I was on a walk with the dog yesterday morning and had my iPod on "shuffle." I fast-forwarded through few Justin Timberlake songs and a French lesson and a kiddie song that I'd forgotten to delete, and heard a song by Arcade Fire called "Suburban War."
Now, I didn't grow up in the suburbs. From ages 3 to 15, I lived in a desert town called 29 Palms, which was more or less a habitat for rattlesnakes, families that were there for the Marine Corps base, people who chose to live a simpler existence far far away from the city, artists, miscreants and misfits. For my mom, who had grown up in the suburbs (Covina, when it was still a maze of orange groves and wild hillsides), it was paradise. Quiet, remote, dark at night, stars in the sky, open space.
To me, as I grew up, it was like a prison. When I listened to "Suburban War," somehow I was transported back to the room that I shared with my much-younger sister, who was 3 when I was about Emme's age (nearly 11). I used to listen to the radio for hours on end, and this is why I know all the words to Toto's "Africa" and "Rosanna," among other hits of the time. I see Emme retreating into her music and spending wide swaths of time alone in her room and it reminds me of that time, when I would spend hours watching the sunset through my window, wondering why the clouds would sometimes seem to burn up in pink flames and other times I'd only know it was getting late because there were shadows on the desert mountains.
The lyrics of "Suburban War" capture a bittersweetness of childhood that we maybe don't understand as kids but is utterly poignant when we're older and peek back through our old bedroom curtains, from the outside:
And now the music divides
Us into tribes
You grew your hair so I grew mine
They said the past won't rest
Until we jump the fence and leave it behind
And my old friends, I can remember when
You cut your hair
We never saw you again
Now the cities we live in
Could be distant stars
And I search for you
In every passing car
Really, that "old friend" could be the younger me... who was I? Why did I change? Of course, the grown up in me knows the answer: we get older, we get married, we have kids, we have responsibilities. And I don't think the younger me would be disappointed, but I'll bet she wouldn't recognize me.
I'd probably have to play her a few songs that I love so that she would understand that we're still one and the same. I'd play most of "The Suburbs" CD for her, and I'd probably cry a little (which would embarrass her), but she'd get it; she'd have just heard the Smiths for the first time and would be able to relate her newfound affection for Morrissey's purr and brilliant lyrics to my obsession with Arcade Fire. She'd be shocked that Hall & Oates had become hall of famers and covered by The Bird and The Bee. She'd be surprised that Madonna, a brand-new addition to her tape deck, would have already been a dozen or more different people and that a new "Madonna" called Gaga was on the rise. I doubt I'd let her call the radio station and request "Crazy for You" for Matt Toler again - how embarrassing, save yourself the shame until you're really in love, I'd say - but I would tell her that the feelings she had for boys should be secondary to the love she had for herself. And if she protested, I can't love myself, I'd say, But that's the most important thing of all. Love yourself. You are AWESOME! And she'd roll her eyes because nobody says awesome and I'll say, See? I'm ahead of my time.
And at the end of the afternoon, I'd just curl up with her on top of the table where the stereo is and we'd stare out the window as the sun began to set. I'd let my cheek rest on the cool window and my breath would fog up the glass and I think I wouldn't even wipe it off. She would probably wonder why I was crying and I'd try to hug her because I couldn't get any words out. She'd resist, but eventually she'd hug me, too, a little grateful to have met a grown up who understands her, inside and out.
You'll jump the fence and leave this behind, I promise you, I'd say to her, even though she won't believe me, because she's 11 and has no forward vision. But maybe she's right. If I'm still thinking about it, have I really left it behind? Will I ever?