My earliest memory of falling in love with you was on Cortland Street where I was raised. My uncle Walter, whose DJ name was “Black Mac” used to spin records with two life-size speaker boxes that would bring the whole neighborhood out during the block parties. We never once asked you for permission, we just set-up road blocks so folks knew not to drive down the street. It was annoying how my God-sister Tish would always cut in front of me at the hamburger line while we laughed at the old folks trying to do the new dances. Cortland was a block that had living contradictions whether it was the corner church that sat directly across the liquor store or the way the sweet nice grandmother kept her grandson’s cocaine in the sugar jar. The night shift ladies would always tell you to “go home” when the street lights came on while the local street pharmacist always wanted to see your report card. Ms. Jones would host gambling parties Monday through Saturday while always finding time to prepare Sunday dinner. Oh yes, living in that gray of light and dark is how I knew I loved you because I knew then that my education in life was like none other.
I loved you when I first learned how to drive. You always considered it a Rite Of Passage to get your license at age 16. I remembered being memorized by you whenever my cousin GP and I would ride downtown on Jefferson Ave in the summertime. To an outsider, the streets looked like a late night traffic jam but to us, it was a live movie scene. I felt your smile when I approached that one girl for her phone number who was wearing the short red Guess jeans shorts with a white Wu-Tang Clan T-Shirt. We laughed together because Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” was playing at the same time as she was crossing the street. You loved how GP’s 6’2 wide frame and Jay-Z like smile could charm any girl with his ability to be smooth and make them laugh. You never told me to slow down as we drove fast around Belle Isle Park hanging out the window waving our middle fingers in the air to the world that we had yet to fully experience. You didn’t tell me because you knew I wouldn’t listen and why would I fear tomorrow’s warning when I was too busy loving you today?
I loved you because our love was pure like the girl next door who captured my emotional virginity whenever her mother wasn’t home. It was pure like that red cherry slushy I always got at the Dairy Queen on Linwood and flawless like those all-white Air Force Ones I bought at Northland Mall. But like all things pure, life soon enough will be tainted and when Adonis was killed, my Matrix was starting to develop a glitch. You were there when Adonis and I met in the 6th grade and we both admired how all the girls in school loved his curly hair added by a playboy devilish smile. The boys loved his rebellious nature and how he could recite 2Pac’s lyrics like they were his own words while sometimes claiming that they were. I still remember how my sister Mya collapsed in my arms as we approached Adonis’ casket at St. Cecelia’s Church on Livernois. The screams of Adonis’ sister pleading while the sadness of his baby brother’s face are moments you will never let me forget. You knew then that Adonis wasn’t going to be the last friend I lost to the life, however; it was the first funeral I attended where the deceased and I were the same age. Afterward, I stood there by the Renaissance building in my black suit and loosened tie, staring at the riverfront embracing your comfort as the wind that blew across my face dried my tears.
I still loved you but the next few years were the start of a cracked mirror. High School was over and although I was attending Wayne St while working a part-time job, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t perusing my full potential. It was from you that I learned how to nickel and dime with a few hustle scams but as I got older I began to see the danger in those practices. Whether it was the random dude who started shooting at me on my own porch steps missing by inches or plain common sense knowing that ain’t such things as half-way crooks. I started to look at you a little different when new so-called friends entered our circle spreading their methods of distrust amongst us. What I was having enough of; some of my friends were just getting started with. Old faces became new faces and things took a turn when my grandmother’s life came to an untimely end. My mother and I took care of her failing health for a year before she left this world. You remember how deserted I felt when only a handful of people showed up to her funeral after she helped so many. You more than anyone know that when I lost my grandmother, I changed forever. I never told you that I was flirting behind your back with the idea of leaving so when I suddenly up and packed my bags for D.C. to attend Howard University, I can understand now how you felt betrayed. But what you have to understand is that I feared life was forcing me to make a decision and you most importantly should know how I hate being forced to do anything. And even though I had to physically move to a new place for a better opportunity, the tattoo of your initial on my arm was a symbol of my loyalty.
To prove my loyalty to you, I made sure to come home every 3day weekend and book a ticket in advance for all upcoming holidays. I spent money I didn’t have and made phone calls every chance I got while keeping my same area code. However, resentment started to build between us as the years rolled by. I remember one visit where I felt my first moment of emptiness as I was driving down the Lodge with the windows cracked doing about 70miles per hour. I wasn’t sure where I was going because everyone I knew was busy doing something else. It had seemed that over the years time had taught everyone how to live without me. Some were adjusting to their new lives as parents while others like my cousin Lucky were on long vacations up north. Jobs were becoming hard to find so people were leaving you including my own mother who moved down south for employment. My older brother died of cancer and folks I grew up with broke into my grandmother’s house on Cortland. My big homie “Chill” who was starting to turn his life around for the better decided to walk away from a fight for the first time and was shot in the back of the head for it. He (Chill) died on your street on a cold spring night in front of his fiancée who cried on the front porch steps. Not to mention that the gentrification that was growing downtown was starting to fill the city with white people who were looking at me like I was the stranger in my own town. I felt like the financial sacrifices I was making to come see you were not appreciated. A decade had gone by and there was barely a handful of visits to see me in D.C. from you. The phone calls to check on me became fewer from you and I began to feel as abandoned as a building on 12th street. Despite my love for you, my Godson and niece, the feeling of joy I once experienced with each visit were transforming into anger. Within that moment, guided by resentment I decided to stay away….. for a while.
Not sure if it was the warmth, I felt in my heart from FaceTime with my GodDaughter, the missing sensation of Red Hot Better Made chips on my tongue, or simply time but I began to miss you. The east coast crowded train life could never fully replace the vibe of cruising down Woodward Ave during a full moon while Kendrick Lamar’s ADHD plays through my speakers. I had to acknowledge that watching you on my timeline wasn’t enough and my homebred emotions for you were yearning to be in your presence. First chance I got I came to see you. It had been a few years so I took the advice from a friend who was feeling the same way about you that I should take every experience as face value and learn to appreciate “new” good times. New feelings of pride like my sister’s community involvement and the good grades my niece gets in High School. Although it still saddens me to think of the friends lost in the game of bad choices, I give high praise to my brother Lucky who used his second chance opportunity to become an owner of 3 legit businesses and counting. There is still a sense of hollowness whenever I drive on Woodrow Wilson, through my old neighborhood to see the same abandon buildings with the ceiling caved in that had been around since I was a child. Despite the new developments around you, there are still places that trigger emotional setbacks of a time that can never be relived. I keep in check any old negative thoughts that might resurface by acknowledging the ever-growing optimism of resurgence around you.
Over the years it appears that you understood the reasons for my move were never because I was ashamed. On my end, I learned that you were never the cause of the negative things that happen to me but the source of how I overcame them. To love you is to love all of you. For every childhood heartbreak, there is also a memory of a smile and laugh I shared at the top of the Giant slide. You birthed and bred me to face life head on and to understand that taking a loss is only for a moment while quitting is forever. And yes, some friendships have died never to be relived but wisdom has taught me to appreciate and love the bonds that have strengthened with time. So yes, I still love you and that love is never easy. It is a love that is as gritty as the streets that relieve smoke from the ground in the morning. It is a love that you earn through every hardship and footnote of those experiences that prepare you for the world ahead. It is a hard love you feel with every dap embrace and gentle as hands held on the River Walk. It is a work hard every day to maintain blue-collar Chrysler type love that you do not run away from. That type of love is not a popular trend but a consistent commitment that you feel in the soul of your fingertips. So don’t ever think that I ever stopped loving you Detroit and no matter the journey ahead, you will always be with me and I will never be too far from you.