Saturday, January 26, 2019

Sleepy Southern Suburbs: A Love Letter

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By: Lillabeth B.

6:30 pm, August 5th, 2018, the driveway of my house in suburban Atlanta. 
This is one of my favorite memories. The sun is almost finished setting; the sky is beautiful, a swirl of cotton candy pink and pastel orange, with a few puffy clouds silhouetted against it. The crepe myrtles in my yard are in full bloom. The roofs of neighboring houses create our own suburban skyline. Its the Georgian Starry Night, my aurora borealis. 
   In Lady Bird (2017), one of my favorite films, theres a scene where the title character is in a meeting with her school counselor, and as they look over her college essays, the counselor comments on how clearly Lady Birds writing portrays her love for her hometown. This surprises Lady Bird; at this point, shes spent at least a quarter of the movie ranting about how much she hates her house, her school, her city, her life. And apparently, shes loved it all along. 
   Ive spent a lot of my life stuck in that same boat. As a kid, I wished I lived in a big city like New York; nothing ever happens here,” Id complain to my parents. Every day, my mom would wake me up, and Id have the same breakfast I had every day before hopping on the school bus with the same bus driver who either hated or loved his job, I wasnt sure which. When I got to school, wed either practice our cursive (a lost art) or learn about bats. When I got home, Id do my homework, watch some cartoons, and play with my next door neighbor. Then Id read an American Girl Doll book before bed and do it all again the next day. I didnt know it at the time, but this is what adults call an idyllic childhood.  
But I wasnt satisfied. I wanted to live on a farm and ride horses. Either that or I wanted to train a dog and go to the Westminster Dog Show, or move to Hollywood and be an actor. I was always planning my future; I wanted to be either a doctor or a general or an actress or a writer. Or maybe an airplane pilot. Id move to LA and do some theater before getting an agent, and then Id become a big movie star. Id write books too, and be the next J.K. Rowling, and maybe Id get a cabin in the woods to vacation in where I could paint and write and be all artsy and crap. That was the dream, anyway. And my restlessness only grew as I got older. 
Heres the thing: as a teen, it becomes easier and easier to see flaws, especially in things youve loved all your life. You see flaws in your friends. You see flaws in your house. Flaws in your parents, your family, yourself. And going into high school, I was definitely not blind to the flaws in my hometown. And a big part of that was the fact that my life needed a bit of a facelift. I entered high school at ground zero. I could be anything I wanted to be. 
Then one evening I came home from dinner, and I couldnt go inside. It feels like I stood out there for hours, just watching the sun go down; listening to the two confused birds who hadnt figured out it was bedtime; enjoying the warm, muggy blanket of southern summer nights. That was when I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a sleepy suburban town in the South. 
   I slowly began to rediscover all the reasons I love where I live, all the memories this place has created: Eating blue and red cookies with my best friend at our neighborhoods Fourth of July parade. Going to camp in the old mansion where Teddy Roosevelt proposed to his wife, the purple dogwood flowers glowing against the pale blue sky. Running around in the yard playing with my dog and feeling the cool, wet dew against my toes. Opening Christmas presents with my grandparents, a giddy smile on my face. Parking for the first time in a church parking lot with my dad, when all the nervousness and frustration gave way to pride. Sitting on the porch drinking root beer with my mom, the chilled sweetness tasting like perfection as the sun sank lower and lower. So many moments that define me have been shaped by the setting of my life, the southeast of America. 
   Learning to love our hometowns is a lot like learning to accept ourselves. As teens, we become acutely aware of the aspects of our lives we cant control just as we discover the parts of ourselves that we cant stand. These become our insecurities, the traits we hide from others that keep us awake at night. 
   As we start to dislike ourselves more and more, we begin a four year-long process of taking control of every aspect of our lives we have the slightest sway over. For me, this manifested in an obsession over fashion, the need to change my haircut every six months, a desire to learn to cook that came pretty much out of nowhere, and a tendency to get testy every time someone tried to teach me how to do something better. I see it in my peers too, in the girls who change clothes when they get to school because their mothers wouldnt approve, or in the boys who dye their hair crazy colors to declare their feelings. I see it in friends who complain about their family constantly. Most importantly, I see it in the kids who sing, dance, and act their hearts out on stage, these crazy talented high schoolers who feel like the only way they can truly be who they are is to pretend to be someone theyre not. These are the ones who are restless in their hometown, who are working their butts off striving for bigger and better things, who will go to college out of state or even out of the country and move to some big city. They will reach for the next rung of the ladder until their fingers turn blue and they will be the best actors, the best doctors, the best writers, scientists, plumbers, psychologists, artists--the best people in the world. 
And then, one day they will come home. And when they look around, they wont see the graffitied bathroom stalls of their high schools, or how small their bedroom was. Theyll see the school where they learned geometry and friendship and love, and theyll see the house where they became who they are. Theyll see the driveway where they discovered how much they loved their hometown. And itgonna be beautiful. 
I cant wait to get there. 

Works Cited 
Lady Bird. Dir. Greta Gerwig. Perf. Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, TimothéChalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith. A24, 2017. Film. 

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