Michigan neighbor, K., asked if I take requests for drawings, and I hadn’t before, not really, and so I said yes, sure, because even though was born under a Taurus sign I do sometimes like to do things I have never done before. Yes, sure.
The friendly request presented a set of conditions: draw our community (referring, I assumed, to the condominium complex known as Lakeview Estates, a set of approximately 130 units organized in four-unit buildings, built beginning in 1974, and occupying several acres just on the north edge of Ypsilanti, sort of between Clark and Geddes, Prospect and Harris, if you’re into Michigan’s baseline-meridian mile by mile grids). Where was I? Draw our community. Incorporate a before/after timespan. Include fuchsia. And title it with something she’d have to look up.
In 2009, I first happened up on the condo unit as a renter, referred to its owner’s adult children by an EMU colleague who knew them through their common interest in horses. The place was freed up as a rental shortly after its elderly owner died. Having moved from Syracuse, we rented for two or three years before buying a house in the next neighborhood over, same square mile as I described above.
I resumed occupancy at the condo after purchasing it in August 2014. It’s not that all of this is a dullish story as much as an account tiptoed around for uncertainty about demarcations about whose experiences constitute any story to tell and what, after all, as indefinite futures play out, do stories told bear out as consequences for ambient subjectivities–contributing without harm to an oikos, its ecology, the distributed house-logic extends neighborliness and stewardship erring always on the side of unknowns, the unforeseeable.
In 2018 I took a job 500 miles from Ypsilanti. Navigating that transition was in the top ten of stressful adulthood navigations. It meant moving away from my then-11-year-old daughter, for one. It meant wayfinding financially such that I could keep the condo as a place to visit and stay for long periods of time in Michigan while also finding a place to live in Virginia. But it also meant sorting out an incredibly trying series of obstacles introduced by the then-president of the condominium association whose inflexibilities and malfeasances led to my being sued. Twice. The details of the cases amounted to attempts to evict where I believed I was standing up for my position that “single family dwelling” met the standards of the township so long as no more than three otherwise unrelated adults share a house/condo with continuing domestic intention (sharing meals, for example). I’m leaving out a lot of the details. There was no rental agreement; no complaints, either. And I was stepped through legal proceedings that cost about 6k to defend for a pair of lawsuits that were ultimately dismissed. It’s challenging as hell to defend yourself against a condo association when the association dues you pay each month underwrite the efforts of the board president and a legal firm whose values seemed most of all to revolve around keeping a steady stream of revenue.
In the midst of the lawsuits–letters I wrote pleading with them not to pursue things further, which they ignored after the first suit was thrown out, summons delivered with the loud, intimidating knock of a flashlight handle by a county sheriff after dark one January night, the snarl of one attorney, who, at a board meeting called me an asshole and told me to shut up–among the worst of the behaviors I witnessed had to do with the sugar maple in the front and the cedar hedge in the back of my place. The cedar hedge was left to grow, untended and unkempt, eventually reaching heights that blocked my first floor window view. The maintenance requests were accidentally missed, and I was told they would get to it next time the tree trimmers were on the grounds. For a year and a half, the hedge grew. Only when other neighbors started to complain did the hedge get taken down. Meanwhile, a 30-year-old sugar maple that stood in the front of my unit was culled. I came back from Virginia in December 2019 and found in its place a pile of sawdust. They’d never told me they were going to do it, even though the tree was clearly inside the bounds of the garden area attached to my unit. I let them know I would have appreciated advance notice; it was a tree Is. climbed on when she was younger, a tree that hosted birds and squirrels outside the kitchen window. A mature tree. A tree giving no hints of being unhealthy, no roots troubling the foundation walls. What can you do but bid it gratitude and move on? Moving on for me meant asking if there was a plan to replace it. No, no budget for that, they said. Oh, gotcha and no problem. I will pay for it. But no, not allowed was the board and management company’s response.
I suppose some of the follow-through on my part was motivated by sunken costs. It was super expensive to defend those needless, frivolous lawsuits (lawsuits that could have and should have been dealt with instead through direct communication and, if necessary, mediation) and at a time when I was scraping a bit. Money, fine. Whatever. But to fuck with trees out of vengeance or spite then to block their replanting? We’re gonna do this this way? Fine. So it is.
Several neighbors took interest in these and other questionable and combative events. Word–stories–rippled across the property. Kicked out of the pool stories. Lore of bluster, antagonism, and targeting in the most passive/aggressive ways possible. A few people thought it was time for a change. And then more than a few. And they organized. Is there a lesser status form of government than a condo association? But neighbors put their names in. We spread the word about a better, fairer platform. We gathered proxies. And in early September, we voted. The board turned over. And things changed for the better.
The walls of this brownstone have been good to me–a space of quiet, of rest, of learning the difference between loneliness and aloneness, of healing. An old furnace gives heat. An old stove gives flame to soups. Plenty of counter space for fermenteds, which is important, since my neighbor, P., brings me bags full of vegetables from Detroit gardens in late summer. Neighbors look out for the place. The meandering streets nearby are familiar. The squirrels and birds are still around, a few trees over or maybe in the park on Norfolk, a block away. I see them there when I walk. With the new board, a board voted in a couple of months ago, I now have approval to replant a tree. Gonna do that in spring, imagining its roots will find and hug near as they can the underground rootpaths forged before them by the sweet maple.