A Eulogy For My Hometown
I just got back from a long weekend in Chicago. I was there to spend some time with my friend, and to see a few Hold Steady shows. It was nice. I loved the neighborhood my friend lives in now; it was quiet, and the buildings were old, and reminded me of the neighborhood I currently live in.
Coming home after each trip has become increasingly harder. I spend the next few days completely depressed that I'm back in my hometown, where I've lived my entire life so far. Only this time, I actually sat and thought about why I feel so awful when I come back to northeast Ohio.
I've been in Akron my entire life. I was born at Akron General Hospital 25 minutes before Thanksgiving in 1976. I grew up in a blue collar, heavily Appalachian expat neighborhood near a few lakes and not much else. My family never worked in the rubber industry. My mom's family came to Akron for a job in insurance. My dad's dad worked for the electric company, I think. I'm not sure what brought his father to the area from West Virginia, but if I had to guess, it was probably just because there were more opportunities here.
I grew up very poor in a single parent household. I went to public schools, which were rough and overall terrible. I stayed in state and went to a state college, which I do regret. I stayed here mostly out of feeling obligated to stay behind and take care of my family.
Akron to me has always been a city that has been looking back on past victories. Hell, they still call it The Rubber City, and there hasn't been much in the way of rubber industry or the related jobs here in many, many years. I've worked in buildings that used to belong to the rubber companies. I've watched this town be torn down and slightly rebuilt a million times, only to watch it collapse all over again.
Currently, Akron is the epicenter of the opiate crisis. There is also a housing crisis and a rising number of homeless people, living in tent camps and wherever else they can survive. Our elected officials are crooks and liars, much like you'd find in any other weathered Rust Belt city. Our newspaper is failing, our roads are always under construction, and the answer to making the city look good is throwing a mural on the side of a building. The weather doesn't help; this summer has either been unbearably humid and overcast, or rainy and overcast. I've been able to go outside and go to the pool maybe four days this summer.
I have spent many years traveling, finding my own connections with people who inspire me. If I want to see live music or comedy, I have to leave town (which is fine, I love leaving). I am lucky to be able to go to different cities and hang out with people who are going to show me all of the cool things to see and do. Chicago has the best clubs to see live music. Detroit has a vibrant arts scene, and where else can you go and dance your pants off with friends all night and end up on the stairs of Motown at 4am? Only recently have I started looking at things like job listings and housing. And guess what? There are jobs that I could see myself doing, and they pay a real, living wage! And housing is more than what I am paying where I currently live, but I would also be able to make nearly double what I am currently making.
For a long time, Akron was a muse. Living in Akron has made me appreciate blight, crumbling facades, and dead malls. But now, Akron feels like the proverbial albatross around my neck. So, I've made a decision: I don't really want to talk about Akron anymore. I've always aligned myself with Akronites on social media, and have done my fair share of talking and complaining about the area. But now? I don't care. Akron isn't a central character in my writing, or really in my photography. I live in Akron and I will always be from Akron, but I do not really care about much of what is going on here. I don't want my identity wrapped up in my hometown. So I don't plan on getting wrapped up in the what ifs and the circle of clapping that gets nothing done in this town.
I want to continue to live quietly, as I have these past couple years, and figure out how to get out of town. I want to continue to thrive with my husband, and I know that we would both be better off in another town. I will continue to be involved with organizations around town that I believe in. Just because I'm leaving doesn't mean that I don't want to leave it better for someone else, you know?
I am also prepared for this to take a few years, because i've learned through therapy that the best things take time. And honestly, I want to leave and never come back, other than to visit family. But even at that, I'd rather just buy my mom a plane ticket and have her come and see me for a few weeks, instead of coming back here.
So, Akron, it's been something. But it's time for me to live a life that I'm happy with, in a town that isn't here. It's not me, it's you.