|My grandmother riding in a wagon being pulled by a goat (?) on Dayton Street in Flint, Michigan. This image is hard to imagine (and particularly humorous) if you are at all familiar with the present day Dayton Street.|
There are, surprisingly, a large number of Michigan transplants living in Massachusetts. Nearly every week, I encounter a new person with a Michigan connection of some sort. Because of this, I frequently get asked (from both former Michiganders and my Massachusetts coworkers and friends) what it’s like to be from Flint. Flint fascinates people! Saying you’re from Flint is like telling people you survived living in the jungle. People are incredibly curious how someone can come from such a violent, infamous city and turn out “normal” (apparently they don’t know me THAT well!). They’re curious how someone can get so nostalgic for a place that they appear to both love and hate. For lack of better explanation, I tell them this...
Flint is an abusive relationship that I will never escape. We have a history together and a lot of good memories, but we just couldn’t stay together. As much as I tried to hold it close to me and make it better, it beat me down and pushed me away. I will always have a mad, crazy love for Flint, but it will never show me any love in return.
OK, maybe that’s not totally true. I’ve gotten quite a bit of love from Flint; after all my roots are there. My grandparents were raised in Flint. My mother and father grew up in Flint. I was born in Flint. I attended both elementary and high school in Flint. I graduated from college in Flint. I met my husband (who was also raised in Flint), fell in love, and got married in Flint. My son was born in Flint. I had a very happy childhood and young adulthood living in Flint and created some very happy memories there over the years.
|My great aunt Ellen (on the left) and friends at a high school dance in Flint.|
But I also have some not-so-happy memories. I have memories of scary situations, of danger and crime. I have memories of bikes being stolen, friends and neighbors’ houses being broken into, my car being stolen (twice!), my purse being stolen, drugs being dealt next door, guns being pulled on people, all kinds of real, scary events that one can potentially witness when they’re from a city like Flint. Flint is mixed bag of memories.
However, those of us who were born and raised there wear that baggage like a badge of honor, and to outsiders it’s like a neon sign flashing, “I survived Flint.” For some strange reason, we are proud! I will never escape Flint’s presence in my blood, nor do I necessarily want too. But what I’ve learned in the past 10 years is that you can take the girl out of Flint, but you can’t take the Flint out of the girl. It’s a big world and I think deep down I always knew that Flint wouldn’t hold me back forever. I knew eventually I would spread my wings and break free.
Although I’ve always been appreciative of my experiences there (good and bad), I know breaking up with Flint was the best decision for my family. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally reminisce about my time in Flint or wonder what it would have been like if I would have stayed. I know it wouldn’t have ever worked out, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t keep it in a special place in my heart. That doesn’t mean that I never have deep, painful urges to go running back. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss all of the wonderful, smart, talented people that I met while living there. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate all of the good things that it has done for me. It’s a conflicting set of emotions.
Flint will always be my hometown. It will always be both the good AND the bad. It will always make me feel happy AND cause me pain. It will always be bittersweet memories.
This is what it’s like to be from Flint.