You Can't Go Home Again

by Elana Roth Parker in ,


I may tout myself as this hardcore New Yorker (11 years in this city gives me the street cred), but I was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit. So my 11 years here doesn't quite eclipse my 18 spent there. There are things I do that will always anchor my Michigan roots. Sometimes I nasal my As when speaking (even if I don't want to admit it). I secretly still call it pop and not soda (though New York has trained me to say the latter). I'm an excellent driver (I learned to drive in snow). 

I love the Red Wings and Michigan football. And cherries. And Vernors--the gingeriest pop in the whole wide world, putting all other ginger ales to shame. When I listen to Motown, I get to own a piece of it because my dad also grew up in the suburbs of Detroit when that music played on the radio for the first time. 

But I left Detroit for college and never went home again. I visit, mostly for holidays. But not even a single summer was spent back in my hometown. I was almost eager to shed that skin and never return. So I didn't. 

It's true what they say--you can never go home again. Maybe New York does that to a person. I know other friends who took to this great city like I did and just couldn't go back to their hometowns. I walk around here and think to myself daily, "How does anyone live anywhere else?" New York changes you--but I still didn't grow up here.

So of course, I got chills watching the Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl. Those amazing shots of my first city. I recognized everything. The statues, the artwork, the rubble. It's the city where my dad took me to Tigers baseball games, driving down Woodward Avenue to the real Tigers Stadium. And countless trips to the Fox Theater for concerts and movies on a BIG screen (Spartacus! Ben Hur!)--for me, the most notable was getting to see Frank Sinatra when I was 8. It was the city that's fallen apart over the years, failing to really rebuild, or innovate industrially. It tugged my heartstrings.

I may never leave Brooklyn, but I still have a Michigan drivers license. It's been impossible for me to give it up. (Not just because they make it so damn easy to renew in the state of car culture.) But because once that goes, I've made the final split. Intellectually, I'm ready. But I'm a creature of nostalgia and sentiment--soon enough I'll just bite the bullet. I pay taxes here. I should probably get around to voting here too. But getting to say I'm from Detroit gives those of us lucky to say so a sense of pride--it's gritty and tough. I'm not some California lightweight. It's hard to let go.

The transition is tough, maybe because my family is also abandoning Detroit one by one. It's not just me who has gotten up and left (though I was first)--it's everyone. My parents won't be too far behind, that is as soon as one of us gets around to giving them a grandkid. And when that era ends, I'll consider it one of life's semicolons, like my dad says.

Someday I want to take my children to Up North Michigan to have summers on the Great Lakes looking for Petoskey stones and walking around Mackinac Island, riding bikes and eating fudge. I want my kids to love hockey (only the Red Wings, of course) and call it pop not soda. I want them to drive cars in ways that would make their Michigan family proud. And maybe they'll get to lay a little claim on Detroit too, because it'll always be home to me, even if I can't go back.