I was born here:
I think that’s where I was born anyway. Actually, I’m not sure if that is the right place since the hospital I was born in no longer exist as such. That could be an entirely different hospital. I was a little too young to remember.
The important thing is, I was born. I spent several months in that hospital, or one like it, dying slowly from Pneumococcal Meningitis, but I survived.
Looking at that map now, it all looks vaguely familiar. West Outer Drive, south of Seven Mile Road at Schaefer Highway. Those words used to mean something to me beyond just a fuzzy recollection. There was a time when I knew exactly what that looked like. I knew the landmarks. I could tell you the fastest way to get there depending on where you were in the city. I knew which lane to be in on Eight Mile Road to avoid the worst potholes from the abandoned railroad tracks. I knew how the lights were timed. Detroit was my city, but like so many others, I abandoned it.
Whenever I think about my hometown, I feel sad and guilty. I am sad thinking of what has become of it since I left. I am guilty because maybe, had I stayed, it might not have gotten so bad. When I lived there, it was a proper city. Now, there are barely 700,000 residents. It makes me feel wretched for leaving it.
Today, because the Daily Post asked me to, I’m going to wallow in it. I will share with you my old haunts. I will rub salt into those wounds. I will reconnect with my hometown.
Woodward and East Grand
My very first apartment, when I was just barely eighteen years old, was torn down not too long after I left it. It was replaced by a pharmacy (Point A):
The rent was something like $300 a month. It had no heat, no air conditioning, no hot water. I was in the middle of filing a complaint against them for same when they evicted me in the middle of winter. At the time, I was indignant, but now I don’t hold it against them since I had stopped paying rent some time back. I might have paid rent if there had been heat and hot water, but realistically, I probably wouldn’t have. I was a drug addict and drug addicts don’t tend to keep on top of their household bills.
It was a hot summer and a cold winter that I lived there. I remember one surprise July rain in the middle of a summer-long drought that brought everyone outside. All of my neighbors, young and old, were splashing in puddles like schoolchildren. I remember turning on the oven in the wintertime and leaving the door open for heat. I remember heating water on the stove so that I could take a lukewarm bath. I remember walking down Woodward Avenue on blazing hot afternoons to the Detroit Institute of Arts, which was free in those days (well, “suggested donation” free), to bask in their lovely air conditioning and stare at all the amazing art.
Anyway, the eviction process went ahead without my consent until one day, I came home to find all of my belongings piled up under this tree with two or three inches of snow on top:
It made a strangely pretty sight, like a demented Christmas tree. That tree was right outside the window to my apartment. That there sidewalk is the setting for a story I wrote called The Missing Shoe. After I was evicted, I was homeless for a while in that neighborhood. Some of my neighbors stored my belongings, but I just had clothes left anyway. I was homeless, it was winter and I was literally starving, but I still managed to find money to buy drugs.
Point C was where I used to buy crack. Lots and lots of crack:
Strangely, it looks almost exactly the same now and as it did then. It was in that house that someone I did drugs with sold her daughter to the dealer to buy more drugs. I walked out of that house to the payphone that used to be outside of Point B and made two calls: one to the police to narc on what had happened and the other to my parents to come pick me up. My parents made it there before the police, so I’m not entirely sure what happened after that.
I suppose I thought that, based on the awful things that went on in that house, it would have spontaneously and poetically burned the ground right after I left, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I was mildly disappointed to find it still standing and looking almost exactly the same. I wonder though, who is mowing that lawn?
I lived in this building twice:
The first time was in a tiny little studio apartment. I had the two windows on the front of the building. I lived there by myself with a rat named Plague. This building was where I first realized that something was seriously wrong with my brain. I wrote awful prose and awful poetry. I became a hermit and hardly left.
The second time was in a penthouse at the back. It was a beautiful apartment with three sides of the building. From my bed, I could watch the fireworks at the old Tigers Stadium. I could watch thunderstorms coming from the north for miles and miles. I could see forever.
I had my car broken into at least twelve different times there. There were two entire floors of that building that were abandoned. Detroit is well known for having abandoned buildings, but even in the ones that were occupied, there were abandoned floors.
This was my favorite house in Detroit:
It took some doing to find it on Google maps since I couldn’t remember the address or even the street name and it looks a little different now. There used to be a huge tree out front that shaded my bedroom window (second floor right) and the house was painted red when I lived there. I had that whole house and the yard in-between:
The trees in the side yard were just saplings when I planted them. The ramshackle garage in back is just gone. The house across the street was not the burned out husk it appears to be now. This was not a good area of Detroit even when I lived there. The house right next door was a girl gang. They did carjackings.
That is the house from the post Wounds That Never Heal where my dog Maddy took off to the fence line in the alley and caught a prowler. It is where I came home to find a puppy that had peed on the living room floor, that living room floor. This was the house I lived in with an abusive Monster. This is where the violence began. This is the first place he tried to kill me. This was the last place I lived in Detroit before I moved to Boston with him. I thought maybe a change of venue might help him not want to kill me so much. I was wrong.
That house protected me from the wind, rain and snow, but it couldn’t protect me from the monster that lived inside of it. I hope the people who live there now, if anyone does, appreciate it as much as I did, even with all the evil that happened there. It wasn’t the house’s fault.
These are the reasons I had to leave my city. There were too many memories on every corner. But these things are also the reason I am sad that I didn’t stay. These things are mine.