I thought about you the other day, Indy. I know you don’t believe me, but I did. We haven’t seen each other in over nine years, and that’s my fault. I promised you I would come back to see you when I left in 2008. I promised. And I had every intention of returning to you. I even bought a ticket once… But I never boarded the plane. Never returned to you. For that, Indy, I am truly sorry. Do you forgive me? I hope you do, because I have missed you.
I remember the day we first met; I was 21, wide-eyed and excited about starting my summer with the McNair Scholars Program* at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I’d never seen you before and didn’t know what to think. You were hardly my first. By that time, Atlanta had the largest piece of my heart. I never thought it would thump for another. Then I saw you, your broad skylines and tall limbs. You didn’t make me feel small or lost. You took one look at me and opened your arms without hesitation. I’d never fallen so hard so fast…
We spent three months together, Indy. Three magical months that I never wanted to end. Even when work buried me in the depths of your libraries and classrooms, you stayed with me. After a while, you didn’t own a corner, a building, a hidden gem that I didn’t know. Or didn’t love. And on weekends, you called to me so strongly, I could never resist the urge to travel up and down your streets, get lost in your sights and smells. I remember your sweet laughter when I told you I wanted to stay. To live. I remember the way your heart grew for me.
But I had to leave. So I promised to come back… But then days turned to months, months to years. I let time pass us by. I let your hope fade, Indy. Soon, you stopped calling. Although, I never forgot. I let fear keep me from coming back, but no more.
I Came Back Indy…
I came back to you, heart turning flips in my chest, skin slick at the possibility that maybe, you didn’t remember me, didn’t want me anymore. That maybe, those three months hadn’t affected you in the same way. Especially since I let so many years pass between us.
I know people don’t look at you the same way I do. I know not everyone loves you this way. They should. Sometimes, Indy, I feel like you’re the last kid in gym picked for kickball, the wallflower at the school dance nobody wants to twirl around the room with. Which really upsets me. You are incredible to me and I can’t understand why everyone in this world doesn’t feel the same. So I’m going to show them. I’m going to let people get to know you through my eyes, through my heart.
Indy, you cried when I came back to you. Because you missed me? Because you thought I would never come home? You never said one way or the other. Still your thick tears fell against my skin from the moment I stepped off the plane, kissed the tips of my hair. Your rain soaked each step as I walked our familiar paths. The years had changed us both. Older, wiser, even a little wary, but I recognized you, Indy. And I fell back into our rhythm. Thank God, you did too.
I only had a weekend, and you knew I would have to leave again. But we didn’t think about tomorrows, only the moments we spent together. You didn’t disappointment, Indy.
I Finally Saw Monument Circle!**
You said I would love the center of your world. You said you had tall, classic lines–so classic, Indy I swear this walked right out of the Golden Age of Ancient Greece instead of paying homage to fallen soldiers. But like every other part of you, I loved this symbol of you.
I’d planned to walk the 300 plus stairs to the top of and shoot your skylines, Indy. Sadly, the observation desk closes at 5:30 everyday and this traveler never made it on time. More than a little disappointed by this fact…you know how I feel about your skylines. But I still wanted to show you off, encourage others to see you in the roundabout and ride up the elevator for your views.
You Saved a Piece of Black History: Walker Theater
Indy, I’ll admit when I thought of Madame C.J. Walker, I never thought of you as a close associate. At least, I didn’t before. However, you have strong ties to America’s first self-made female millionaire (and first Black self-made millionaire).
Most know that Madame made her fortune on hair products for Black women, initiated due to her own issues with hair loss. What I didn’t know? Madame came to you and set up shop when her small business expanded. Back in 1910, Madame moved with her then husband and had this building built as a manufacturing facility for her products. Four stories tall, the building also housed a laboratory to create new products and a beauty school for her many “agents.” And you kept her, Indy. You helped Madame grow in a time where Blacks didn’t own businesses, much less profit millions off them.
After the manufacturing company closed, Madame’s daughter had the Walker Theater built during the height of the Black (Harlem) Renaissance. Many famous Black singers and musicians found their way to you, Indy. Many came to the theater to perform, including Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. You hosted Black royalty. During this time, your Indiana Avenue was a thriving section for the Black community–many businesses, shops, and cultural centers found their beginning here.
Now? The theater is the last surviving building from that time, named a historical landmark back in 1991. The theater hosts performances regularly, provides daily tours. What a great gift, Indy. To step inside a moment in my history and walk the halls of a place that helped make a Black woman a wealthy philanthropist.
And the patrons of the theater give back to your people, Indy. They use the halls for many local groups for kids. In fact, while I toured, a youth church camp performed improv onstage. I was surrounded by laughter, screams, and chatter as my shutter clicked. Even though the Avenue doesn’t have the same vibrancy of its former age, you don’t let the magic of that time fade–Walker Theater keeps it alive and thriving with the next generations.
To those reading my letter, if you come to Indy, be sure to find Sherrell; she helped me immensely while I toured my way around the theater. And their tour guide, Mr. Thomas Ridley, is a walking history book when it comes to Indy, the theater, Madam, and the former glory of Indiana Avenue. He should know–he grew up on the very street.
Sunset at White River State Park
Indy, despite your initial tears when I first arrived, by the evening, I got to see your smile. I felt your warmth against my skin as the sun glowed in your eyes. And taking my hand, you walked me to White River State Park. You know I love parks; I often dream of walking along the trails of a park with a lover. In the sunset. You gave me both, Indy. More than that, you once again showed me your magic. How could I not fall in love again? How could any resist your vibrant colors and calm waters? You gave me peace, Indy.
You gave me joy and innocence, Indy. That hopeful anticipation only felt in youth–light, careless, and fun. As adults, we too often forget what it feels like to just play. Responsibility burdens us and we struggle to find control, balance. But here? Here I could just relax in your soft breezes, take moments as your music danced over me. And I could smile at the innovation around me.
You gave me a dream, Indy. I won’t soon forget it. You also gave me art–you have so much art in you! I keep telling you how beautiful I think you are; one day you’ll believe me. Every ten feet I walked into a new piece of art, not just at White River, but all over your surface.
Fun at Broad Ripple
I knew you had a streak of fun inside you, Indy, but I never knew you were quirky. Until you took me into Broad Ripple Village. I didn’t know where to go first, where to rest my eyes. Everything along the village street said, Look Here! or Come inside… Here was the excitement, the promise of something more. Broad Ripple made me want to turn cartwheels or dance in the street while singing at the top of my lungs. Definitely made me hungry!
Not to compare, but you had me thinking of Little Five Points in Atlanta when you took me through this district. All the people, the shops, the mouth-watering smells from the restaurants. I even found a cookie shop!
And of course, more art, street art this time. Each piece I saw reflected the tone of the district. Bold, bright, and with just a little bit of something special…
You took me everywhere for a weekend, Indy. More places than this one letter can describe. Don’t worry, I’ll keep showing everyone the charms and unexpected turns you provided.
I couldn’t stay, I know that now, Indy. In my youth I thought I could. But life happens too often for both of us. So I left again. But I can show the world how I see you. Show others how much I love you, how they can love you too, if they just open their hearts and let you in.
I’m gone, and I miss you already, Indy.P.S. I will come back to you…I promise.
*the McNair Scholars program is a national program designed to increase the number of doctorates in minority students. While I resided in Indy back in 2008, I joined the group of scholars connected to IUPUI.
**Quite a popular place for photos, Monument Circle hosts the memorial of several wars, including the US Civil War, American Revolution, and the War of 1812. The observation desk at the top provides an excellent look of downtown–admission is free if you take the stairs! The elevator ride costs only $1.
Final note: The initial title of this post comes from the ABC hit television show, Scandal, Season 1 Episode 1.