The following is an excerpt by Richey Piiparinen’s piece in Rust Belt Chic: A Cleveland Anthology.
“A man is a god in ruins.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I didn’t so much grow up in Cleveland as I did into Cleveland, like a vine wrapping around a brick. My thoughts and interests became tied to its physicality, to its familiarity, and with the familiar comes longing and nostalgia for the way things used to be: the buttermilk at the Market, my grandma’s garden along the fence near the alley. But one memory in particular stands out.
As a kid in our yard behind our house on Colgate Avenue I remember the Labor Day weekends. The pre-fall summer sat so clear with its temperateness: that sky so great and blue with an expanse holding birds like hands holding peas. The city air shows were that weekend, and we lived near the Lake. So each year we had a show in our own backyard, with the mechanical expressions of Blue Angels flying sharp and low, their sounds tailing behind them to give the auditory illusion of torn paper if it was bottled up and amped before being let out to scream. And while beautiful—the precision, this power—I was a little afraid of the noises. And it was then that I’d look to him, my dad, for reassurance: a sign it was okay. And there he’d be on the back porch looking up smiling at the force overhead. His face expressed because of feelings similar to the relief I got by finding him there.
Fast forward to the present and I still live in Cleveland, and that’s the plus side of staying where you grew up: the closeness to memories can serve to give the past a presence. Yet there’s a downside. The past can’t exist intact. This is particularly true in the Rust Belt: the crumbling and abandonment and fires. The closings and leaving. All that physical deleting, then, serving as a constant reminder that so much of my past is gone. That my family as I grew up in it is gone. That my family as a father had just broken apart.
Sometimes the hurt is enough for me to want to leave Cleveland and start over. To say fuck it and make home merely a host. Because there’s a certain wisdom in becoming unattached, and this is illustrated beautifully in the novel You Can’t Go Home Again. In it, Thomas Wolfe writes:
Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement…And he never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began.
Cleveland kills in that sense. We grow from a place real enough to know that though our feet are rooted on solid ground, our hands reach out into everything that rusts.
To read the rest of the essay, purchase the book here or at your local Cleveland bookstore.