With the remnants of our strange and beautiful conversation about the tangled yarn of our relationship still hanging in the air, I look up from the Mapquest pages I’ve been consulting as he turns the car into the neighborhood.
White on white. A suburban nightmare.
We looked at houses like this once, during our previously aborted plan to shuck our 100 year old house for one of these newfangled ones with plenty of closets and electrical outlets and a basement that could be turned into something more useful than a dungeon. Each foray left me teary and depressed and longing to return to my creaky floors and familiarly cracked plaster walls.
And now we’d returned. The street was lined with proper two-story homes in a price range indicating their owners had probably reached a comfortable level of financial security. Our destination was the white house with gingerbread decorating the front porch, and a country teddy bear plaque that whispered “welcome” in blue cursive writing hanging next to the front door.
Our hosts are close cousins of my partner. Good, God-fearing people. Nice people with nice, clean lives (not like ours, with our dark secrets and messy complications) filled with church and goodness and wholesomeness. The interior of their home proved to be as immaculate and perfect as their lives. Nothing is out of place; cleanliness and order pervade every corner of the spaciously appointed kitchen and adjoining family room filled with photophraphs of the smiling clan. The new plasma television set casts its single dark, retangular gaze across the room; its power silenced out of respect for this evening’s festivities.
Greetings are proffered and small talk ensures. I am bad at small talk. Tonight’s guest of honor’s absence is explained – something about a crisis resulting in a later flight tonight. I nod and murmer my disappointment along with the others (“can’t be helped” “these things happen”), while my level of conversational discomfort rises. I excuse myself to use the powder room. Locking the door behind me, I turn around and take stock (Cutesy bear. Inspirational plaque (A hug is worth a thousand words. A friend is worth more!)). I mentally check off another cliche and whisper to myself in the mirror “You so fucking need a drink right now.” Leaving the bathroom, I rejoin the group and quickly hone in on the only other person in the room drinking (oh, could it be true??) a beer.
“Wow, is there beer?” I ask under my breath. My reputation as the wild girl is solid but I don’t feel like flaunting it tonight. I just want to get quietly sloshed – an attempt to inject a bit of cerebral chaos into this overly sanitized situation.
“My cooler. Back porch. Help yourself”
I slip out and rummage through the cooler for my liquid salvation. The alcohol goes down and hits my empty stomach like a shot. Conversation will be possible now, it seems. I return to the house where our hostess is offering wine. I watch, bemused, as the female guests titter nervously and give orders for “just a taste” and ask each other “oh goodness, should we?”. I swill more of my own beer, noting (not surprisingly) that another one will be needed soon. Everyone takes their dollop of wine out to the deck, where hamburgers are being loaded onto the gas grill by our host. Quietly swiping another beer from my compadre’s cooler, I sneak out to a corner of the front porch and settle into a chair.
Half-expecting alarms and bells to go off, I pull out my cigarettes, light up, and settle in to observe the neighborhood. These suburban lawns are all so green and perfectly edged! The leaves have all been raked and stowed in containers, which I imagine wait patiently in the more or less organized garages for next week’s trash pickup. A father and his two daughters ride their bikes down the street, their heads safely encased in fiberglass helmets. A couple is walking their designer dog. Cars whisper silently down the road – families are foraying out for a Friday night dinner or a trip to the video store for a family-friendly movie which I imagine they will watch on their plasma televisions while sharing a bowl of popcorn. McCain/Palin signs are predominent here.
I mentally compare these sights to my own neighbohood with its older homes and tall, well-established trees laden with leaves which are already dropping onto our lawns in drifts. Drifts that cannot be quelled no matter how often they are raked, so that the lawn is constantly filled with them. The forclosed house across the street cannot find a buyer in these sour economic times. The family down the street now has 4 foster children. I watch them walk by my house after school every day: Black/white/hispanic children chattering, as children do, about teachers and recess and the subsidized school lunch they had that day. A car races up the street too fast, urban music blaring its deep bass beat accompanied by the roar of a broken muffler. Our political signs reflect the hopes we’ve placed in Obama and Biden.
We’re messy here in my ‘hood. Our personal ives are messy and imperfect here too. My neighbor is increasingly convinced we’ll all be put into internment camps soon, so he collects even more guns. Another struggles every day with his sobriety. I constantly worry about the economic stability of my company and whether I’ll be employed in the next 6 months. My partner and I have begun to define our long-term relationship in a new and different way.
I sit on the porch here in white suburbia and reflect. What appears to be bland sterility probably hides many dark truths. I imagine that the father riding down the street with his daughters is involved with his business partner’s wife. The couple walking their dog regularly attend white supremacist rallies. A neighbor is addicted to her prescription painkillers and is contemplating suicide. The white on white facade is just a pretty picture. When it comes down to brass tacks, we’re all messy humans.
I rejoin the group, eat my dinner and thank my hosts. Post dinner conversation is typical of my own close familiy’s good-natured ribbing. We listen as my partner’s aunt and uncle fill us in on the latest news from Greensburg, KS., where they have moved into a new home after theirs was devastated in the tonado. His uncle talks about the interview he did for CNN. Old pictures of the cousins are passed around and everyone is teased mercilessly. Stories are remembered and retold. Laughter is easy and frequent.
I finally relax into it, pleased to see the scatter of photographs and wineglasses littering the table. Ah, the messiness of us all. Feels like home.