When I originally left Ohio, I swore I’d never be back. I just knew there was nothing left here for me. Why would anyone choose to be in Ohio? I was that person.
Somehow, it only took a four-day visit in November 2016 to change my mind. January 7, 2017, Floco and I packed up all the things in our lives that would fit in an SUV and hopped on I-75 North. We were a 12-hour drive away from our new life.
We arrived in Akron and found our way to our new apartment. The thing is, we’d never stepped foot in the house we were moving into. We scouted houses from more than 700 miles away, and our friends did the rest. We’d only seen pictures of the space and knew it was within our budget. Even those who don’t like Akron must acknowledge its affordability. We were floored when we walked in. Our new home was more than twice the size of our old one and nearly the same price.
After buying a stove, carrying it up three flights of stairs, realizing it was the wrong one, carrying it back down the stairs, going back to the store and carrying up another stove (whew), we were ready for our new life. We went to Giant Eagle for something and realized it is not the place to shop if you’re trying to save your pennies. Nothing against them, but we bought four things and it ended up being nearly thirty dollars and we couldn’t figure out why.
The same friends that helped us find somewhere to live immediately went to work immersing us in Akron (as well as gifting us long johns and blankets). We were trying to keep up. In the first week or two, we learned that West Hill and Highland Square aren’t the same thing, that Akronites think traffic lights are more suggestive than mandatory and that the library system is both amazing and taken for granted.
At the time, waking up was odd. I still wasn’t sure where I was. I’d met hundreds of faces. I was navigating my neighborhood by landmarks, the colors of buildings and the curve of the street. I was wearing five top layers, two bottom layers and snow boots for the first time since I was a child. “It’s been a mild winter,” we kept being told, and I would scowl, clinging to my cornucopia of layers. If this was mild, I wanted nothing to do with the alternative.
We’d moved to Akron without jobs, so our days started with searching for them and hoping we’d get them before we ran out of savings. When I said we’d taken a leap, I meant it. Many people would have been wary of moving to a new city with no job and an SUV full of their most important belongings. That’s understandable.
Soon, we found jobs, and I started trying to navigate the theatre scene in Akron. Finally, I was in my first show. I was welcomed with open arms to the Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s “Comedy of Errors.” I was very surprised to be cast, considering I’d only performed Shakespeare for classes in school. It was challenging and so much fun. OSF still holds a special place in my heart because of it. From there, I watched stunning, thought provoking pieces at New World Performance Lab, Coach House and none too fragile. I got to be the biggest nerd during Stage Fest, met my current director of the Illusions Factory, and it has spiraled out of control since then.
As I write this, we are two weeks away from our Akron anniversary. I don’t know if we will celebrate, but nevertheless it is a special day. I’m currently sitting in my living room in West Hill and looking at my first live Christmas tree and all I can think is, “We did it. We really did it.” And day after day, I feel more invested in this community.
I felt sad when Hattie’s closed and slightly frustrated at the appearance of Whole Foods on West Market when we have Mustard Seed. I got too excited about discovering Every Blooming Thing (because I need more plants), and I enjoyed going into Stagecoach Antiques and chatting with the owner.
Now I’m wearing less layers. I’m working an amazing project funded by the Knight Foundation. I’m acting in Akron and Cleveland. I went to my first Porch Rokr and danced so hard at the Silent Disco. I’ve had my picture taken by Shane Wynn. And now I’ve got my first ever Christmas tree. All of these little things have added up within an 11-month period. And despite the fact that I’ve still never eaten at Swensons, I have become an Akronite.
So, thank you, Akron. I know you get a lot of crap for not being Cleveland. I know that sometimes it’s hard to get people to believe in you and your future. I know sometimes you can’t see how amazing you really are. But believe me, you have given me one of the best years of my life. Thank you to our friends who helped us find our home and introduced us to the hundreds of faces that now have names. Thank you to all of those people who have given us the chance to make our mark on this city. Thank you, Akron, and happy anniversary.