Essays/Articles

The Suburbs

It seems an odd thing to be fascinated by, but I always have been somehow intrigued by the suburbs.

Growing up, I had no comprehension whatsoever of what it would be like to live further than twenty steps away from the woods, or how it would feel to look up at the sky at night and see nothing but dark mist; a world in which I wouldn’t feel millions of twinkling stars gazing down on me as I fell asleep, or wake up to the constant chirping of birds hidden in the trees just outside my window. I took so many walks along fresh muddy tracks and over lush green fields and through sunlit woods as a child that I began to daydream about walking along chewing gum stained pavements and being lulled to sleep by blaring car horns. A world in which a simple bus ride would get me from my home to a bustling city centre in less than ten minutes seemed far more magical than the fairy-tale-like world I had grown up in.

My dreams involved lines of houses that stretched over the horizon, each one practically identical except perhaps painted in different pastel shades. In my imagination my friends and I would all live within five minutes walk of each other; we would walk home from school together and stand in the road laughing for a while before going into our separate houses, weekends would never be boring because right next door was my best friend, or better yet they would live in the house across the street, our bedroom windows facing each other so that we could sign secret messages to one another in the middle of the night.

I think perhaps that magical appeal lay in my fascination with the ordinary, and with ordinary people in particular. The way in which two teenage girls can take two rooms in two houses that were built practically identically to one another and turn them into completely different spaces, reflections of their completely different personalities, is so beautiful to me. It’s almost as if those brand new houses are built without real character, and so the people that live in them have the task of imprinting their own personalities on them, through decorating and personalizing and just by living. The idea of everyday activity happening right outside the door all the time, just kids riding bikes, parents going to work, and everything else mundane and uninteresting that I never saw living in my childhood countryside home, always seemed nothing short of thrilling.

When I first moved to the suburbs, the most noticeable difference was the sound; too quiet and too loud all at once. I remember how, on the first night, I lay in a new bed staring up at a new ceiling and listened to the sounds of footsteps passing too close to the window, and too many cars roaring past on every side. Through the walls I could hear the muffled sounds of my neighbours at all times, and I remember trying to do everything carefully and quietly as if I was going to disturb them.

Adjusting to life without clear night skies, with noises I wasn’t used to, in the heart of the suburbs, wasn’t quite the adventure I always thought it might be, but every time I step out of my front door and see a kid riding a bike in circles, or when I walk along the dirty pavements, or lie awake looking up at a ceiling that probably looks identical to the ceilings in every house on the street, I think about the people that, just through living their lives, make the ordinary somehow special. However strange it might sound, I think I will always be truly fascinated by the suburbs.

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