Monday, April 02, 2018

Character Development

When my family and I arrived in Ludington late winter of 2002, my brother white-knuckled the steering wheel of our massive van with the bed in the back. It was insanely early, maybe three AM, and a winter storm was obviously tearing it's way through west Michigan. The hazards on, we drove in complete white-out conditions at 15 mph down the highway, praying no one would come tearing up behind us.

It seemed slightly better when we got into town. Dead silent, as if there wasn't a soul awake, I remember the flashing street lights as we went to the only place open - Wesco. Grabbing a dozen donuts as a peace offering, my mother and her two kids knocked on the door of the little red house where my grandparents were sleeping, completely ignorant to our coming.

Eventually, the tension in the house snapped over an argument regarding long multiplication. My brother attempted to teach me a German system to help me since I had missed so much school this year and couldn't keep up in math. This was not okay with my grandfather. Add in the subtitles on the TV, my ass sitting on the couch 24/7 because I had broken my leg within a week of arriving, etc etc. I don't remember a great deal about my grandparent's house except this - my grandmother liked to play very scary video games (Resident Evil, Silent Hill), and it was impossible to tell what was margarine and what was leftovers in a Country Crock container.

Welcome to Michigan! Here's a broken bone!
Our brief stint at the women's shelter after they threw us out was pretty exciting. I got lice, my brother was harassed for being the only male in the house and sometimes a nice lady who I believe was named Denise would bring back old donuts from her work for us to eat.

Carly, age 13, in her natural habitat
We got our first apartment on James Street, right next to the movie theater that used to be downtown. I'd sit in our bay window and read, unless I was on the computer. That's really all I did for a long time. Well, that and cut myself eventually. Not immediately though - the wonderful hormones of puberty would trigger this new method of self punishment.

My poor brother, now 21 and hungering desperately to live his own life and not have to take care of his mother and sister, wanted to live alone. I don't remember the specifics of how this was worked out, but we left that apartment so he could stay there and moved into a tiny place on Ludington Avenue. I could see the Wesco where we bought those donuts for my grandparents from my window. I spent almost all of my time in my bedroom, at the computer, looking out that window and down onto the main street. Making up stories in my head about the people who walked by, I spiraled into depression and began drinking, using substances, smoking.
Teenage Carly at her observation post being a shithead to her mother

I spent the four years in high school as a part time homemaker since my mother worked so much. I balanced the checkbook, I mailed out the bills, I cooked meals. We fought a lot. I claimed it was because we didn't have enough space. So the year prior to my graduation, we moved into the house I currently reside in - just five blocks away from where we first lived with our grandparents. Good old Melendy Street. From learning to ride a bike to having sex in the tiny bit of wilderness beside the water tower, I've made a lot of memories on this road.

Beautiful people, beautiful beach
They say that in order to move forward you have to first look back. I regret nothing. Despite me living here much, much longer than I ever anticipated, everything I learned in this tiny little podunk town has its value. The people are generally kind, helpful. There's a true sense of community and folks look after their family around here. It's not perfect. It's insufferably boring during the winter. But it's always beautiful and I doubt any place will ever feel more like home.

I used to say Illinois was my home state, that my little 'burb of Chicago was my hometown. I may have been born there, even raised for over a decade, but I know it's not my home anymore. I've spent over half of my life in Ludington now and most of the city kid programming I had is pretty well overwritten at this point.

Oddly, despite waiting what feels like my entire life to leave, I'm starting to already experience a frightened pang in my heart when I think about the Very Real Move that is beginning. Everything up to this point has been talk. Theoretical. Maybe. If I can hold on to my savings long enough, if I can figure out what to do with my mother, if I get my shit straight, if, if, if. Now it's no longer if - it's when. And the when is soon.

When in doubt, throw a farewell party.
We have less than a week to get a storage unit, get our shit in it, move my mother into her new place, pack our car as tight as we can and hit the road for Detroit. I'm a bit relieved that our first move is just across the state - somehow it makes it seem less intimidating. Just far enough that I won't be running home every weekend but just close enough that I can if shit gets really bad.

That's the anxiety talking, though. Anywhere I go with Nicholas is always going to be good. Change is good, even if it's scary. A safe space is a beautiful thing but nothing new ever grows there. It's time to pull up my roots. It's okay, I'm going to take them with me. And as I look back in the rearview mirror and watch the beach, the hydroelectric dam, the wind turbines and everything disappear, I won't forget where I come from or what this place taught me. As scared as I am, I can't wait to begin the next chapter of my life. I just need to close this one first. As I've said to each item of clothing I've donated recently - thank you for your service. Please accept my gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. I love you, my sweet friend. May many blessings follow you in your life. Know you are loved. Lisa Dibble.


Say it, don't pray it.