Followed Home
by Tara MacDonald

Suburbia is sick. But people are sick everywhere these days. My family got booted out of a suburban neighbourhood in Quebec, Canada, because our first tongue was English. I went to an all-French grade school, but the people there were against my brothers and me speaking English at home. So, we moved to a nice, middle-class neighbourhood in Ottawa where I proceeded to live a good, clean Canadian upbringing....

The kinds of pipe bombs, arson, vandalism, pillaging, looting, and havoc caused by our small band of rebels was not unlike that in any other neighbourhood in any town or city. It’s a miracle that none of us lost any fingers.

I first recognized suburbia for the monster that it is when I was eighteen. That’s when my mom started telling me horrible stories about her own up-bringing--schools run by nuns, the strap, and the woes of a nine-child family. It sounded harsh and brutal to my relatively sane ears. I was forever changed.

One minute I could walk down Terrace Drive right up to our front door and not notice the pristine silence and now it bothered me. I wondered where everyone was and what they were doing. Why did everything look so perfect all the time, and did I have to be that perfect too?

Was our street different from most typical streets, with its history of sadness and dark clouds?

Before we moved in to our brand-new suburban castle, we were told of suicide and infant death in two neighbouring houses. Then the guy down the street started shooting vicious stares our way, apparently because he and his family had wanted the house but we out bid him. Half a year after we settled in, another suicide occurred at the house facing ours, just a stone's throw from our two-car garage.

Looking back now, I find it strange and sad, but at the time I don’t recall ever feeling anxious about the incidents. How could any of us feel any sort of impact when everything was kept behind closed doors? Smooth, white plastic wood panels separating all that is real and human from all that is trimmed and tucked and sculpted and fake...the straightjacket of numbness turns my stomach when I think about it now.

Of course, that’s not to say that the sickness doesn’t follow a person wherever they go--suburban living or not.

I’ve gradually relocated myself to the western side of the continent in Vancouver. It is a beautiful city but not foreign to beautiful city woes. Drugs, crime, prostitution and a sullen malaise seem to have reinvented themselves in Canada’s warmest city.

I live in the big red house. Like all, or most all, of the houses on the block, it’s chopped up into small apartments which its occupants willingly pay an arm and a leg for. This is the golden city after all.

Our kitchen window faces the side of another house--due west I think-- and looks straight into the kitchen/bathroom of a one bedroom hide-away. The girl with the long brown hair and small nose lives there. We know she lives there because there aren’t any blinds on any of her windows and I think she likes it that way.

I know, for a fact, that my roommate and most of the male visitors to the big red house like it that way too.

Sometimes I think that the girl with the brown hair and small nose gets reality mixed up with television because she’ll stand at the window without a shirt on and brush her hair or her teeth. It’s the for-all-the-world-to-see fashion that I hear is really trendy these days.

I must have missed that episode of Fashion File.

Odd occurrences like the one almost daily with the girl next door lead me to believe that people are strange wherever you go. Some are strange behind closed doors, while others are strange out in the open.

Being comfortable in your surroundings, whether it be in suburbia or in the city, is just a matter of figuring out at what degree of strangeness is right for you...breasts at the kitchen window, or corpses in the closed garage.

There are choices; we just have to stop ignoring them.

Tara MacDonald