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Going “Home”

December 1, 2009

Have you ever been someplace, be it in a work environment, a social environment, a neighborhood or whatever, where you felt out-of-place; where you felt that you just didn’t belong? That’s how I felt growing up in Milwaukee. Part of it was that I felt that I was somehow born into the wrong life, but most of it was that I felt like I was in the wrong city. Is it possible that we are born with some primal connection to the land we inhabit? If so, can that connection somehow get it wrong?

Milwaukee for me will always be associated with decay and division. Milwaukee is notoriously one of the most racially divided cities in the United States. Having a white mother who lived on the south side and a black father who lived on the north side, this was particularly palpable to me as a child growing up. Milwaukee is also very historical, but to me it just felt old and decaying. This is not to say that I was unhappy growing up: I had many opportunities, good friends and great times in Milwaukee. I am one of the few individuals who can say that high school was one of the best periods in my life. But it still felt temporary. It is hard to explain, but as long as I can remember I just knew that I would get out of that place as quickly as I could.

When I was a senior in high school and it came time to look at colleges, I knew I wasn’t staying close to home. Most of my friends were going to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I applied there and was accepted, but I wanted to forge my own path, not continue on with an extension of high school. My dream school was Boston University, but unfortunately that was beyond our financial capabilities. So I ended up at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. It was just far enough away from home, yet close enough to make it back for vacations. I vividly remember feeling homesick that first week away from home. Quickly thereafter, I was able for the first time to create my own life.

Minneapolis felt like home to me. I loved the energy and creativity of the city. It felt more cosmopolitan and vital than Milwaukee. It felt alive instead of dying. Although I love Minneapolis, I don’t necessarily want to live out the rest of my years here. I would love to live in New York City (now that’s a place that felt like home the moment I set foot off the plane!) or someplace that was warm and sunny year-round. But for now, Minneapolis is my home: the home I created for myself; the life, friends, and family I have chosen.

I still feel out-of-place when I return to Milwaukee. I make it back about once a year and most of the time it feels like a chore. While I love seeing my mother and all of our old friends, I don’t feel completely comfortable in Milwaukee. It is just not my home any longer and more often than not I am reminded of bad memories. My most recent trip home did little to create positive associations for me. My husband and I were stuck in Greenfield most of the time (not a very swingin’ suburb) dealing with my dead half-brother’s possessions. Cleaning out his room filled with dust, decay, isolation, sadness, and cigarette butts was very symbolic: that’s pretty what Milwaukee feels like to me.

Obviously most people who live in Milwaukee really like it. There are lovely pockets, suburbs, and it has uniquely positive attributes. It is where my mother is and she is my family. There are people there that care about me and whom I care about. I don’t wish to disparage Milwaukee as a home or destination for anyone (okay: I sometimes do), I just know that it is never a place I could live in again (Oprah willing). I used to think that home was where I grew up, but now I realize home is wherever I choose to make it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. carrieb permalink
    December 1, 2009 10:54 pm

    Well, Oprah willing, I too will live in New York City one day! The rent is to the moon so we’d have to have a sassy, high paying job. Too bad we can’t make it on our good looks!

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