My parents when they moved from the desert to the forest moved into a suburb of the city our country has decided is the center. Suburbs are, in theory, a very appealing and lovely thing. A place where you can still feel the space around you and have a garden but at any time you can travel to a bustling city and experience a completely different amalgamation of art and people and food and thought. Were it not for their history of racism and wealth inequity, suburbs are a nice idea. I understand that need for balance in your life. One of the reasons I could not make a home in New York is that I needed space from the city at the end of each day, I needed breaks I couldn’t get and so got more tired with each day instead of resting in between with trees and quiet. But I also know part of me will always love and need cities, they’re important. I am, if nothing else, a creature that craves the best of all worlds.
I have twice lived in this suburb with my parents since they moved here. Something about this suburb always made me a bit itchy and nervous. It’s a deliberately planned community, and so everything in it feels like it was made in a lab. The houses look like hospitals disguised as homes. I remember when we moved away from the house my parents built with their hands out of adobe thinking that it was strange to live in a house built for other people, or not even built for a specific person or family at all, but just built. Like buying a present when you don’t know who you are giving it to yet and so have no idea whether they will like it, so you buy something sort of neutral like a candle and then the person goes “oh..this is nice, I like candles.” Maybe that’s why I’ve never slept well in this house. It doesn’t know me very well and so I don’t know if I can trust it.
The town center in this suburb looks like someone playing a very boring game of SimCity made it. A downtown with a complete lack of personality, which is really just buildings and money. Most strangers I find I don’t care for here, but I feel like they started it. When I pass people on walks, I get looks so dirty I can almost hear them saying out loud “you are young and thus annoying” or “you have purple in your hair and therefore must be lazy” or “you are not following the dress code and thus must be either poor or disobedient and I have patience for neither because I worked very hard for my very specific outfit I bought for more money than you have ever thought to spend on spandex meant for sweating in.” This is maybe/definitely judgemental of me but, as I said, I think they started it. We are living in a moment in America that is especially tense. We are all afraid of each other and judge each other harshly and, because of the pandemic, can often only see each other’s eyes because we are wearing masks, plus we are looking at each other from a distance. It is hard to see someone’s humanity through the tiny holes in their head from a distance. So we forget their humanity is there. I miss loving people instead of being frustrated by them. But there are little moments of connection. One day I passed a couple I was prepared to be annoyed by and I did the thing where I wanted to connect and didn’t want to miss the eye contact so I spent a creepily long time looking at these people coming towards me without them looking at me and then finally gave up on them and so smiled at their cute dog instead, and the woman smiled so warmly at me I felt as though I was sipping tea with her in her kitchen. I was so surprised at her random enthusiastic kindness that I teared up a little and had to catch my breath.
I took walks often when I lived in the suburbs, as the landscape in the area is beautiful really no matter what is placed on top of it. I take walks to remind my legs that they are legs and fill my lungs with air from the earth. The neighborhood has many trails behind its culs de sac (did you know that’s the plural of “cul de sac”? What a funny language we speak) and sometimes you find a pocket of what feels like untouched land that still holds a forest spirit or a fairy home. One thing I like about this neighborhood is that after Halloween instead of throwing away jack-o-lanterns people put them in the surrounding wooded area for deer to eat, and so when you see them it’s like you are seeing a wild animal recently released back into its habitat but is still sort of awkwardly trying to figure out how to fit in again. I think maybe suburban inhabitants are like that too, they want to be city dwellers who shout “I’m waulkin heeah!” and ride the subway at 2am in a fancy dress, and go to see art and drink cocktails. But also they want to be wild animals that live in burrows and scavenge for berries and wear overalls and know the secrets the wind tells. They try to live in between and somehow lose both, become domesticated, and are now pumpkins with forced smiles trying to figure out how to be wild again. I think they can be. I think they can be both city dwellers and wind speakers, I think we all can. But maybe we can find more honest ways to do it.