||[Feb. 15th, 2006|11:33 am]
i didn't grow up on the 'right' side of hillside. not that it was the 'wrong' side of the tracks, just the wrong side of hillside. mentally, emotionally, i always segregated myself from the kids i knew lived on the 'right' side of hillside. while i had friends who lived in all sorts of neighborhoods, as a rule i thought that most of the kids on the 'right' side of hillside, in college hill, would look down on me for where i lived, and judge me if they ever came inside my house or saw my parents cars. we shared honors classes and homework, but i never invited them to my house. the friendship stopped at the door of the classroom with most of them. or, as was more often the case, i saw their designer jeans and they saw my awkward glasses and thrift store, makeshift fashions, and the friendship never even started in the classroom.
on the 'right' side of hillside were wide, restored bungalows, tall brick tudors with peaking slopes for roofs, colorful little victorians, imposing french revival architecture...and the houses grew in size and stature as you reached the top of college hill. mansions with vast, supergreen lawns, gated blocks, carriage houses with apartments for the hired help above, tall and thick stone walls, plots of land that took up the entire side of a block...even a house designed by frank lloyd wright himself...these were the houses i walked through on my way home from seventh and eighth grade everyday. these were the fantasy lives i was surrounded with...
until i crossed hillside.
my neighborhood was a mishmash of incomes and backgrounds. mostly white, lower-middle class or upper-lower class - teachers, factory workers, clerks, young families, and the elderly. most of the lawns were spotted with brown grass and weeds. the paint was chipping off many of the low bungalows. extra things piled up on some of the shady front porches, with porch swings that mostly sat vacant. the yards were smaller, with narrow driveways shooting up between the homes, often the only separation between neighbors. dozens of variations on the bungalow theme, with some tall, seemingly out of place four-square homes on corner lots and a few 1920s brick apartment buildings on the perimeter, along douglas street. a few old farmhouses sprouted up on large, expansive lots, out of place because they had been there first, and the property around them had been pieced off and sold, bit by bit, to the builders in the teens and twenties. the houses that were well kept, beautifully painted, with manicured lawns - those are the properties that stood out, not the ones that blended in.
i always felt safe in my neighborhood. i knew it would never have the prestige of college hill, of the other side of hillside, but it always felt comfortable and i always felt safe. i walked the streets after midnight sometimes, as an eighth grader and during high school, with my friends from my youth group, which met until midnight in the basement of the brick methodist church directly across the street from our white bungalow with blue trim, a white picket fence, and a delabitated garage. our little 'gang' of long-haired girls in flannel shirts, boys in combat boots and heavy metal tee-shirts, girls with dangly dragon-shaped earrings...boys with chain wallets. but i felt safe. we were misfits. we weren't threatening, we were just bored, and walking to the corner store at midnight to buy slushies seemed like a good way to pass the time.
as i got older, my friendships changed. i found myself being invited to parties by my junior year that would have been offlimits to me when i was younger, simply because of the guest list and the party address. i remember being inside some of these homes, these amazing, wide-halled, antique-filled, luxurious homes, and wondering, "when are they going to figure out that i don't belong here?" they never did, or if they did, they never led on...but i was never comfortable. it felt like someone else was playing my role...i wasn't ever completely comfortable being myself.
now i am helping plan my high school reunion, and i keep finding myself communicating online, in various forums, with people who i never spoke to in high school. i knew who they were, and they knew who i was, but that segregation, that fear of never being accepted by them had kept me from ever entertaining the idea of being their friend. now that we are in our late twenties, it seems the differences between us have really minimized, and the gap has narrowed...perhaps it has disappeared all together? we all work hard. most of us graduated from state schools in kansas, and are either married or engaged. some of us have children. some of us are divorced. we all seem to enjoy the same past-times, watch the same movies, enjoy the same humor, have similar interests. and while we don't pretend that we were friends back then, we do seem to just accept the fact that we can be friends now.
it makes me wonder if being friends ten years ago would have been a possibility after all? i will never know, and i suppose it's better that way.
now i find myself in an eclectic, culturally varied neighborhood in seattle, across the country from the imaginary lines i used to draw for myself and my social life in wichita. we live in a house that costs my landlord a half-million dollars to buy, not to mention the money she poured in to remodel it. my daughter attends school with children who live in million dollar, single-family homes down the street, but their parents, while 10-20 years older than i am, are really not that different, either. they love their kids. they cheer them on at soccer games. they get excited for one another when job opportunities and life changing events occur. the only difference is that they own their homes, and i rent. they drive an audi and i drive a volkswagon. i wear clothes from urban outfitters and the gap and banana republic, and they shop at nordstom's or macy's. we shop at the same grocery stores, rent movies at the same blockbuster, get coffee at the same coffee shops, use the same dry cleaners. they may take more vacations, but they have money worries too - they're just bigger money worries than i have.
i hope my children never see the lines separating them from their classmates and peers. i hope they never see color, or background, or priviedge, or architecture, or cars, or email addresses as a dividing line between who they are and who they want to know. i hope my daughter never has to write about how she finally feels accepted by people she didn't think would ever want her friendship. i hope she always feels about her classmates as she feels now: he's funny, she's smart, he's annoying, she's a good artist...not he's rich, she's poor, he's black, she's asian...or he lives in that big house on the corner, but she lives in that dirty apartment building in the central district...
it's nice to go back to wichita now, because the same bungalow on the same corner is still my mom's home. it's yellow with green and brick red trim now, instead of white and blue. the garage is still delapitated. the house has a new roof, and there is some new furniture and flooring and wiring and plumbing inside. the yard is still a disaster, with unraked leaves pasted to the ground and untended rose bushes winding around themselves. the porch still holds random boxes, and the old porch swing is usually dusty, only used when guests come over and have a cigarette on the porch. but it's home. it's comfortable. it's safe. and it's part of who i am. it's my background...but now i'm in a different show, as a different character. and this character is okay with the truth, with the weathered wood siding and the brown yards behind me...