedrooms. This came
as a surprise for me: actively wanting to return to
my roots. This initial feeling of familiar comfort is
what I realized I miss most about being home, and
the thought of upcoming semester breaks tempt-
ed me to relive that experience.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and

the same proved true about Grand Rapids.
Though there was less to do than ever dur-
ing my extended pandemic stint at my par-
ent’s house, something about the homogenous
nature of my time at home made that okay, and
made me appreciate the calmness of society’s
relative standstill. I became more comfortable
with boredom, and more mundane activities
like going on walks and waving to neighbors
became highlights of my existence. I once
despised the place I came from because it was
so familiar, so last year, so boring. To be sepa-
rated from my former self by geography was
something I was grateful for. However, being
away from home has illuminated facets of a
more reliable daily routine that I now miss, and
places that I once dismissed as too suburban,
too normal, glimmer positively in my memory.

This past summer, in an effort to differenti-

ate from that of 2020, I took jobs that pulled me
away from Grand Rapids, and I was gone from
my parent’s home save a couple of weeks in May
and some days in August. I relished my indepen-
dence and freedom that came with the distance,
but perhaps I did not give myself enough breath-
ing room, forgetting about the valuable oxygen
that comes with leisure time at home — the sense
of refreshment it gives before moving on to a new
academic year. I underestimated my hometown,
and upon my eventual return, I hope that I will
savor the sunsets that reflect off my living room
window; coloring my childhood street with a
rose-colored tint, and my memories of it the



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