For the first two years we were married, Mr. Willoughby and I lived in an apartment in the city where I grew up. It was a nice place, but a little outdated. Our refrigerator was the kind with the tiny freezer that you have to defrost every few weeks and there was no dishwasher. It had a huge living room, though, and a decent sized bedroom. We were happy there except for the fact that we had no balcony and there was no common area outside where we could barbecue or enjoy sitting outdoors. We finally made the decision to move when our air conditioner (a wall unit) froze up and started pumping hot air into the living room on a 90+ degree evening.
Our search for a new apartment didn't take long. We found a great place in Bloomfield Hills. If you're not familiar with Bloomfield Hills, it's a wealthy area with a mixture of high end homes and mansions, for the most part. We couldn't believe that we found an affordable apartment there, but we did. It was a little smaller than our previous one, but it was much nicer with an updated kitchen and a big balcony that overlooked a grassy area bordered by trees. It also had a pretty duck pond on the grounds. There were walking trails adjacent to the property that lead to a lake community. It was everything we wanted.
During the time we were living in Bloomfield Hills, my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Her grasp on reality was slipping to the point that it was becoming dangerous. She had begun to do things like unplug the refrigerator, causing all the food to spoil, without having any memory of doing it. When it became apparent that she could no longer live alone, she moved in with my parents. Not long after, her condition worsened and she needed constant medical care. She moved from my parents' house into a nursing home.
My family got together and spent weekends cleaning all of the things she would no longer need out of her house. It was clear that she would never again live there and my parents were at a loss over what to do with the house. It was a big, beautiful brick Tudor in Detroit's east side.
In the mid 1940's when my grandparents bought the house, the neighborhood had been upper middle class. All of the homes were in the English Tudor style with ornate woodwork and plasterwork inside. Manicured lawns and old elm trees lined the streets. Many of the households, including my grandparents', had cleaning ladies. It had been a prestigious place to live.
Over the years, urban decay found it's way to the neighborhood and it started to look a little shabby. The beautiful trees that had once formed a canopy over the street were overtaken with Dutch Elm disease and had to be removed. There absence revealed broken windows, unkempt lawns and security doors. It was sad to see such a rapid decline, but my grandparents still loved the area and refused to move. Even after my grandpa's death, my grandma couldn't imagine calling anyplace else home.
One weekend, while we were finishing up the cleaning, Mr. Willoughby and I started talking hypothetically about living there. We walked from room to room, admiring the craftsmanship and the details of the house. We talked about what colors we would paint the rooms and where we would put our furniture. Even as we drove back home to Bloomfield Hills, we couldn't stop talking about it. We knew it was crazy to move from our safe environment to crime ridden Detroit, but we wanted to do it anyway.
Over the next few months, we spent all of our free time updating the Detroit house. We pulled up the old carpet and refinished the hardwood floors, painted and wallpapered the rooms and replaced the kitchen countertops. It was everything we had hoped it would be. We were ready to move in just before the first snow of the season.
Our commute to work was longer than it had been in Bloomfield Hills, but for the first year, we loved everything else about living in Detroit. There were some great restaurants nearby, we had no problems with crime, and we got along well with the neighbors. In May of that year, we found out we were expecting our first child and turned the bedroom next to ours into a nursery. Things couldn't have been better.
After our son was born, we started to notice some changes on the street. The wonderful next door neighbors sold their house to a family that immediately stopped caring for the property. The grass was no longer cut, old car batteries and trash littered the back yard and there were loud gatherings going on all hours of the day and night. The oldest daughter's boyfriend carried a handgun with him and would shoot it into the air for fun. We started to worry about having a bullet come through the walls or windows. It got to the point that I wouldn't take our son outside to play or for a walk in the stroller unless Mr. Willoughby was home. I was afraid all the time.
The last straw came one Saturday morning when the mother from the house next door came pounding on our front door. She demanded to see my husband, who wasn't home at the time. She claimed he had made a rude remark to her youngest son and said if he did it again she was going to shoot him. I knew he hadn't said anything to the little boy, but I was terrified. I called Mr. Willoughby, who was helping my brother move to his new house, and told him to come and get us. I wanted out and I didn't want to go back.
We spent the next few months living with my parents until we found the house we live in now. We never spent another night in the Detroit house. Before we had a chance to get all of our things out, someone broke in and stole our microwave, our answering machine and some other things. They had gotten in by forcing open a locked window on the back of the house. When I saw how easily it had been jimmied, my blood ran cold. What if we had been home at the time?
I had nightmares about being forced to move back to that house for a long time afterward. I still do once in a while. In them, we're home when the house is broken into and we're all shot and killed. I'm always so glad to wake up and find myself in this house. It makes me appreciate living in a small town in the middle of nowhere that much more. The first spring after we moved here, my son and I were planting seeds in the backyard when I realized that, for the first time in a long time, I wasn't looking over my shoulder worried about being shot or mugged.
Mr. Willoughby and I still talk about that house and how beautiful it was. We drove by it last year on our way home from a concert in the city. It looked empty and neglected, as did most of the neighborhood. We don't regret our decision to move there when we did, though, because we would never have considered having a baby when we were living in a one bedroom apartment so we wouldn't have had our son for a few more years. I'm still glad we got out of there when we did. We probably should have done it sooner.