The Nest Leaves Me

My Mom & Dad Circa 1977

In June of 1977 (when I was 22), my mom and dad, who had been divorced for twelve years, decided to re-marry each other. My mom would be moving from our rented house in Ann Arbor down to Dayton Ohio to live with our dad there. My younger brother Peter, who was going to school in Chicago, would move down to Dayton with them for the summer, and then return to Chicago in the fall. I was a year away from completing school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, so had no wish to leave my home town, at least at this point. For the first time in my life, I was looking at being completely on my own, including having to find myself a new place to live.

I had spent the time since their divorce really getting to know my mom, witnessing her more as a human being like me than as some iconic parental figure (see “Bills on the Bed”). I had learned during that time that she had all the same sort of joys, concerns, fears, disappointments, frustrations and longings that I had. It was more than I could handle at times. That day she and my dad announced they were getting back together, I probably knew her better than anyone else had, before or since.

Admittedly I had a strong bias, since I would be losing my home base (with free rent) in my home town, but I really did not think it was a good idea for my folks to live together again. They had both grown so much as people since they separated, particularly my mom. She had built a life for herself in Ann Arbor with a strong circle of friends and several off and on romantic relationships with men (though none looking like they were moving toward marriage). She had become a feminist, a political and community activist.

Despite the fact that they were both older and perhaps wiser, I still judged them to be profoundly incompatible. My mom still wore her heart on her sleeve and shared her joys and angers freely. My dad still was passive-aggressive and hardly able to share any feelings at all. How could their restarted partnership possibly succeed with the same dynamic between them tearing their relationship apart? Peter shared my concerns and we noted with some ironic humor that we did not want them to separate twelve years ago, and we did not want them to get back together now.

But when they took the two of us to a Chinese restaurant in Ann Arbor to share their news, both Peter and I held back those thoughts and congratulated them. It seemed to me, for my mom at least, to perhaps be a move of some desperation. With Peter and I over 18 and off at school, my dad no longer had to pay child support. My mom had trained, gotten certified, and had started to sell real estate in Ann Arbor, but it was slow going for her. She really wanted a life partner, and none of the relationships she had had with men in Ann Arbor seemed promising toward that goal.

I actually played a lead role in organizing their move. Though my mom rented the U-Haul truck, my brother and I did a lot of the packing of the household stuff, and I was in charge of packing furniture, boxes, etc into the truck, which my dad drove down to Dayton. I followed, driving my mom’s Volvo station wagon, with her, my brother and our cat on board. I am not sure if they could have done it so easily without me. I was proud to be able to do it, and get all their furniture and other stuff to their rented house in south Dayton unscathed. It was my present to them (despite my unshared ambivalence) acknowledging their decision.

My main challenge in my own life was finding a new place to live. I had an ongoing job as a short-order cook at a restaurant in town, so I could afford to pay some (but not a lot of) rent. Lucky for me, just prior to my parents’ announcement, my friend Ned had asked me if I wanted to share his two-bedroom apartment with him. He had been living there with our friend Armen, who had decided to move back into his parents’ house in town. We were all students at the University.

Immediately after my parents shared their news, I called Ned from the pay phone at the restaurant and confirmed that I would be his new apartment mate. Prior to moving my folks down to Dayton, I moved myself into my new place on Division Street (just north of Hoover) about a mile or so west of our house of seven years by Burns Park that we were leaving.

After moving my family down to Dayton, I returned to Ann Arbor alone by Greyhound bus. I had taken that bus trip before, returning from weekends with my dad (when he had lived in Xenia nearby Dayton (see “Weekends with Dad”), but the trip had never been so charged with emotion as now. I was leaving my family in their new home 200 miles away and returning to my home town to chart a new life for myself on my own. In one year I would finish my classes, get my degree in Speech (with a concentration in TV and film production). But then what would I do? While I had continued to live with my mom in my home town, helping her with all her issues, it had been easy to focus in the moment and avoid thinking about my own future.

But on that bus ride back up to Ann Arbor, I was overwhelmed by the thoughts of my path forward. After one more year of classes at the University, there was no way that I was going to move to Dayton, a place that seemed like such a thin broth compared to my vibrant college town. But I also knew somehow that I was living life sheltered by all the warm and friendly environs and ghosts of my dear Ann Arbor. Developmentally, I needed to hurl myself in the deep end again (as I had done four years previously when I backpacked through Europe mostly on my own), or at least that felt like a path forward, lacking a more meticulously thought out plan.

For the past four years I had been caught in a space between adulthood and youth, captured so eloquently in Alice Cooper’s anthem/lament, “I’m Eighteen”. The lyric of his song that captured my thinking was…

I’m in the middle without any plans
I’m a boy and I’m a man
I’m eighteen… And I don’t know what I want
Eighteen… I gotta get away
I gotta get out of this place
I’ll go runnin in outer space… Oh yeah

Well I had certainly felt that way at age 18 as I stumbled through my backpacking through Europe odyssey. Now after four years of college classes, playing military simulation board games in dark basements, being schooled in feminism (see “My Feminist Aunts”), plus exploring recreational intoxicants and the magical side of life, I still didn’t know what I wanted.

So on that bus ride, I decided that I was going to plunge into the moment and enjoy every bit of my last year in my home town, and hopefully in the process what to do next would magically appear before me. And I did just that, living in that apartment with Ned, taking interesting television, film and history classes, and traversing those so friendly tree-lined streets of Ann Arbor.

And as I hoped, during that year a path forward emerged. The person behind the youth theater group (that had been so developmentally significant to me, see “JLO”) offered me a room in his house where he now lived in Los Angeles. I could come out and help him manage his young actors (in exchange for the room) and take my crack at working in the entertainment business. In retrospect, it was a hair-brained scheme that was not that well thought out… but it was a path forward.

FYI… I have written these pieces out of chronological sequence. For the next installment, see “Saying Goodbye to Ann Arbor”.

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2 replies on “The Nest Leaves Me”

  1. i plan to share this with my grandaughter. She will be moving out of the dorm after this semester and in with friends.

  2. Cooper Zale says:

    Carolyn… I am happy that you liked the piece and think it will be meaningful for your daughter. I would be interested to hear more about her story.

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