I think I may have fallen half in love with Detroit. The strange thing is that I feel I've been here before, although I haven't, of course, I've just seen pictures. These pictures feature my newly-married parents at their youngest and most untethered---even as the first child, I wouldn't come along for a few more years---and the quality is grainy and blurred, the colors washed out, the edges rounded in the way drugstore-developed pictures from the 1970s often were. In this cache of pictures, my parents range from 24 to 27. It startles me to think the oldest they ever were in Detroit was the age I am now.
And here I am. I arrived in the darkness of an early Wednesday morning, dazed and dazzled, clicking along the traveling walkway of the sparkling and desolate McNamara terminal in my inappropriate cowboy boots. I should have taken the indoor shuttle, I realize that now, but something compelled me to walk, and so I walked and walked and walked, willing myself awake, at least for as long as it would take to check into the airport hotel for a shower and a snooze before my first afternoon meeting. On the plane, I'd been dreaming, constantly, that there was an earthquake. Turbulence will do that to you, I guess. Or is it living in San Francisco that'll do that to you?
Falling asleep finally in the half-light of the morning, horizontal at last, I realized I hadn't turned my cell phone on again since shutting it off in San Francisco. From my mother, there was a text message: "Welcome to Detroit---the first bit of American soil I ever set foot on." A few days earlier, my father had sent me an email: "If you're in Dearborn, look out for the Hunter Inn, where I spent my first ever night in America."
Here's a secret: I wondered if by simply being in Detroit---by breathing the same air, seeing the same sky, photographing the same buildings as my parents once did---something might reveal itself to me. I wondered, perhaps, if a clue would be given as to what, exactly, kicked off this great DNA-transmitted love affair with America, with moving, with beginning all over again. Could I trace it, I wondered, this family history of wanderlust, the way you'd trace a record of heart disease or cancer? Could I pinpoint it, the moment my parents fell in love with being somewhere else?
At the end of my second day in Detroit, I'm overwhelmed by an eerie rush of emotion I can't get a handle on. Every minute presents another case of deja vu. "I know that building!" I'll cry from the front seat of the car, face pressed against the window, and the others will turn to me: you said you'd never been to Detroit, you said you lived in San Francisco. Everything awes me: the brown of the buildings against the blue of the sky, the broken windows like missing teeth, the church spires I somehow wasn't expecting. "The leaves!" I'll cry, as we crunch through banks of ochre and saffron. "Look at them!" These leaves are the most beautiful leaves I've seen in my life. I want to roll in these leaves, dance in these leaves, scoop up handfuls of these leaves and take them home with me to look at. "Oh, they've been better," shrug the others, Michigan natives all. But how could they be better, I think. Don't you see them? They're perfect.
I hadn't expected this, you know, this feeling of kinship. Or rather, I had expected it. I knew---despite the wrinkled brows and the befuddled rudeness of "you're going where?", despite the desolation and decay---that I'd love Detroit. I hadn't expected the feeling to slam into me like an eighteen wheeler truck is all.