I haven’t been very good about writing lately. (I sound like a broken record.) Aside from some journaling here and there and starting a few song ideas, I’ve allowed my mind to be distracted by other things… travelling, packing/unpacking, being outside as much as humanly possible, Harry Potter books (I’ve decided to read the entire series for the first time), putting the finishing touches on releasing new music, learning songs for sessions and shows, visiting my family, happy hours on patios, and my newly acquired love/hate relationship with Crossfit. (Yes, you read that correctly…Crossfit. I know.) It’s actually quite pitiful how much I think, “I should write today…about this…oh don’t forget you want to write about that…” and then I don’t. Case in point, I’m sitting at my kitchen table with the window open, listening to it storm outside. The dogs are all at my feet because they don’t like the thunder. I’m settling in and getting in a good headspace to start writing and I see my boyfriend’s car pull into the driveway with a much-needed new bag of dog food. So I feed them, I send a couple emails, I wash a few dirty dishes by hand, I check my Twitter, and I think how absolutely LOVELY it would be to curl up on the couch with these pups, listen to the rain, and read more Harry Potter (I’m halfway through Book 6.) But I have to write. Kind of like when I set my alarm for 4:50AM for a 5:30AM CrossFit class because it’s the only time of the day my guy and I can both go together. You dread it, you hate it, you want to push “Snooze” (and maybe you do once), but you know how much better you’ll feel once you’re done. That’s exactly what I’m hoping happens with writing this blog entry.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I won’t try to tackle even half of it in this entry today. You’d be reading for hours. I will, instead, commit to writing another blog entry by the end of this week. So there, I said it, feel free to hold me accountable.
I’d like to give this afternoon’s attention to my hometown. And my guess is, your hometown is probably an awful lot like mine. So I’ll proceed…
I was born in Garden City, MI, lived in a Polish neighborhood in Detroit the first few years of my life, and then moved 20 minutes west (with Metro Airport right beside us), to the suburb of Belleville, Michigan by the time I was a toddler. The first home I have memories of is the little brick ranch that sat off a horrendously pot-hole-filled road right behind what used to be Dimitri’s Kitchen (which I guess is now called Mike’s Kitchen). I made my very first friends there. Friends that I actually still keep connected with via social media. I lived in Belleville and only Belleville until the day I moved to Nashville, however, throughout my younger years, I ended up attending 3 out of the 5 different elementary schools within Belleville’s city limits. Don’t worry, I was uncool through all 3 schools, ha. Between 2nd and 3rd grade, my mother was expecting her 4th (and thankfully, last) child so we inevitably outgrew our little ranch. We relocated over the bridge, on the other side of Belleville Lake, to a brand new subdivision, where at the time, we were the 5th house being built in the whole neighborhood. Our new location had us directly beside Belleville High School and it was a dream for me to people-watch all the students, imagining my own “Saved By The Bell” episode when I reached those hallowed doors someday. Yup, it was a whole new world on the other side of Belleville…
Our new home was walking/bike-riding distance to Main Street and all the glorious things you can only truly appreciate when you’re a kid. Hours spent climbing and running all over Victory Park, sugar highs from Frosty Boy, hanging out by the library, loaded cheese fries from A&W, candy cigarette’s from the Dairy Mart, feeding the overzealous (and disgusting) carp off the boat docks at Reflections… It was sublime and as a child, I had no interest in knowing a life outside of my town.
I was a Belleville Cougar cheerleader when I was 8-10 years old, which lead me to cheerleading for South Middle School and the first couple years of high school. Turns out, I was too cynical & sarcastic to be a good cheerleader even at 9 years old, and I never outgrew it, who knew. I was heavily involved in dance and singing at Jan’s School of Dance. The owner/instructor, Jan Oliver, scared the hell out of me as a kid. She was strict but she was good, and she called me out on my laziness. She also gave me some of my first public singing performances at our dance recitals over the summer. I was involved in my hometown’s Strawberry Festival, whether it was singing/dancing in the parades, performing at the craft fairs, headlining on the ‘main stage’ with my comically bad band at the time, or coming in 1st Runner Up in the Strawberry Queen Pageant. *cringe*
Throughout high school, I started performing at every local event there was…charity dinners, Music in the Park, choir concerts, tree lightings, church revivals (shout-out to Faith Assembly), talent contests, the whole works. Suddenly, my dorkiness was irrelevant because everyone knew I could sing. The local papers wrote about me and for the first time ever, I felt almost cool. I started performing bigger gigs on bigger stages with bigger artists, and Belleville had a unfailing, “That’s our girl” way about them in their support for me.
All of that was great, but the closer I got to graduation, the more I wanted out.
Nashville was calling. Literally.
I got to feature my hometown of Belleville, Michigan on USA Network’s “Nashville Star 2” when I was a top 10 contestant back in the day. I was still working as a hostess at our local Cracker Barrel and I’ll never forget one morning, while refilling a gentleman’s coffee at 7AM, seeing my face on the front page of the newspaper he was reading. That’s when I KNEW knew…It was time to go.
I’d visit Belleville multiple times a year, every year, for over 10 years. The first 6 years or so, I’d come back and find it, uh, uneventful. It was the same few storefronts that managed to stay afloat downtown somehow (one of them being the Chamber of Commerce, so I don’t think that really counts), the rest were closed and the buildings stayed empty. There was no night-life, no trendy bars or restaurants, the closest theater or mall being 20 minutes away. I was really just visiting for my family’s sake. Nashville was so big, so exciting, something to do every second of every day…forever a new place to discover, new friends to meet, coffee shops to bring your dog, countless boys to date, any and every concert you could ever hope to see, studios and writing rooms and stages to be on. I was so certain I could never be anywhere but Nashville for the rest of my life.
I’ve always joked, “God put a bubble around Belleville. Nothing’s changed in 20 years.” And although I’ve always thought those exact words to be true, the way I interpret that statement started to shift about 4-5 years ago…
Somehow, as life went on, my hometown started to become my place of solace, my refuge. I needed a break, and Belleville gave me one. I needed away from never-ending construction and condos and bar-hopping and bad boyfriends and insufferable traffic and comparing my dreams and my progress to everyone else’s. I needed my family, yes. But I also needed the simplicity that I once rolled my eyes at. I needed to sit in Horizon Park, right beside Belleville Lake, and breathe…just like I’d done throughout middle school and high school, when I used to look for my voice through writing poems, diary entries, and song lyrics down by the water. I needed to walk my nephew to Frosty Boy and chase him in the park. Because if I could watch his eyes light up, then I could forget about all the messes I kept getting myself into. I needed the comfort of knowing that every member of my family was only a 5 minute drive from the other, so that they could remind me who I REALLY was, not this train-wreck persona I couldn’t snap out of. And $3 drinks with old friends at Johnny’s was quite the welcomed change of pace from the $14 martinis/shoulder-to-shoulder bars/loud bands playing “Wagon Wheel”/getting all dolled up just to have boys treat you like they’re at a buffet/inevitably leaving my debit card somewhere-scenarios I’d been dealing with for years on end.
Whereas I used to look almost sympathetically at those that never got out from my hometown, I was now jealous of them. Maybe the “world of endless possibilities” is too much, granting me too many options. When you have so much in front of you, it makes you feel like you should never settle, like you’ll never be satisfied, therefore, you never do and you never are. And that’s a lot to take on in your teens and early 20’s when you still don’t know your ass from your elbow. I started to see my old high school friends that were raising their own families in Belleville in a whole new light, as I was on my 4th disastrous relationship of that year in Nashville.
When I made the decision 18 months ago to live 50/50 between Nashville and Michigan, I second-guessed it everyday for months. It was that internal tug-of-war where the Nashville Rachel was supposed to be so much better, more evolved than the old Belleville Rachel, so how could I resort back after coming this far? I’m happy to say, it didn’t take too long before I removed my head out of my ass and realized that both Belleville Rachel and Nashville Rachel can indeed coexist together. They are both me, they both have a lot to offer to whoever will listen, and no matter what, I’ll never be able to out-run that nor should I want to. It’s kind of like this brand new song I just wrote and recorded a couple weeks ago in Nashville, where the lyric asks, “How you gonna grow when you’re cutting off your roots?” Perfect, right?
I give you all of this backstory because recently my hometown has been shaken to it’s core. There’s been a few tragic (and unfortunately violent) losses that has left Belleville stunned and speechless. It makes no sense. One loss, in particular, hasn’t left my thoughts since it occurred a couple weeks ago.
I was down in Nashville late last month, loaded up on meetings and studio sessions, and for once, not really reading what anyone was posting on social media. I was updating my Instagram story fairly regularly, detailing me in the studio and all, and I saw a somewhat familiar Instagram user that had viewed my story earlier that day. Curious, I clicked on her page and went through some of her photos. This girl was a few years younger than me and went to school with my sisters, also she hung out with some of my old childhood friends, so I’d see her pop up on Facebook sometimes. I hadn’t physically seen her in a few years. Last time being at a local bar, where she came up to hug me and tell me that she had started singing out and about recently and how she thought it was so cool that I moved to Nashville. When I looked at her Instagram profile a couple weeks ago, I saw photos and videos of her singing, posts about yoga and meditation, intellectual and inspiration quotes, and I thought to myself, “She’s super pretty, she’s into fitness and music, she’s single and child-less and likes to go out, I should become real-life friends with her.”
She was gone 24 hours later.
She died inside her house that sat off a dirt road less than 2 miles from my parent’s house.
And just like that, the bubble I was so sure would always cover Belleville burst. The reality that my hometown is not exempt from ‘the world’ hit hard. The reality that a young woman…just like me…just like my sisters…just like you…could be taken…? This isn’t a troubled past/wrong crowd/drugs/bad neighborhood/a photo shown for 15 seconds on the local news. It’s so much to process and it will continue to be so much to process.
I share this story, not because I have anything new to contribute. I don’t have details, I don’t have all these memories and stories. All I have is perspective.
Egypt Covington was one of us.
I’m still Facebook friends with a lot of people in my hometown that are terrified/enraged and quite a few of them are saying the town has gone to shit. Despite these recent tragic events, I have to say that I disagree.
All the things I couldn’t see/appreciate about my hometown while growing up are still present today. There’s something soul-stirring about the loyalty of a smaller-town community, regardless if it’s progress rate. For a long time, my eyes were fixated on the “new and shiny”. But now I’ve seen the new and shiny, I’ve lived the new and shiny, and the new and shiny doesn’t claim you when you feel forgotten, or when you’ve forgotten yourself. But your hometown does.
I’m proud to be from Belleville and to stand with a community that took care of my family and I. This town gave me the love and the platform to create these big ol’ dreams of mine. This town let me cry on it’s shoulder every single time my heart got broken, whether by these dreams or some stupid boy. This town let me start over. So no matter where the music takes me, I will always appreciate landing on this stretch of runway that continues to welcome me home. Bubble or not.