I’m certain no American has actually lived the full suburban experience we were promised as kids. No guys are throwing rocks at my window to take back something they said and I’m no closer to being invited into the neighborhood bike gang of preteen boys waiting to adopt me into their newest Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I can’t help but feel a sense of loss at the screaming hordes of trick-or-treating children I’ve missed being part of during Halloween or annual cul-de-sac soccer games I’ll never have the pleasure of seeing. In lieu of the traditional travel pamphlet Americana, I was raised on trailer park manners and the rulings of being a landlord’s granddaughter in a trailer park in the upstate of South Carolina. While most parents told their children to study hard and work for a better future, my only rules were “don’t go in the woods or you’ll get shot” and “don’t go near the trucker’s lot or you’ll get shot,” along with “avoid the river on Tuesdays because that’s where the guy from lot six showers after his shift.” It’s not to say I never had my share of suburban experiences. I’ve lived in America my entire life. I know people with five bedroom houses and real granite countertops whose plastic strips don’t peel off with the melted glue in the summer. But oftentimes, after going to their house, I find whatever connection we’ve had in the first place ends up being lost in favor of pointing out the movie set ability of their home. Every time I come back from one of those houses, I turn into a realtor as I describe the experience to my dad using terms like “open floor plan” and “lots of room for future growth.” “They put the cereal away in the pantry.” “But where was their shelf in the linen closet?” He asks, like he just witnessed the election of an untrained parrot to office. “They didn’t have one. It was just towels.” “That’s horrible.” How does one function without the daily ritual of digging under sheets and pillowcases for their Cheerios? Where’s the character building, the immense growth that comes along with finding your Captain Crunch devoid of mothballs for once? As kids, my brother and I lived perfectly fine in our triple-wide. He had his own room. I had a pink, 8x8 box with what could loosely be defined as the bare minimum of a walk-in closet and a wooden, castle-themed bunk bed I drew stars and ill-formed bobble-headed dogs and cats on. We even had a sunroom, complete with a fireplace and large wire birdcage home to a blue budgie who mysteriously disappeared right around the time we got the animal my dad fondly referred to as the “hell cat.” It’s possible she saw being eaten alive as a better alternative to what my brother and I put her through. Despite the lack of a mother or clear feminine presence in the house, dishes were washed and put away with minimal complaining and, most days, the laundry was done by a woman who rented one of the trailers down the hill from us. We were the kind of trailer trash that could afford a maid. The top of the hick social ladder, somewhere between antebellum weddings and men who organize 50s era car shows. It should be noted that, although we were living in a mobile home park, the house belonged to my father. The people to the right of us were true rednecks, with lawn bathtubs and blankets over the windows to show for it. All five homes were rented to tenants by my grandfather so, not to brag, but I was a bit of a mobile home park queen. Seven years old and I could name three different types of trailers and the best manufacturer to buy your homes from. While other little girls were practicing ballet in their multi-floored houses and swimming in neighborhood pools, I was learning the ins and outs of landlord law and the most legal way to kick out unruly tenants. “You’ll want to make sure they leave the fridge and the stove if they haven’t brought their own,” my grandfather says, right along with teaching me my multiplication tables. “If the ceiling is peeling, let them take it.” That was the worst thing about the park. Worse than the gun-waving womanizers behind us or the lesbian smokers living by the cattails with the red-eyed retriever. The trash we found cleaning trailers after the fact, when tenants moved on to a different park or whoever would take them. My cousin cleaned out one to move into as soon as he turned eighteen and enlisted my brother, fourteen at the time, to help. The couple formerly in the trailer were a pair of autoshop mechanics, one with an amputated arm from a childhood injury. Along with a stripper pole, bucket of shit, and bags of questionable leather clothing, my brother found multiple CDs in their cases labeled “Nikki and Nubby.” It was a very child friendly place to grow up. I didn’t have my first encounter with someone from traditional “suburbia” until I was eight years old. A girl from my Sunday school invited me to her ninth birthday party with a shiny, holographic envelope sealed with a Hannah Montana sticker, every girl’s fixation in the early 2000s. We were too young to be caught in the pretty-boy clutches of One Direction or SOS and were charmed by Hannah and the peril of her secret identity, her mechanical walk-in closet and somewhat manic best friend. What’s more, she was attainable. Every other popstar or princess we were told to admire was from a medieval country about 400 years too early for us, or from a city as mythical as Los Angeles or New York. The girl who invited me, Mary Evelyn Gaddis, had officially earned my trust with something as sacred as Miley Cyrus. Her house was about the size of four double-wides stacked on top of each other. Possibly more. She had real hardwood floors and clean white walls that reached to the heavens, or at least the second floor, with overgrown grey suburban couches spanning the entirety of semi-truck sized living room. The yard outside was perfectly trimmed not by a woman looking to get five hundred bucks off her rent, but her real, teen movie dad who wore polos and cargo pants like all men named “Greg” should. In her room upstairs, Mary Evelyn sat me next to three other girls all with varying names beginning with M: a requirement I hadn’t previously listed on my collection of things I thought were required to be a rich girl in suburbia. Naively, I thought the only things previously needed were to be blonde, or have a love for Jeeps. But, of course, this was at the point in my life where I was limited to only one elevation in a floorplan. My knowledge hadn’t yet reached the heights of the second floor. The three girls seemed unimpressed with me at first, despite the disaster they seemed to be caught in with Melissa, Mazie, and Mary Gaston (I know, double Mary’s at one birthday party, how cliché) fighting over the politics of who was actually Mary Evelyn’s best friend and whether they should play Twisted or Operation. It wasn’t until I volunteered false information about a boy Mary Evelyn liked and started a chain reaction of mini backstabbing that cultivated in traitorous knowledge of a love triangle between Gaston, Evelyn, and a boy who played soccer for the elementary church league did they find me interesting. If I didn’t have the means to be part of suburbia, I could at least con my way into it. The two Mary’s stared at each other from across their Hannah Montana bean bags and went quiet. This, I knew well from my time in the trailer park. Men paid my grandfather for the right to hunt in the woods behind our house, and I had experience with looking predator and prey in the eye as they hauled their prizes up on trucks when leaving the park driveway. While the moment was still and there was no danger, it’s better to leave when you have the chance. Otherwise, you’ll end up with your leg in a bear trap. I made an excuse to use the restroom as the girls fought over whose right it was to marry Jackson (“I gave him my candy on Halloween”/ “He gave me his dragon necklace!”) and faced the stairs. Through the slats in the banister, I saw her mother drinking on the puffy polyester couch and watching a daytime show of fabulous women in far-away cities fighting over who had the best house or the most successful husband. One of the girls holding a luxury purse complained about her housekeeper not cleaning her baseboards enough, that she could still see the dirt every morning when she took her dog out. I watched as Mrs. Gaddis sprawled between her daughter’s unwrapped gifts and the cheese plate she made for us earlier in the day, picking grapes off one by one and slowly rolling them into her mouth as she stared, listless, at the screen. “Was that it?” My best friend asks later, while I’m recanting the tale to her as we try to paint my popcorn ceiling purple with nail polish from the top of my bunk bed. She’s hunched over the edge of the railing of the castle bed, reaching vainly with short, childish arms. “She was just laying there? Like a zombie?” “Straight out of the movies.” “Scary.” I watch her cover the edges of the light and lay flat on my back like Mary Evelyn’s mom, all stretched out and emotionless. I spread my fingers and imagine the gifts at my feet and a blanket of wrapping paper, the soap opera on in the background and my daughter arguing upstairs. At my side, Bailey reaches for the center of the lamp. She still can’t reach it.
Madyson Grant is a freshman majoring in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. Her work has previously been published in the 2020 YoungArts Regional Anthology and the 2020 Kelly Writers’ House Summer Anthology. She has also been recognized for her writing by Scholastics, among others.