You ever had a perfect day?

A laugh-filled, legs-hurting, heart-expanding day full of walks and talks and sights kind of day. Memories in the making, best friend to your right, sky blue with clouds pillow fighting as they pass through one another. A sun tan in-the-making, the trees scattering across the horizon, the water slapping against rock, calm in places, returning again. A family on bikes passing on the left, concert soundcheck in the distance, people aching for shade, a bit of a reprieve from the 85 degree weather. No agenda. Just sky.

If someone were to ask me what makes the perfect day, I’d describe this one. How we ate Creole food and adventured in the city. Carried our laptops in satchels searching for coffeeshops we could write at. Talking about the love we give, who gives it back, how important those people in our life are and how we’ll need them tomorrow. Skin glistening with sweat, but not a care in the world. Today? It’s for best friends.

We found ice cream that was made in front of our own eyes. A blend of raspberry and strawberry and custard, sweet and full of whatever it was that we needed exactly in that moment. Adventured to a bookstore and found a few gems amidst its stacks. Stories already consumed, waiting to be discovered again, hoping for a new home. Picked three to come home with me, helping me build this life three or four pages at a time. Jokingly talked about getting tattoos. Gave it some minutes to scramble through our mind. “So let’s get tattoos.” Just like that, we’re getting home stitched into our skin—places that have undoubtedly shook us to our core, flipped us upside down and stole all our lunch money, hung us out to dry. Places that brought us joy, gave us peace, inspired hope with every stubborn step.

It wouldn’t be home without the parts that didn’t quite add up. Without the bruises we accumulated trying to be loved again and again by people who didn’t have the capacity to, couldn’t see us well. Wouldn’t be home without the mile markers we follow into it, the lights we count as night falls, the people that stayed, reminding us how we got here and where we’re going, to never forget where we’re from, to savor the moment before it passes. To let it go when it does finally does.

Michigan. Land of the Great Lakes. Home of the automobile. It’s where my mother was born and raised by her mother, the only place either of them ever settled long enough to take root. The place where I met my first girlfriend and my second (and third), where love was a lost and found bin I rummaged through at least once a year, hoping to find something worth keeping, coming up empty. The borders that I traveled—up north, Kalkaska, Traverse City, Petoskey, Mackinac Island—and the people I traveled with, all tracing lines of friendship and deep life talks. The cities I’d find pieces of myself in—Flint, Detroit, Bay City, Saginaw, Rochester, Brighton, Frankenmuth—and the forgiving and open sky beckoning me back time and time again.

It’s where I learned what family means to me. How I had to leave imaginary lines to know just how much of who I am is wrapped up in the street signs, porch swings, corner stores, and high school hallways. How, every week, rain or shine or snow, I’d clean the garage and mow the lawn. It’s where I first got detention, first learned how to throw a spiral football, had my first double on the baseball diamond and made my first fielding error, and where I ran my first session of hills.

It’s where I first was given an opportunity to advocate for someone who’s voice isn’t often heard and where I learned what good mentorship looks like. It’s where I learned to write, where the first person outside of family told me “I believe in you” and meant it. The place where I first had faith that the sky could actually open up and a god could take my hand. The place where I first doubted that, too. Where I wrestled with belief in general and participated in my first spelling bee. Where I wrote my first of many letters to an ex-lover, marched to her doorstep in the snow, asked her mom if she was busy, hand delivered it to her, and made the trek back home with periodic glances back, hoping to see her coming after me to tell me she wanted to be with me. She didn’t. The place where I stopped believing in real love. The place I decided to love again and where I believed I was worthy of it. So many firsts. Probably some lasts, too.

I come back time and time again, get off the interstate, and am flooded with memories. Remembering how I’d spent years wishing to make it out so I could see the great big world. Now, wishing I’d spent more time at home with my grandmother, my mother, my sister and brother, my niece and nephew, my dad. Wishing I could have one more conversation in my childhood home. One more walk to the bus stop. One more mow of the lawn, one more tree climb, one more race from the bottom of the house to the top, turning off all the lights on my way, just quick enough to not be caught in a shadow. One more conversation with my Yia Yia to tell her that I love her, that I’m proud to call her my grandmother, that she is one of my heroes. One more time wrestling with my brother, who is graduating from high school soon and growing up. One more time. One last time.

If I could go back, I wouldn’t change the small parts. Like how, as a young boy, shy and curious, I made an insect graveyard in my back yard. I can still picture the small mound of dirt, moss covering its top, signaling the resting place of once-alive fliers and crawlers. How accomplished I felt in being gentle with some small dead thing, but how one day long after its creation, I mindlessly mowed over its contents, only remembering after I’d finished the whole yard. How, odd as it is, this would become a metaphor for the way we like to honor our dead, how Buddy Wakefield’s line looms over me every time I come across it: “Cemeteries are just Earth’s way of not letting go. Let go.” How that taught me about death well before death ever came. How it still does.

There are whole days when I miss the way the Michigan air enveloped me. Mixing quiet and loud never felt so comforting to me on the days when I didn’t feel like myself. Trips to the bread store with mom to use our food stamps before they were gone, driving down roads in Redford saying “Yia Yia, where are you?” Even when she knew exactly where Yia Yia was: sitting, waiting for us to reach her, open arms and heart in the direction we came from every summer. How I can remember the painting of ships at a distance against the horizon—water reflecting back, every wave a mirror—hanging in the house she had built for her family. How the painting now hangs in my apartment in Indiana. How I pass it every day, sneaking a glance when I can, remembering what I can remember, digging deep to see her show up long after she is gone. All things disappear if you think hard enough about them. Their edges fading, center soon to go, and so, too, our bodies.

Home.

It’s where the soul expands, bursts, and rebuilds itself with the rubble. That’s what Michigan means to me. Long after I’ve gone away, I will return. Though the air will feel differently, the people will change, the monuments will transform, and the whole state will feel foreign, there will be familiarity that settles into my bones. I will see things new and old and be reminded of the reason why this place means so much to me. It’s forever home. A part of my forever story. No matter how far away I go, the open sky will beckon me again, turning its porch light on one last time to see me drive the distance all the way home.

 

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