Because I’m doing most of my thinking and processing away from Flint, one of things I’m noticing is that although I have a lot of strong memories and images that have stayed with me from my experiences growing up there, I often remember the places as they were when I was fully immersed in the environment all the time. I visit frequently, and I’m aware of how things have changed, but I often need to check myself when working through a point of inquiry here in Iowa. I know that I have attitudes toward certain locations based on my own emotional history with those places, and that history colors my perception of reality.
I think most people think of high school with mixed dread and relief that it’s over. But I loved high school. I loved (most) of my classes and teachers. I had interesting and supportive friends who challenged me to think beyond myself and joined me in testing the boundaries that all teenagers test. I was incredibly grateful to attend a high school surrounded by people who were growing up in different kinds of homes than I was. When I think of Flint Central High School, I always feel a little bit of warmth and gratitude for the time I spent there.
Central closed in 2009. The windows are boarded up, the doors latched with heavy chains. The parking lot, like so many abandoned lots in Flint, is slowly being reclaimed by nature. And yet when I drive by Central on my visits home, I still feel the presence of so many students filtering in through the doors, swarming in the hallways (which always smelled like French fries and chocolate chip cookies).
In a small way, this is the effect I feel when I visit the places where I don’t have a personal history. There are so many empty spaces in Flint that are not empty at all. They are heavy with the weight of the past, and the reality of the present.