When I think about Detroit, my hometown, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad, but I think everyone’s hometown is like that to some extent. My hometown and I share a deep bond, a connection born of living on its streets. I have collapsed on its cold, bare sidewalks and slept in its abandoned houses. I know it intimately, but like an estranged lover, I don’t know it now. I only know my Detroit of twenty years ago, because that’s how long it’s been since I called it home.
I had to leave. It gives me a sense of guilt that, like so many others, I abandoned my hometown when it needed me most, leaving it to rot in its own rubble. However, unlike many, I didn’t leave for a better job or more opportunities; I left because it is where I was beaten and raped. I left because I was a homeless drug addict prostitute on its streets. I left because that’s where the monsters live, physically and figuratively. I left because my friends and family betrayed me when they didn’t believe me; instead, they believed the monsters who destroyed my life. I had to forge a new life in anonymity, because my old one was destroyed.
Every corner of my city holds some memory. I can drive down any random street and a host of memories flood to my consciousness. That’s where my Uncle lived. I did drugs in that house. I sold myself on that corner.
A lot of the places etched in my memory are no longer there. The apartment building where I lived, did drugs and prostituted myself was torn down and is now a pharmacy. People go in and get their prescriptions filled never realizing all the horrors that went on in that same spot. People work there. That’s a strange concept. The sidewalk where I was sexually assaulted at gunpoint is still there. The sapling tree where all of my belongings were piled up under a blanket of snow when I was finally evicted is much bigger now.
A decade or so ago, I went into the pharmacy and stood in the approximate spot where I once lived. All the memories came flooding back. No other drug store holds as much personal history for me as that one. I haven’t visited since.
There are ghosts on every corner. They’re not all bad ghosts though. In a lifetime spent in a city, there are always good times. There are memories that make me smile with a wistful yearning for youth. There are places that I still love, that make me feel at home, like the Detroit Institute of Arts. During one, particularly hot, dry summer, I spent a lot of my time there because they had excellent air conditioning and it was cheaper than a movie. Nothing evil ever happened there, at least, not to me. I go there every time I visit and drop as big of a wad of cash on them as I can in repayment for the respite they offered me so long ago.
Every sidewalk in every city as old as Detroit has history. Countless people have walked on it, all with their own stories, their own preoccupations. Most people don’t think about all the things that have happened on that spot over the course of decades. I don’t often think about all the things that have happened on the sidewalk in front of my house here in Los Angeles. My story is just one among millions.
Detroit was there long before I was born and it will still be there when I am gone. The tree will continue to grow. The street will still be a street. The sidewalk will still be a sidewalk. They will continue to do their jobs just as they always have. As I sit here, several thousand miles from where that image was recorded on some sunny day a while ago, I try not to let the ghosts engulf me. I try to leave them there on that sidewalk. I mostly succeed, but every once in a while, I think of that sidewalk, and all the others like it, where terrible ghosts live to haunt me.
I no longer have a hometown, a home. I can’t go back. I cannot live there. At least, not until I’m ready to face my past head on. Until that day, I keep moving from city to city, sidewalk to sidewalk, hoping that one day, my city and I can call each other friends again, without enmity and without ghosts.