I would like to use this post to share with you a story my younger sister, Mary Rose, wrote for her English class. Follow her on twitter here...she's funny. It makes me smile and I wanted to share her talents with all of you. She rocks. Enjoy.
A Portrait of Suburbia
I grew up in suburban New Jersey, in a yellow house complete with a piano, dog, pictures of my partly naked toddler years, and, at the age of nine, a white picket fence. Hasbrouck Heights is a small, one square mile town, a twenty-minute drive away from Manhattan, although you really shouldn’t do that. The Manhattan skyline screams at you from a distance as you drive up and down the hills of the small borough. A sense of longing for the soaring buildings illuminated in the distance grows inside you after spending too much time in that town, a town where the most exciting thing to ever happen was the opening of a Sonic. Everything about the far off beams draws you in, and on occasion you get to venture into the ever-awake landscape. But, when you can’t be apart of it, the impressive columns in the distance are a constant reminder that, while you’re waiting in traffic on the rancid Jersey Turnpike, more exciting things are happening on the other side of the Hudson. Take a snapshot! This is suburbia. At least, this is the suburbia that I know.
Before the plastic white pickets restrained us, and before our parents caved and got us a dog, my brother, sister, and I ran around our backyard, bordered on three sides by the rotting wooden posts of our “fence”. The other side was open, allowing us to run freely from our yard into the Fitzgibbons’, our next-door neighbors in the blue house. We spent our summer days as kids, playing basketball and wiffle ball over at the Fitzgibbons’; my brother hadn’t yet been able to convince our parents to buy us our own basketball hoop. I was the youngest, so naturally I lost every game of H-O-R-S-E and Around the World we ever played. I was also extremely terrible at wiffle ball. On the days when we would get out that light weight ball and yellow bat, my brother, Greg, would usually taunt me with, “Why are you even playing? You can’t even hit the ball once!” Dan Fitzgibbons, our blonde-haired neighbor who was the same age as Greg, was usually a lot nicer to me on these occasions than Greg was. Dan would at least try and teach me how to hit the ball. He would hold his arm outstretched in front of him, the white ball grasped in his hand, look at me, and say, “Just keep your eyes on the ball and then swing.” Despite his best efforts, my batting average never really improved much.
On the days when the sun shined too bright, or when the rain had soaked the lawn, I would stay in the house with my sister, Christine. She is four years older than I am and, on most days of our childhood, could be found bossing me around. We would invite Loretta Fitzgibbons over to help us choreograph dance routines to the songs of our favorite musical groups: B*Witched, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync. Christine always managed to be the leader of the group, despite the fact that Loretta was older than she was. We would all stand in a line in my living room, with the nineties-style CD player sitting on the piano bench. As the words of “Wannabe” blasted from the speakers, probably making my mom want to kill us, Christine would yell orders at us. She would yell out, “Put your arms up like this and turn like this!” as she demonstrated the move. At the end of the day we would always have a fully choreographed number to one of our favorite songs. Nothing ever came of these performances. They were never video taped and we rarely ever showed them to our parents, but I guess it was a good way to spend my time, being bossed around by my sister for hours.
Being picked on wasn’t anything new for me in the later years of my childhood; I had spent my early years being tortured by my siblings as well. That’s what happens when you’re the youngest of three children, it’s always two against one, and you’re always the one. The earliest memory I have is of me being abused by my brother and sister. When I was about three or four, my parents had bought each of us a pair of “onesie” pajamas that zipped up the front and had the word “Crayola” in bolded letters down the middle. They were meant to make each of us look like a crayon and, apparently, they did their job. Shortly after we received these lovely gifts from my parents, my brother and sister decided it would be fun to treat me like I was actually a crayon. They stood on opposite sides of me, grabbed my ankles, and proceeded to flip me until I was completely inverted, at which point they slowly lowered me head first into the laundry hamper in our upstairs hallway. As I stared into the darkness of the hamper and screamed for them to let me go, they responded with, “Mary Rose, we are sharpening you like a crayon!” After some years had passed and I brought this event up with my parents, they had claimed they had no idea that it had ever happened. I’m still deciding if I believe that or not.
As my childhood continued, so, too, did the torture. The Jersey Turnpike is lined on both sides with power plants, oil refineries, and other industrial buildings most recognizable for their tall smoke stacks. As a kid, I didn’t know what these tall, cylindrical towers where called, or what they were for. So, on our family drives down the shore to see my aunt, I would point to the towers from the backseat of our family minivan, another suburban necessity, and say, “Look, a cloud-maker!” with pure excitement in my voice. No one ever corrected me. No one ever told me that there was no such thing as a “cloud-maker”. I went on with my life thinking that there were factories all over the world dedicated to cloud manufacturing. I was probably about seven when they finally broke the news that clouds weren’t manufactured. I think I may have cried. Again, I brought the subject up with my parents many years later and they claimed that they couldn’t hear me, all the way in the backseat, so they never knew about the “cloud-makers”. I’m convinced they’re lying.
When we weren’t able to make those trips down the shore, we were forced to find relief from the summer heat in our own backyard. My mom would set up our Crazy Daisy, the flower shaped sprinkler that whipped around as water shot through the top; it was a staple in every good suburban home. However, on days when we weren’t privileged enough to experience the relief of Crazy Daisy, or on days when Crazy Daisy malfunctioned, we were forced to brainstorm ways to cool off. My brother and sister took this opportunity to, once again, torment me. They would take a bucket, ordinarily used by my mom to mop the kitchen floor, and fill it with the ice-cold water from the garden hose. When the bucket was filled to the brim with the glacial water, they would hoist it over my head and dump its piercing contents on me. At the time, they had told me it was a game. They told me that everyone would have the water dumped on them, but looking back on it I only remember it happening to me. Of course, my parents had no idea this was happening either.
Despite my torture dominated childhood relationships with my siblings, there were some moments when the torment stopped. We spent days outside kicking around the soccer ball, bouncing around on the pogo stick, and riding our bikes around town. We spent a lot of time together down at the town pool, walking through the opening in a nearby fence to get to the local McDonalds, where we would enjoy our ninety-nine cent ice cream cones. At night, we would play “the car game”. The rules: stand on the sidewalk and wait for a car to come up the street, when a car finally comes, dodge the headlights by hiding behind a parked car or a tree. It was really that simple. On long car rides we would play “the flag game”. The rules: count all the flags you see, the person who sees the most wins. Someone always cheated. When it rained, we made our own little boats out of twigs and paper. We would place the boats on the stream of water that rushed down the hill and watch them float away. When we got a little older, we played street-wide manhunt with the other kids on our block and made silly home movies consisting of us rolling down hills and Greg, running into a parked car. My brother taught me how to ride a bike for the first time, and I learned how to do my makeup by watching my sister. As we got older, suburbia stopped providing us with easy ways to entertain ourselves and started to become a place riddled with boredom. The small, trifling town became duller than it had ever seemed. After having lived in the same town, and house, for eighteen years, I wanted to leave. I was bored of my surroundings. The lights in the distance seemed to get brighter while the paint on the fences seemed to be fading.
When I left for college, I left with the thought that if I couldn’t live under the lights of Manhattan, I was at least going to leave suburbia far behind me. I needed something different. I left behind the suburban frame of my childhood memories, and stepped into the rural frame of Clemson, South Carolina. As the months passed in Clemson, I started to miss the familiar feeling of that yellow house with that white picket fence. The house with the ketchup stain on the ceiling from the time when Dan shook the ketchup bottle too much and it exploded.* The house with my height marked on the doorway in the kitchen.* The house that has an old table with a mark that looks like a deer The house that has a Hess car on one of the doorframes because Greg put it their and no one bothered to move it. When I get to go back to that house and I get to see my brother and sister, we talk about those times growing up that we spent with each other. We talk about them torturing me, and we talk about cloud makers. We talk about our time growing up in suburbia. Once I left that suburbia, I realized how much I love it, and how much it defines “home” for me. And despite my continuous love for the bright lights in the distance, I can’t love them more than the picket fences, because the bright lights won’t ever understand me. But the picket fences?* They always will.*