By Layla Meillier
I could not appreciate what Flint had taught me until I let myself fall in love. For years I dodged it; I could not even commit to a favorite color or TV show, let alone a person. When you’re not in love you can never be hurt in such a vulnerable way. As a young woman, I don’t blame this city for my lack of puppy dog love; I blame this city for my fear of feeling vulnerable.
My first love was a bike. A sleek hunk of purple pipe with sparkly wheels and handlebars. I collaged my bike in goofy stickers I had begged my mom to buy me at Rite-Aid one day. I was not permitted to leave my neighborhood, but I did not mind because my world seemed vast.
At the time, we lived on Mountain Avenue in the College Cultural neighborhood, a place in the city considered more suburban without a too-safe uniformity. The homes range in size and era of origin and the people tend to be very unique and artsy in this hood. They look out for one another. In other words, it’s a go-to spot for young couples moving to Flint with extra money. The house we had was a brick duplex that looked like a German cottage. My step-dad owned a glass company on the North end that has long since been closed down. In its day, the company did well. There is never a scarcity of broken glass in Flint.
“There is nothing we can do. The police are too busy with other things. This happens all the time.”Although I was told time and time again to put my bike in our door-less garage behind the house each night before bed, one night, like ya do, I forgot. I left the nose of my bike barely peeking out from behind the house. To my naive surprise, someone took it in the night.
The news of this evoked a sadness I was not familiar with at the age of 10. At 10, one cries easily, pouts easily, sobs easily, but I could not make a sound. I felt as though my eyes had turned to stone and I wished I could not see out of them. My parents told me about the theft in an awkward family meeting, standing in our cramped kitchen. They filled me in on the normalcy of this sort of situation in my hometown:
“There is nothing we can do. The police are too busy with other things. This happens all the time.”
I went to my bedroom in a haze. A week went by and I didn’t even go outside to play; instead, I took to throwing weird shit down our dumbwaiters and retrieving it in the basement laundry hamper. Then, one day, my bike was back!
“They found it,” was all I was told by my numbly shocked mother.
Years later, I was hanging out with my now ex step-dad, catching up around the holidays, and he was feeling a little toasty, “I lied to you that time when we were living on Mountain.”
“I lied about your bike.”
“What do you mean? What happened to my bike?”
“The police never found it.”
“Yes they did; it was my bike…”
“Yeah, but I found it. Not the police.” I stared at him in total shock, as he unfolded the tale of how he happened to be driving through the East side one day, looking for a house that needed an estimation pre-installation of new glass, in his big company truck and he noticed a yard that was ‘covered in colorful kid shit’ and he figured he’d check it out. Lo and behold, my bike was amongst the miss matched wreckage. He planned to confront the people living there, an attainable goal for a man of his size, covered in intimidating tattoos.
“I found your bike, laying on its side, on the ground.”
“Those bastards,” I said. I never let my bike lay on the ground, I always used my kickstand.
“Yeah, right, the bastards! So I stole the bike back.”
“What? In the middle of the day?”
“Yup. I went and knocked on the door but no one came. So I just took it. I slid it in my glass rack and took off.”
I needed some time to process this before I asked, naively, “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Well, because I never wanted you to think stealing back was the answer and I guess I didn’t want you to feel like the police can never help you.”
Fair enough. Either way, since that day, I’ve been paranoid about my stuff. I don’t feel so bad about losing things as having them exposed. I would rather my belongings be reasonably lost and safe than displayed. When I was a preteen and spent time walking around the city alone, I wore baggy clothing. I stuffed my hair up in a neutral cap but never put my hood up — with it up I can never see my peripherals — unless I felt terribly angsty that day like I didn’t care if someone came up behind me. Don’t leave your stuff out; don’t be a female; don’t wear pastels; don’t fall in love…it’s all too painfully vulnerable. Slowly, into my aged cheese adolescence, I concurred my neurosis and one day it hit me while I was lying in bed with my lover.
He was sleeping and I was not. I watched him for a few minutes, closed his jaw when it popped open and stank morning breath burned my eyes. I put my face real close up to his and pretended time had stopped in the moment just before a kiss and we were frozen. And then I got that feeling, like before when I should have been crying but I couldn’t and my eyeballs turned to stone. I realized he wasn’t vulnerable because I did not want to hurt him. I was taking entire ownership of my vulnerability and forgetting the dependence vulnerability has on external forces. What about trust? If you are trusting, you are vulnerable…but will external forces feel more inclined to hurt you if you trust them? No. Is life about always putting your bike safely in the garage? No.
I don’t typically wear my heart on my sleeve but when others need it, I leave it peeking out from behind the house and let them take it for a week. It’s easy to get let down by this city and get angry and look at everyone on the street like they might have to fight you but that just creates more problems. I’m still here because the lessons are complicated and I want more than anything just to learn how to be a good human being, to be vulnerable, and to love.
Layla Meillier is mostly a lifetime Flint resident. She is a workaholic and University of Michigan-Flint student; she enjoys odd jobs and doing theatre at Flint Youth Theatre. She lives in a neighborhood rich with stray cats and crackheads with her partner, a local musician.
This essay is an excerpt from Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology