Small Town Living

I liked living in Chicago. I liked feeling young and hip and successful. I liked my shiny shoes and my corporate card. I liked having money. And spending it.

I didn’t like worrying about how I was holding myself when I was walking home at night, being worried about coming home a little tipsy, hauling my bike up three flights of stairs at home so it wouldn’t get stolen on the street and removing the seat downtown when I locked it up to make it less thief-friendly. I didn’t like getting cat calls on the train plateforms, getting hit on or just plain harrassed on the train at odd hours, or any of my commute times.

But downtown was a train ride away, and there were some shows, and movies, and everything you could ask for within walking distance. There were amazing restaurants, which also involved shelling out amazing amounts of money.

It was a great experience, and I enjoyed my time there, but I won’t say I’m incredibly unhappy about living in a small town for a little while after four years of City living. I got tired of being on my guard all the time. I got tired of watching how I walked, what I wore. In Fairbanks, I was friendly to everybody; in Chicago, being friendly meant getting stalked (Jenn made the “mistake” of smiling at a guy in a video store once, who tried to follow her home. The quick-thinking video store clerk called the guy back to “verify” something, and Jenn called the store later and thanked her. “Oh thank God you called,” the clerk said, “I was really worried. He bolted out of the store after you when he realized you were gone.”).

There were things I liked about Durban, too, but it’s that constant threat of violence that gets to you. B and I once got into a screaming fight with some asshole outside the same video store who kept trying to hit us up for money in an altogether menacing way. In Durban, I once got stuck at a busstop with two guys intent on blurting sexually suggestive threats to the little blond next to me. I broke down and cussed them out, too. Without getting knifed, which I thought was great.

You get tired of living in fear. You can do it, yeah, sure, and a lot of people live that way, but it gets to you. After a while, it gets to you.

Some of that is probably hype: you hear more about crime, you worry more about crime, but you know, one of the girlfriends of the guys in the apartment below ours was mugged – on our front porch, and Jenn had stuff go missing from her car. And let’s not even talk about all the parties in Durban where everybody traded stories about the latest murder, mugging, rape, robbery, or mutilation.

It gets to you.

I was walking into the kitchen tonight to get some water and I noticed that the windows were still open from when we were cooking and I thought, “I should at least pull them down and put on the burgler guard,” (which is just these two pieces of plastic that keep the window from being opened more than three inches – probably more a deterrent than anything else), and then I thought, “Well, hell, it’s probably no big deal if I don’t. We do live in Oakwood.”

This is probably foolish thinking, and I’m sure Oakwood’s got it’s fair share of thievery, but you know, my bike’s been leaning against the back of the house since I moved here. And it’s still there (knock on wood), and the only time any yellow tape is up around here is when somebody’s repaving their driveway. The neighbors actually say hello to you.

Don’t get me wrong, now – there *is* something a little Stepford about the whole thing, and I get weirded out a lot about the glaring… well… *whiteness* of this freaking suburb, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit on the grass at the park and not worry about getting hit on by some creep or worry because you haven’t locked up your bike.

Sometimes it’s nice to just… not worry.

I don’t like our culture of fear, and it bothers me that instead of confronting those fears, instead of fixing the places and situations that make us so fearful, we have, instead, these carefully tended little white ghettos; the children and the swingsets, the strollers and sports teams. Because even as I sit there in the park, I know it’s a fake existence. I know that just down the hill is the Dayton where “everybody else” lives. Where most people live. Where I’ll live again.

But up here in the hills you can walk to Starbucks and pay $8.99 for a pound of cherries and go jogging at night… without fear.

Well, without *one* kind of fear.

I have no fear that I’ll be harmed for being white and female.

But I do have a fear of being ostracized for being Other.

For being Feminist, a tad on the queer side, left-leaning. If I died my hair purple and had a face full of peircings and tattoos and rode the train in Chicago, I’d get barely a nod.

But here in Stepford…

Yes, well, it’s all about trading one fear for another, one freedom for another.

I enjoy small town living, but the small town I loved best was definately Fairbanks. We were all a bunch of fucking weirdos, and they would find the neatly trimmed lawns as strangely bizarre as I do, some days.

Yes. We trade fear for fear.

If you toe the line, look sharp, don’t do anything out of the ordinary… the white ghetto is a good place to be. It’s a safe place. If you’re white and middle class.

It’s safe so long as you’re not too different.

It’s like any small town. Once you belong, they’ll love you forever. But don’t belong, and you’re in trouble.

There are days when I’m willing to pass, if it means living without fear of violence for a little while. Just a little while.

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