The nights here are magical. And I often wonder, why isn’t everyone outside like I am? I mean, this place is paradise. When I go out to run, it’s normally around 9:00 p.m. Most people are still up. I know this because I can see the glow of the idiot box coming from their front windows. It’s made me do some thinking about the nature of people, and how we have chosen to lives in our modern world.
Neighbors don’t know each other anymore. That sense of community is dwindling. I should see teens sitting out on lawn chairs, eating watermelon and flirting and being idiots. I should see old men standing around talking with one another, or sitting at a flimsy card table just inside the garage playing a ramshackle game of cards. There should be people out walking. Noise. Joggers. Dog-walkers. Music playing. Ribs cooking. Ok, maybe not ribs at that hour, but I think you get the idea.
Instead, it’s silent. There’s not a soul to be found. It’s a Friday night. Or a Saturday. Or a Tuesday…they’re all the same. They all have one thing in common: silence. It’s the summer here. And though the days have been hot, the nights are a mystical paradise filled with glassy stars and full moons and cool breezes that pass endlessly through the palm tree lined streets. So why is this a ghost town?
Do we value our privacy so much that we are missing out on the fundamental things of life? Do we love our DVRs and our shows to such an extent that we’ll live next door to the same people for 10 years and know nothing about them but their names? I just feel sick to my stomach that things have changed so much since I was a kid. My neighborhood where I grew up was always filled with kids on bikes, and food smells, and girl scouts toting boxes of cookies up and down the street in their radio flyer wagons. Even late into the night during the dog days of summer. We rode bikes, we got filthy, and generally got along with everyone. Unless they were like that kid Aaron who lived three doors down. Something was seriously wrong with that kid. He liked to wear pointy cowboy boots. And he loved to kick. I always had a delightful little array of bruises dotting my shins thanks to him.
Childhood was a magical time for me. I never knew we didn’t have a lot. I thought we were rich. I had toys, and we even had a POOL at our little single story ranch house. But most of all, I had my family. My mom, my dad, my sister and me. From the earliest of memories, I remember thinking that I didn’t have to give my kids a lot, just this. A family. A place to call home. That’s the foundation, and everything else is secondary to that. I watched my parents bust their asses to make it possible. So I spent my entire life preparing to do just that.
That this dream, this vision for my family was so unceremoniously stripped away from me and my children makes me think about the movie ‘Pleasantville’. It’s kind of like an existential fantasy, playing with themes that deal with life as we think it should be, versus what it really is. It’s so appealing to me for this reason. I like to flip things that have to do with convention, turn them around and upside down and play the devil’s advocate in my head. I like to imagine what life would be like if we could take our preconceived notions about structure and rules and human behavior, and shake them all up like a magic 8 ball to see what we get. I’ve been like this since…well, since I can remember remembering anything.
At the end of the movie, Toby McGuire’s character returns from Pleasantville to the supposed ‘ugliness’ of his real life. His mom is there, crying at the dining room table about how foolish she felt for considering spending the weekend with a much younger man. Bud, who is now wiser for his experience in Pleasantville, offers her a tissue. Through tears, she says ‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this.’ With a wry smile, he says ‘It isn’t SUPPOSED to be like anything.’ Ahhhh, I love that line!! He who had idealized and fantasized about a simpler time. One that he perceived to be filled with safety and warmth and innocence. Yet he found that if those characters had been real, they too would have felt anger. Burned with passion. Yearned for self-expression. And all at once, as I’m watching this simple tale unfold, I got this glimpse into the beautifully chaotic rapture of the human experience. It’s okay for it to all come unhinged. It spoke to me. I loved it.
Yet…though that may be, it’s clear that I liked these ideas far more in concept than in hard-hitting reality. And I never once applied those thoughts to what I wanted for my kids. I’ve ALWAYS known I wanted them to have a home, to have stability, two parentSSSS plural. Everything else could have burned to the ground, but those foundational things were never something I wanted shaken. It’s one thing to say I love to rethink convention and societal norms; it’s another to say that I don’t want the one thing I’ve always counted on and planned on for my kids. I have said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again: I thought I did everything right. It isn’t supposed to be like this!! But in the end, I guess it isn’t SUPPOSED to be like anything. And strangely, that makes me feel deeply happy while simultaneously making me feel hopelessly and endlessly sad.