When we went to Michigan a few weeks ago, we drove through Flint (which has the honor of being the most dangerous city in America) on the way to my step-sister’s house. As we approached the exit for my old neighborhood, I got a little knot in my stomach. Part of me really wanted to see it again, but the other part of me knew I wouldn’t like what I’d find.
Curiosity won, and we took the short detour. The neighborhood wasn’t in great condition when I left twelve years ago, but to say that it had since deteriorated would be a huge understatement. My Hubs said it best: if you were going to create a movie set of a “bad” neighborhood, it would look like this.
The dirt roads, forgotten by the city long ago, were rough and pitted. No one sat outside on a porch or walked down the street. The silence felt heavy and ominous. Dilapidated houses lined the streets, most standing empty and near collapse. They were skeletons. The glassless window frames were vacant eyes and the empty doorways were gaping mouths. The life and energy that once made these houses homes rotted away long ago.
My old house looked even tinier than I remembered. Dead grass and weeds stood tall in the front yard. The aluminum siding didn’t look white anymore, rather more of a sickly gray. The porch railing was falling down, and the white fence was almost gone.
The scene sparked sadness and fear. We did not slow down long enough to take a photo.
Looking at it now, you would think that nothing good had ever happened in that house, but that’s not true. We made many happy memories there. But there are also plenty of things I wish I could forget, like the ants crawling all over everything, the giant mold spot growing on my bedroom ceiling, and the mice.
I really hated the mice.
I still remember the sounds of them furrowing within the wall right next to my bed, just a few inches of sheet rock separating them from my head. I had dreams – some sleeping, some awake – of mice eating their way through the wall and crawling on me. I can still hear them rummaging through the small trash can in the corner of my room. I can still hear the thoomp sound as they squeezed under my bedroom door.
Most children are afraid of ghosts and monsters, but I was more afraid of “bad men.” I was convinced someone was going to come into our house while we slept. One night, a man was lurking in our yard. The motion light over the garage cast his silhouette against the window blinds, and my mom and I held our breath and whispered a call to 911. Another night, someone did come into the house when I was baby-sitting my brother. We were sleeping, so I didn’t see who it was. I only heard him leave and saw his car peel out of the driveway. I suspect it was just a guy I knew trying to scare me, but I can’t be sure.
I moved away in 1999. A year later, my mom and brother finally moved out after someone broke into the house. Luckily, no one was home when it happened. The burglars took everything of any value and vandalized the rest. I still remember the look on my little brother’s face when Mom told him all his favorite things were gone. He looked defeated and broken. The burglars took more than his video games and toys. They took his innocence, his sense of safety and security in his own home. No ten-year-old should have to grow up that much in one day.
Now my mom and brother live in a much nicer place. I’m so glad they’re somewhere they can feel safe and secure. So there’s no reason to go to that old neighborhood when I visit them anymore… except for when curiosity wins out over common sense, and I don’t see that happening again.
My life has done a complete one-eighty since I lived in Flint. My Hubs jokes that I should write my memoirs… at least I think he’s joking. Maybe I will someday, maybe I won’t. I don’t need to write them down to remember. I am who I am because of my experiences there. I’m sure that’s good in some ways, and probably not so good in others. But I haven’t forgotten where I came from, and I appreciate everything I have today.