“Your neighborhood actually looks kind of nice in the summer,” my friend remarked from the passenger’s seat as we turned from the service drive onto my street. It was a particularly sunny day in June, and all of the windows in my shabby 2003 Saturn L200 were lowered to usher in the warm breeze. The trees that lined the road were beginning to bud — the epilogue of another prolonged winter.
I rarely ever brought friends to my house (it was a 40-minute commute from school and back) and my hometown did not offer much in the way of entertainment. Forsaking the journey home would mean we would have access to nice restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters and shops — a simple cost-benefit analysis revealed that it was probably advisable not to bother at all — and yet there we were, tourists among the factories and the lawns peppered with fast food wrappers.
As her passive words hung in the air for what felt like an eternity, mingling with the sounds of chirping birds and droning lawn mowers, I became acutely aware of my surroundings. The cracks in the pavement became a little deeper, the white shingles a little dirtier. I wondered how the street on which I grew up looked from the outside, a patch of ramshackle suburbia. My hands tightened on the wheel as I felt the blood leave my face and slowly drain — boiling hot — into my ears.
This embarrassment was more than familiar to me; my go-to defense mechanism against people who scrutinize my background has always been self-deprecation. When I switched schools after my freshman year of high school, it only intensified as I made a point of complaining about my hometown to my well-to-do friends, and as a result, they considered it acceptable to make similar comments, which sounded colder and more malicious coming from them than they did from me. I figured if I pointed and laughed with them, then I could alleviate some of the burden of not being one of them.
“Yeah, a lot of people drop out or end up pregnant,” was how I described my former high school to peers at my new school.
“It’s just a working- class suburb,” is how I have come to describe my hometown to friends in college.
But there is so much more to it than that, and I know that all too well.
Through my window, I scanned the rows of tiny houses that twinkled in the winter and emitted an overbearing glow in the summer. I idly traced the ribbon of sidewalk that once guided my bike as it drifted toward the humming interstate and facilitated the journey of a green wagon that kept my brother and me under the watchful eye of our mother. This was home. This was all I knew of the world in the first 15 years or so of my life — this street, these people, this town. Why couldn’t I admit that to myself? Why was I so eager to distance myself from it?
There is absolutely no shame in coming from a modest background, a sub-par school district, or a neighborhood that only looks “kind of nice” in certain seasons, damn it. Wanting more than anything to convey this notion to my friend, I paused for a second and searched for an appropriate response, but all I could muster was a quiet: “Thanks.”
Lauren Schandevel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.