THIS IS MY STORY.
In July 2009, I had only one thing on my mind: I couldn’t wait to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had visited maybe twice before, for a football game and a stop at China Gate (because everyone drives into town just for that, right?) Most of all, I was so ready to leave home and start a new chapter with the love of my life. No one believed I was going. If you know me, you know I live and die for my family and friends, the people that have known me for so many years through ups and downs and in-betweens. Truthfully, it did pain me to leave them behind, but I knew it was something I had to do for myself, to see other things, focus on my own relationship, and keep growing.
During my first months in Ann Arbor, I took everything in with great enthusiasm. My teeny new apartment was cheap as hell, but easy biking to campus and Main Street. There were so many new restaurants and bars to sample, tons of people watching to do, lots of coffee shops to burn away afternoons in. It was fresh, and I immediately felt like I was in a place where people really loved their city. It was vibrant, alive, busy: all the things I felt Buffalo was lacking when I left. I was a happy newbie.
Time went on. That cutesy cheap apartment revealed the worst neighbors on the face of the planet, which I easily could have turned into a blog of it’s own. These people, no lie, were the scum of the Earth. Everyone who heard our stories couldn’t believe we had to deal with it. Turns out, that short bike ride to campus and Main Street was ALL uphill. Why didn’t I see that before?! The restaurants were still pretty great, but for a young graduate student couple, we could barely afford to take part in most of them. Things were going great in our relationship, but suddenly, that wasn’t enough. So, what changed?
I changed. I started to miss my hometown badly, and it probably didn’t help that I was just a ‘quick’ 4.5 hour car ride away. I spent as many weekends as possible with my people. The people who understood my likes, dislikes, my taste in music, my fashion sense, and of course my undying love of professional sports teams who never seem to win. That is my identity, and I started to feel like I didn’t fit into the organic, anti-GMO obsessed, fairy-laden (that’s not derogatory, that’s a real thing here), Toms and hemp, uuber progressive, often snobby, folk music loving, bicycling-through-rain-and-snow, lake vacation culture that Ann Arbor specifically, was built on. I started to shut down.
Starting my grad program at the University of Michigan seemed like a natural next step for me, and hopefully the boost I was looking for. If you can’t beat em, join em, eh? I was so excited to finally feel like I had a place in the community. I had built in ‘friends’ that I saw everyday and actually got a chance to do some young-people activities (drinking on campus) with them. It kept me young, for a bit. I still am grateful, not only for the great people I met during that time, but also for the opportunity to be the first person in my family to earn a Master’s degree. I did that. I am proud.
Still, with that hard work came more feelings of discontentment. My friend circle whittled back down to a close few. Jobs in education? Ha, good luck. In a town where there are like 5 major colleges within a short driving distance, the outlook isn’t awesome. My early experiences in the education field were pretty far from positive, and I was left feeling quite depressed about my second career choice. This is what I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on. I shut down some more. I gained 25 pounds. I started having severe back problems. My hair began to turn grey. Things weren’t awesome.
A bright spot in the darkness: my dream came true. The whole reason for my journey to Ann Arbor was the thing I care about most in the whole world: my now husband. He proposed to me one winter night and suddenly, I was thrown into the whirlwind of planning a wedding, from a distance. We got married in Buffalo on June 23, 2012, and it was nothing short of magical. Except the DJ. Do not get me started on that friggin’ DJ. The following summer brought a glorious Mexican honeymoon, and an entire 6 weeks with my beloved family at home while the hubs was on a project overseas. Every time I was home, I noticed how much more I felt like myself. I felt happy and at peace. This did not help change my mind about things. When he returned, I had to gather up all I could muster to face… another year of living in Ann Arbor.
I totally understand if you’re reading this and thinking, “shut up, big baby.” I know. I get it. I won’t pretend that my mindset wasn’t hugely created all by myself. When I left in 2009, I had a goal in mind. I wanted to marry the love of my life. I wanted to build a life with him. We did, and now, I was ready to leave for the next chapter. In my mind, A2 was always a temporary situation, and I felt we had maxed out all we were meant to do here. I also had not planned for how homesick I would become. If you’ve never left everything you’ve ever known/loved/etc. behind to do something different, then maybe you can’t call me a big baby. You try it, then we’ll talk. Everyone’s different, but this was how it all went down for me. My journey was a very personal one.
Anyways, my final year in A2 took a lot of mental cheerleading to get geared up for. I knew that I was going to work a job that was mostly a means to an end. I knew that it was another ‘one more year’ scenario for my husband’s job, as it had been each year before. I knew about my tendency to get really down and shitty for the winter. It was a long, long winter.
On New Years Eve 2012, I made a decision to devote myself to something I’ve always wanted to do: this blog. I knew I wanted to write every day, to share it with people, and to write about things I found enjoyable, funny, and most of all, not important or earth-shattering in any way. From that day on, I had a hobby again. It opened my mind to doing other, new things, too, and also starting fresh with Ann Arbor. I wasn’t sure what would happen by summer, but I knew that if I was going to live any kind of meaningful life, I had to wipe the slate clean, and start rediscovering the city I was so enchanted by in the beginning. Hence, the birth of The Ann Arbor Sampler. I feel grateful that I was able to spend the last 6 months seeing the town through new eyes, make some awesome, witty, smart new friends, and live more in the moment.
In this, my last week in Ann Arbor before I get to start that next chapter I’ve been waiting for, I’m reflecting on all of the fabulous things that make A2 probably one of the shiniest cities in all of Michigan. Let’s face it, there are some really dull parts of Michigan. Sorry! You were thinking it, too. This week, I’ll feature all of my personal favorites in town- whether I had time to write up samples for them or not. Also, I’ll introduce (or re-introduce) you to some of my favorite Ann Arborites. These are truly cool people that have made my stay much fuller and more enjoyable.
Thank you, Ann Arbor for 4 very interesting years. I’ll never forget ya. When I return to visit, I’ll be down that 25 pounds, because I’m still really, really pissed about that.