On Suburbia

Home is where the heart begins, but not where the heart stays. The heart scatters across states, and has nothing left after what home takes from it.

Hanif Abdurraqib

I feel a special reprieve when spending time in my childhood home. Like an invisible burden has been taken off my shoulders, immediately dissipating at the sound of my mother’s laugh. I spend extra time at the dinner table discussing stocks and finances with my father over wine. Invite myself into my brother’s room to ramble about movies, books, and current events.

There seems to be more hours to the day—like in high school, when time stretched endlessly in the last few minutes to the bell. A Russian doll where extra seconds revealed themselves between the seconds. I settle agreeably into these hidden seconds, kicking my legs back, welcoming in the inoculating comfort of suburbia. A calming reassurance that wraps me up, gently turns my head away from the rest of the world, and whispers, “You could stay here forever.”

And I could, I really could.

Here, the contradictions of modern life remain hidden behind clean lines and perfectly manicured lawns. I am no longer confronted with suffering the way I am in the city; where I can hear the chants of protests late into the night. Where a simple trip to the grocery store is a reminder of the countless people experiencing homelessness who depend on the generosity of strangers for survival.

Instead, in the saccharine embrace of my quiet cul-de-sac, I am presented with neat boxes to digest these contradictions in. A feel-good documentary about the progress of women’s rights in Syria on Tuesday. Or a visit to my local soup kitchen to drop off canned goods next Thursday. Statutory participation in society replaced by choice. Like a mother’s hands guiding innocent eyes away from some abominable sight, shielding me from the haphazards and moral responsibilities inherent to a diversity of participants. In my eighteen years spent sheltered behind rows of white picket fences, I never had to grapple with opposing perspectives or be challenged by uncomfortable truths. I lived in a world without adversity. Without injustice. Hard work translated to success and every willing child given an education. Now a stranger’s pastoral portrait, but undeniably once described the whole of my reality.

And I suppose every single one of us live in alternate, but ultimately shared, realities—constructed from our genetic predispositions, upbringings, biases, belief systems, education. I don’t view it as an ailment of the mind, but a feature; a set of heuristics to help us navigate the complexities of existence. Twenty-four, sitting on the uneven mattress of my childhood bedroom, surrounded by test-prep books and YA novels, I am transported to a reality when worries were limited to a few letters on a piece of paper. When I practiced rigid obedience and quiet rebellion in equal parts. It was only when leaving my home that I began to understand the fragile nature of my perceived reality. I was simply describing shadows cast on the walls of a cave—the first of many.

Being home for the holidays reminded me how intoxicating and alluring the call of suburbia is. Of stability. Of home—a place over 52% of Americans call home. We are a nation of suburbs, each living in our own divergent realities, the outlines on our walls performing increasingly contradictory narratives. My mother’s worried voice asking about the armed takeover of the streets I now call home, dubbed the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, with images of a gunman and shattered storefronts replaying before her eyes. My neighbors and I labeled “domestic terrorists” as I lay awake bracing for the next stun-grenade thrown by police into a crowd armed with nothing but cardboard signs.

I worry that in the muted comfort of our homes, eyes glazing over the same shadows, describing scenes all too familiar; the apparitions can begin to appear more tangible than the objects casting them. Stories told by silhouettes on a wall become gospel, forgetting they were fictions at all. Maybe that’s why leaving comfort behind, leaving home, I always encounter an inexplicable aching; not a yearning for comfort in its absence, but for the person I was at that time, at that place. Stepping out heavy with the knowledge that I will be changed.

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