Thank You, Michigan
“My mind drifts like the snow.”
–The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Growing up with many relatives and friends from all over California, my perception of the United States used to be the West Coast stereotype—a sunny state with hardly any snow in the winter, flashy new cars swerving on the freeway, picturesque Hollywood backdrops, and of course, Disneyland.
I always knew there was more to the U.S. than theme parks and celebrity handprints on cement, but I never really went out of that formula until last month.
I visited Nunica, Michigan, not to look for popular tourist destinations, but to find healing. If you’ve been following my story, you may remember how I lost my boyfriend to depression in 2012, and the difficult journey I’ve had since.
His mother and younger brother live here now. As soon as I stepped out of the Grand Rapids airport and into the -9° Celsius countryside, I knew that this was no usual vacation.
During the last two weeks, I immersed in the life of Tom and Cherry Schmidt of Nunica, where the only restaurant in town is a few blocks from their house, and the local bar isn’t a safe place to be on a Friday night.
I ticked a few things off my bucket list, such as having my first real Thanksgiving dinner (which they organized for me a few days ago) and trying out one of Michigan’s lost sports, Pickleball (a cross between tennis and Ping-Pong).
Mom Cherry’s new husband, Tom, amazed me with his Superman skills—fishing, truck driving, sailing, flying a plane, carpentry, and plumbing, among many others. He renovated his century-old house on his own, from maintaining the old-school radiator to keeping wild animals at bay.
Mom Cherry, on the other hand, has adjusted well to this domesticated life that is the complete opposite of her glitzy social life back in Alabang, Philippines. She’s kept a tight group of Michigan friends who bond over Pickleball every morning at Spring Lake Fitness Center, and she gives back to the community by teaching hula dance for free at Four Pointes Senior Center.
I braved the winter weather to explore the frosted trees outside the Schmidts’ barn, tried my darnest to look for moles and wild rabbits, lured the wild birds and deer with leftover bread, and groomed Pusa the deaf rescue cat who is too attached to the house furnace. I met new friends (mostly twice my age) who understood my story and even shared their own. I took water aerobics classes with a dozen senior women at Spring Lake’s pool and charmed the instructor Lucy to let me end my session by sliding down the multi-level waterslide.
In my photographs, I was smiling again—the kind of smile that I thought I completely lost in 2012. This town has taught me to live life simply, that coffee with friends is better than drinks with strangers at a night club, that it’s sometimes better to mail a card instead of a Facebook message, and that all you need is a pair of steady hands to get work done—a refreshing change from the fast-paced and anxious city life I grew up with.
Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks, but I’ve finally learned to handle it not with despair, but with hope.