When Brad died, I had several people ask me (and many more ask around me) if I was going to stay in Detroit. At the time I was incredibly offended. How could they question my loyalty to Detroit? Did they not know that I had lived here, and built a life here with Brad, for over 10 years? Did they not know that both Brad and I were transplants and that Brad only lived here for a year before I joined him? Did they not know that down to my core, Detroit felt like home? That Detroit was my home?
But even as I stubbornly defended my decision to stay, as more time passed, I started to recognize the tiny tension in my gut and the tiny voice in my head whispering, “but you might not stay.”
I didn’t want to hear that voice.
I wanted to stay. I wanted to continue building my life and my relationships in the city I loved. I wanted to honor both Brad and my home.
Everyday I convinced myself I was making the right choice. And everyday I heard a little voice ask, “but what if you leave?”
Acknowledging a desire to leave felt like acknowledging defeat. It felt like giving up on a city that became my home. A city I loved even though not everyone could understand that love. A city that supported me through my best and worst moments.
More importantly, acknowledging a desire to leave felt like giving up on the home that Brad and I spent twelve years building together. It felt like, not just giving up on my commitment to the city, but somehow giving up on my commitment to Brad.
Making a conscious decision to change the course of the life we planned together to go off alone into the unknown is impossibly hard.
Over the years, Brad and I talked a lot about leaving Detroit. It’s tough living in a place you constantly have to defend, despite its very real issues. Tough to live in a place where basic services like street lights and education for kids are lacking. Tough to live in a place that is so racially divided, you regularly feel like the foe, in spite of the time and work you put in to be a friend.
But Detroit remained home for us - in a lot of ways - because of these complexities. Our life here was built around a community of tough people who could handle the tough conversations. Despite being outsiders, I think we felt connected to a city that wasn’t afraid of its struggles. A city that could get knocked down repeatedly and always manage to get back up again.
Looking back, I think people questioned my decision to remain in Detroit because they couldn’t understand how I could possibly stay. How do you stay in the home and the city where you lost the love of your life? How do you get through the day when every single thing reminds you of what you had? Of what you no longer have?
Those reminders have been both a blessing and a curse. Some days, I smile seeing a tiny token of my life with Brad. Other days, it puts me in a puddle on the floor for hours. Many days it’s both.
At first, I thought I just had to get over my grieving. A certain amount of time had to pass and then it would all be easier. Life would start to go back to some semblance of normalcy and I would figure it all out.
But you don’t get over the grief. Time doesn’t heal. And normal - whatever that used to be - no longer exists.
After getting through the one year mark of Brad’s death, and realizing my life wasn’t going to automatically start improving (and also realizing the following several months would prove to be harder than I ever thought possible), I knew something had to change.
I’ve been stuck in the life that we planned. Going through the motions of a life that no longer exists. Sleeping in our bed. Cooking In our kitchen. Visiting our bars. Hanging with our people. None of it felt right anymore. In the beginning, I forced myself to show up and go through the motions, with a smile plastered to my face. When that became too exhausting, I just stopped showing up.
Brad may be dead, but it was me who felt like a ghost, quietly wandering though this foreign life.
I wanted to feel alive again.
So I started to quietly acknowledge that little voice telling me I didn’t have to stay - in this city or in this current life of mine. I would daydream about living on a farm or up in the mountains or on a quiet little lake somewhere. I thought about starting over in a place so unfamiliar I had no choice but to make it my own.
But that’s all it was - a daydream. A fantasy. Distractions to temporarily remove myself from this current life I was unhappy in.
It wasn’t real.
And then tragedy happened. Again and again and again. Over the course of a couple weeks, death and sickness and cancer all reemerged in my life.
And in the obvious and cliche way that tragedy seems to stems change, I was done. Done being a ghost in my own life.
The tiny little voice in my head was no longer a tiny little voice. It was my heart and my mind and my gut roaring all at once. The daydream didn’t have to be a dream. I had a choice. Be miserable or change.
Life is too fucking short. It’s too. fucking. short.
Be miserable or change.
So with my life crumbling down around me, I made a choice. I chose potential future happiness over unfulfilled familiarity. I chose the unknown over the stagnant. I chose joy over misery.
I chose possibility.
I chose the daydream.
I don’t know where this new life will lead me. And honestly, I am scared shitless. But the rash and irrational decision of waking up on a Monday to quit my job and rent a house on the lake in the Leelanau Peninsula, felt more right than any other active decision I’ve made in a long time.
I don’t know if I will come back to my home here in Detroit. I don’t even know what home feels like anymore. But I do know that the only way to figure out what home is - my home, not our home - is to leave.
I love this city and the life I built here. I will miss so much of that past life. But that is a life that is no longer available to me.
It’s time to explore something new.
It’s not you, Detroit, it’s me.