In the days leading up to my residency I mused on what I thought I would like most about it. I prefer to have an idea in my head before I jump, always, even if it gets scrapped mid-air. What I did not anticipate was how much rural central Wisconsin would remind me of Ann Arbor.
Moving away from my hometown has been different than I expected. They say you can never go home again, and to some degree that is true. I expected to always feel the elation of home when I got off the highway onto Main street, but that has faded to a quieter whisper of familiar and remember when. The truth is, the longer I spend away from Ann Arbor the more my mind rearranges my memories for me. I call it "The Good Times Composite".
In the Good Times Composite the store side of the People's Food Co-op is always stuck in 2009, and everyone I love is on shift including those now dead and gone. On the other side of the co-op it is forever 1996, and it is pizza day at the Wildflour Bakery.
In the Good Times Composite I live on Washington, in the Old West Side, during the spring when the wetland by the YMCA explodes in tiny frogs and the sidewalks go mossy. I live on Spring street in the summer, and all of my friends and lovers are less than a block away and steal tomatoes and kale from my front yard garden, which is so abundant that I don't register the loss. In the fall I am on Main street, at Pete's old house that was knocked down, watching the students drive into town from the relative comfort of the sun-lit porch roof. I live on the Northside in the winter, when the train whistle is especially comforting and the trails by the river are a bit of salvation.
In the Good Times Composite a Saturday means Kiwanis, and the farmer's market, and because it's a composite it also means working the Gardenworks stall high on sugar rolled donuts and smoked fish, barefoot on the cement and bumping hips with Chelsea.
In the Good Times Composite going out to eat means Jerusalem Garden on a chilly night, when the windows are fogged and there isn't anywhere to sit. It means a burger from Kosmo eaten at the counter while someone buys $200 of fish right behind you. If you really stretch it, it could mean the lunch special at Dinersty, with an appetizer of chewy sweet tarts that stick to the table.
In the Good Times Composite dusk has everyone finding their way to the Miner Street house porch for mix tapes and cheap beer and overlapping conversations, and buddies appear out of the dark well into the night because we are on the way to everywhere they could be going.
I get homesick sometimes, drowning on nostalgia like this. I can't go back to any one of those times. Houses get knocked down. Gardens grass over. Lovers move away, friends die, and beloved shops and restaurants close up. I don't live there anymore, but that particular "there" doesn't exist anyway and never did.
But. In rural Wisconsin this past weekend, I walked into the Stevens Point Food Co-op and took a big breath of Wildflour Bakery air. Did you know your mind could preserve a smell memory for 22 years, untouched? Did you know it might make you cry tiny sobs as you browse the honey, because you can't go back, and there are people you love who you can't hug again and living the past and the present simultaneously will break your heart.