On January 1, 2000, I pulled a U-Haul into the Colony Apartments across from SouthPark Mall in Charlotte. We were arriving in town after a few chaotic years in Florida, following a couple of intense years in NJ, and were hoping to find balance in our life together as a newly married couple. 

The move represented the turning of a leaf. The fact that it occurred on the literal turn of the millennium was not lost on us.

In the autumn of 1999, I began looking for work along the east coast as a copywriter with conceptual chops. I received offers from ad agencies in NYC, and in Richmond, but the offer in Charlotte made the most sense for us. After visiting the other cities, it was Charlotte, with its lush tree canopy, that resonated. When Tina came to visit, she agreed. We both felt like Charlotte was on the verge of something special. 

In June of 2000, we decided to have a baby. Within a month she was pregnant. We bought our first house together in August. A small place on a big lot close to downtown. Our new friends helped us paint it and move in. 

Our roots were taking. It felt wonderful and strange. 

In spring of 2001, we welcomed our first daughter into the world. It was an exciting time. Magical. Then September 11th happened, and everything turned dark. As the nation wobbled, we both lost our jobs. And we feared we’d lose our house.

Over the next year our finances slowly stabilized along with the general economy, and so we decided to have another child. And in 2003, daughter two arrived. 

Then everything began speeding up. We were a young family with two children on our hips. There was never a dull moment. But then, as it tends to do, life threw us another curveball. Our jobs were once again being tested, and we wondered how we were going to afford daycare as we worked it out. 

That’s when an angel appeared and we both began to appreciate the idea of a village. The owner of a highly-rated CDC bartered with me. I would develop her brand and website, and she would allow our daughters to attend her school at no charge. She was a kind woman who knew how tough things were on us at the time. Over the next few years, she and her staff became our family. 

When we graduated from a CDC to Pre-K, we took a chance on a neighborhood school that had been closed for a year. The idea was to turn this run down facility into a public Montessori. We jumped right in and over the next several years built one of the most sought-after schools in the city. And we did it side-by-side with people just like us—young families who believed in the strength of community. People who also became our family. We had sleep overs, parties, day trips, and even vacations with them. In middle school our village grew even more. And by the time the girls got to high school, we were somehow 15 years into living in Charlotte and couldn’t dream of any better place to raise a family.

Over the past twenty years we’ve become part of the fabric of this community. Our daughters are Charlotteans. Our best friends are here. Whenever we go on trips, it always feels wonderful to be back in our urban forest.

We never intended to stay very long. A few years, tops. Then we’d be on our way to a new adventure. 

Woody Allen once said, “If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans.” I’ve come to learn that most big plans I put into play end up getting sidetracked. But not in a bad way. In a different way. And usually with far better outcomes than the original plan. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made some questionable decisions in my life, but the decision to move here is not one of them. 

I have now lived in Charlotte longer than any place I’ve been lucky enough to rest my head. But with one daughter now in college out-of-state, and another who is a Junior in high school, Tina and I talk about where we might go next—for perhaps the last big move of our lives. The ocean calls to us both, so there’s a good chance that’s going to happen at some point. But the fact is, no place will ever be as much home as Charlotte has been. We took a chance on putting down roots here. And boy have they produced fruit. Whenever the day comes when we do leave, it will be like leaving our heart behind.

Those old apartments we moved into back in 2000 are now being razed for more lucrative development. It happens. It’s life. But it does feel strange driving past there now. As though a lifetime has gone by. 

Because it has. 

I love this town. 

On January 1, 2000 we moved to Charlotte. Twenty years later, it's the longest I've lived anywhere.



The Audacity of South Dakota
Decade of Empathy

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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