I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about what I’m going to do after I graduate. At this point, my response is like a reflex: “I’m not sure where I’m working yet, but I’m applying to entry-level production jobs at broadcast news networks in New York City.” If I had a nickel for every time I said some rough iteration of that sentence, I’d have a lot of unused nickels lying around my house. (Why are nickels still a currency?)
Slowly, though, my conversations about life after graduation are becoming less hypothetical. Spring Break marks the semester’s halfway point — and just a few days ago, I officially applied for graduation. The end is near (cue stomach ulcer), and though I feel ready to get out there, work and embrace life as a member of the so-called “real world,” I’m also suffering from crippling waves of nostalgia and anxiety.
I’ve been trying to figure out when Ann Arbor became a second home and not just the city where I take classes. I think it started when I agreed to live with my roommates — Matt and Casey — toward the beginning of sophomore year. Matt’s nursing rotations and course load made it virtually impossible for him to come tour houses, so Casey and I resorted to walking the streets of Kerrytown, going door to door and asking students to see their homes. That’s how we found the place we live now. We saw it once. There wasn’t even a “For Rent” sign out front. It was just lucky. When we put down the deposit, Matt hadn’t even seen the apartment.
The promise of living in our house junior year got the “home” vibe rolling at an otherwise difficult time. I’ve written about this before — sophomore year was hard for me. I felt isolated. I couldn’t find the motivation to do practically anything. I didn’t like the classes I was taking. I felt trapped in my dorm, where I had to enter a code to use the bathroom. Without a doubt, I reveled in the support of friendships when everything else was so frustrating. I appreciated that there were people who I cared about and who cared about me right back. That helped.
But Ann Arbor really started to feel more like a home when we moved into our house. We gained a great deal of responsibility, the three of us. We had to pay rent, electricity bills and cable bills. It was the first time any of us had to do that. Since then, we’ve all gained a better understanding of what it means to handle our own finances responsibly. I overdrew a debit card for the first time and learned to regularly check bank statements to make sure I have enough funds before mindlessly spending on things I don’t need.
We had to wash our own dishes instead of letting them pile up in the sink (cough, Casey, cough). We had to do our own grocery shopping and cook our own meals instead of swiping into dining halls. This was huge. It’s become a meaningful ritual in our house, and few things are more satisfying than parading our brown bags full of provisions up the steps. I recently made a joke to Casey that our elation when we return from Trader Joe’s must parallel the emotions of hunter-gatherers returning with animal carcasses and vegetables.
We started going to Mr. Stadium Coin Laundry & Dry Cleaning to wash our clothes, because our unit doesn’t have a washer or dryer. I learned that detergent pods are best put at the bottom of a top-loading washing machine — otherwise they might not disintegrate properly and could inconveniently leave sticky residue on my clothes. Ultimately, I learned that liquid detergent is superior to its pod cousin.
Living in Kerrytown meant strolling around the neighborhood and exploring the areas where not only students but also real Ann Arbor residents live. We constantly take walks — one friend recently compared us to 65-year-old men. One of our favorite routes, among others: meander down to Depot Street near the train tracks, across from the dog park (yup, there’s a dog park), through the human park, past Casey’s Tavern (a real place, we have coasters), back up Main Street and around toward our home again.
I suppose Ann Arbor started feeling even more like home once the novelty of each household activity gave way to established routines. Doing chores in our home is like clockwork now. Our collective comfort while cooking in the kitchen has made it fun to invite friends (whether it’s one or 14) over for dinner. Our trips to the laundromat are reliably three hours on the dot; it’s not infrequent that we head over to Benny’s Family Dining for solid diner food while our clothes are in the dryer, and it’s common knowledge at this point that I take the longest to fold afterward (I’m very particular).
Ann Arbor feels like home because it’s not foreign anymore. I’ve talked with my dad, a University of Michigan alum, about this before. You can probably imagine where you grew up in great detail. What does your block look like? I bet you can see every house. How do you get to your best friend’s place? You could recount the exact routes and street names, imagine the scenery. What does home smell like? It’s hard to describe, but you know it. We all do. When I first got here, I couldn’t answer those questions about Ann Arbor. But now that this experience is coming to a close, I’ve come to realize that whenever I’m not here, my vision of Ann Arbor is as crisp and precise as my vision of home back in Los Angeles.
Now, I have the same fears I had when I left home for Michigan in 2013. Previous concerns about not going to school with my best friends have been replaced with the knowledge that I’m not going to work in the same city as many of those who are part of my Ann Arbor family — they’ll be spread all over the country. I’m likely not going to live in the city where I grew up, and I have mixed feelings about continuing to live so far away from my family. I still don’t have long-term certainty about what my future has in store, nor do most of us. And all of this is compounded by the fact that in a month and a half, I won’t have official, school-sanctioned breaks to reliably convene with the people I care about in a central location. The things that I do in a workplace are going to start having consequences beyond a letter grade and grade point average.
So, it’s all going to test whether or not this experiment of living on my own with two buddies in a funky little subdivided apartment in Kerrytown as a student was successful preparation. One of my grandparents calls this kind of thing a “passage.” It’s like growing pains between an old phase and a new one, and though it’s not comfortable, it’s necessary. All things considered, then, I’m ready and raring to get out there into a world beyond this college campus. But I’ll miss it dearly.
Michael Sugerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.