You meet a boy, albeit in a convoluted way. You’re both hesitant and gun shy and rotten at being in love, but this time is different for both of you somehow and your stumbling leads you closer to each other, and you find yourself sitting on the steps of your parents house listening to bad music and staring at the moon and telling yourself that even if it doesn’t work out, at least you discovered that you could love. Later you’ll make fun of yourself for this moment but you’ll always be secretly grateful for it, cheesy and overwrought as it is. He did, in fact, make you realize that you could love.
You fight it every step of the way – you don’t like change. But your brother pushes you and one morning you find yourself standing on the sidewalk next to your parents house loading lamps and your Buffy DVD’s and your new IKEA dining room table into a moving van. You cry the whole time, and when you get to Ann Arbor it takes longer than it should, and it’s harder than you thought it would be to blend your lives together, but slowly you venture out and day by day the city works itself into your veins and one day you know the best pizza restaurant and the best coffee shop and best person to buy tomatoes from at the farmer’s market. Your apartment is so tiny you can’t fit more than weeks worth of groceries into the miniature fridge and you have to eat dinner perched on the couch in front of the tv, but you have two bedrooms AND a balcony and a christmas tree that first year, and you have each other, and this is the apartment where you get engaged and the apartment that you come home to after you are married.
But you hate your job and you feel like the sun never shines and your eyes always look west, and your new husband graduates with his PhD and works as a waiter in a Thai restaurant and looks for whatever job he can find and you get the word – Nebraska.
There is a lot of crying and a lot of talk of how it’s your turn now and you just can’t go to Nebraska. But in the end it’s a job. And you figure It’s closer to California, one step closer than you are now. And you pack up your tiny house and your brand new kitten and you drive for what seems like days and you can’t eat, that whole first week you’re there, but your house has three bedrooms and an entire room just for your tv and your treadmill and a huge front porch and you can walk to a real italian cafe and an old grocery store and you find a job and a running path and you meet people and slowly, Nebraska grows on you.
But no matter how you slice it, you’re not a Nebraskan. You’ve got camping chairs on your front porch because that’s all you can afford. And the wanderlust rises again and the job ends and it’s even a little dicey there for a few minutes, and there are more tears and a few more arguments and then it finally comes, what you’ve been waiting nine years for – California.
And you stuff all your belongings into a truck too small for all the things that fit into your huge great plains house and you and your husband and your dog and your cat and one more very tiny brand new life, just beginning, drive across rolling green hills and past biker bars and empty nothingness for days on end and Reno scars you for life and you fall in love with Utah and you arrive, once more, some place new.
And you love your hardwood floors and your palm trees and your lake, and you think to yourself that all the years you told yourself that the West Coast was where you meant to be, you weren’t wrong. And this is the house you bring your new baby home to and you have two bedrooms and a backyard and a planter full of dahlias, but your neighbors burn trash and homeless people live in the campgrounds and the church down the street gives lectures on intelligent design and you know that your son can’t go to school here.
And so the search begins again.
And your husband fills out a form and checks some boxes and some of the boxes he wants to check you’re not so sure about. There’s arguing and yelling but you come around. You start to think City sounds like a great CIty and you’d be an hour away from your best friend and you start to think about swapping baby sitting and walking to a cafe or a park instead of a strip mall and you mentally decorate your front porch wth cafe lights and a porch swing and the boxes are checked and the forms are sent in. And your husband runs you ragged with his disorganization and he’s overscheduled and you’re just getting by, but the promise of more and better is on the horizon. The wanderlust is back. And he interviews like a champ and passes tests and gets a few parking tickts but he also gets a new job and more money, and it’s done. You’re moving again.
And you know you can’t afford to live in Husbands Favorite Part of Town, and even though you are prepared to love it, just like you love Toronto and Oak Park and Royal Oak and Berkeley, you know you can’t afford to live there so you mentally cross that off the list and you work on Plan B, and you see yourself sitting on that front porch and you picture your neighborhood and giant oaks and lights shining out your windows and people strolling around at dusk on a Friday night. And you scour Craigslist for your hardwood floors and your front porch and you make lists and circle maps and make printouts and say “I don’t need a garage!” and there are 23, 34, 25 dots on a map, and on that map, you are sure, somewhere, there must be a house. And your husband reminds you that you are poor and that you choose to stay home with your son and your mother tells you that now that you are moving you can find a job and your in laws ask when you’re moving back to the midwest and your friends tell you not to move to the suburbs and sell out for granite countertops.
And you pack up your son and your husband and you trek into the city to see what you can see and surprise! You’re not that crazy about Husbands Favorite Part of Town. And you realize it’s all going to be ok because you’re not in love with that neighborhood and so you have nothing to get over, and you drive some more and out of the corner of your eye you see something and there’s a turn and then it’s there, you’ve found the spot where you were meant to live and you see your trees and your front porch and your neighborhood and an ice cream shop on the corner and people just like you with babies in jogging strollers and families and you think it’s all going to be ok, for the first time in years, you found a good place, a real place, to live.
Only it turns out that those people with babies in jogging strollers walking through your dream neighborhood? They’re not just like you. Those people are RICH.
And so you visit your real estate person and she hears your dollar amount and she takes your map and she takes a long look at you and your baby and talks about blood and crime and murder and schools and with a fat red pencil she makes big red “X”;s on your map, over all the dots of the houses you found on the internet, and she starts talking about box houses and fixer uppers and up and coming neighborhoods and when you askabout new dream neighborhood she shakes her head, back and forth, and then talks about first time buyers and three houses from now and eight years down the road, and about taking the glitter off the celing and ripping up blue carpet and grandma’s house, and circles the places you can live and says even there the houses will be tiny or filled with the blue carpet and she makes you print outs and you see the neighborhoods where you maybe just might have a chance at that tiny blue carpeted house if you outbid the three other people in line to see it even though paint is peeling off the front.
And you try not to be nervous about the crime and you realize you no longer have the choice to be on the front wave of gentrification in some cute flipped house with a front porch because you have someone else to think of now and you shove your cafe lights and your front porch away and you look on the bright side and you drive drive drive just looking for that dream and you squint and peer and grab flyers and think, maybe there, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
And you finally finally understand. For the first time. Why people live in the midwest.
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