Stand in the inescapable rain and question everything. Then once you’ve figured it out, question it again. Stop on the corner of Main Street and watch the white walking signal turn to red, then back again to white. Sit down next to a man playing the violin with a wolf mask on his face and listen for a few hours, because the city is talking to you.
Most of the time, Ann Arbor spins me in circles and leaves me dizzy, forces my eyes shut after long days and then somehow manages to force them open again every morning with the eastward sun. Most days, the only word I want to use to describe Ann Arbor doesn’t sound flowery — Ann Arbor is not beautiful or alive or freeing, it’s lonely.
In four weeks, Ann Arbor will be rid of a huge percentage of students following the end of the winter term, but the 40,000 here now already make me feel like I’m the only living thing for miles. Standing on the Diag on the hour, it’s like everyone around me is a different species or worse, playing an entirely different game with rules no one bothered to tell me.
It’s April 1 and I’m not in the joking mood. I would be overjoyed to write about the warm sun and how it feels for spring to have finally sprung, but it hasn’t. As I am writing this, it is overcast and the weather predicts ice showers and lows of 15 degrees for the coming week.
Ignore everything I’ve written so far about the hidden treasures Ann Arbor holds just awaiting discovery, because the seasonal depression everyone talks about is real and it hit hard on myself and on my peers in the past month as we all wait for one warm weekend. Ann Arbor is cold, and our relationship mirrors that of my relationship with the Ross boy who sleeps next to me on Friday nights — once a week it’s pretty great, but most of the time I could take it or leave it.
I see photos of Pasadena taken on my brother’s iPhone that induce dreams of California beaches and rollerblades and burgers that don’t taste like they’ve previously been frozen longer than I’ve been alive.
Ann Arbor is cold, and it will not be sympathetic to you. It is recklessly ambiguous and will be heartlessly honest with you when you are indeed wearing that mini skirt in the middle of January or you go to NYPD for a slice and the guy serving it to you knows you by name. Ann Arbor will tell you when you’ve got a problem and I know because I get told a hell of a lot by this city that I am in the wrong. That what I want is wrong or that I made a mistake, a quick reminder that my mother is 800 miles away and there will be no warm dinner waiting in the oven for me tonight and there will be no one to stop me from standing on the street looking like a lost puppy, watching colors turn until things make sense.
And then I remember that this is exactly what I’ve always wanted. The loneliness that follows the first few years of freedom is normal; at the very least we can take solace in knowing we are surrounded by seas of people who all feel alone. The Keds I got just three years ago remind me that, while Ann Arbor has gone around the sun time and time again, twenty is a new decade for me, so it might be alright to not be quite so hard on ourselves. Ann Arbor is the city a whole lot of people live in alone for the first time, taking our proverbial virginities and welcoming us to reality.
It’s unbearable at times, but the truth is, you never forget your first.