I have always lived in quiet neighborhoods. You know, the kind of place where small kids ride their bikes up and down the streets until sunset without supervision, and the old couple a few houses down know your name and who your parents are, despite the fact you have no idea who they are or how they found out. My favorite neighborhood was in a small town where anything rarely happened. It was a perfect spot for young families and older folks alike who wanted to live with security and without much excitement.
The little town didn't have much to show for itself. It's entire downtown area fit into a single block. There was a small strip mall housing a grocery store, a restaurant and a bank, and beside that was an even tinier SGI and a locally owned tattoo parlor. Across the street was the post office and the drug store sandwiched between two run down buildings that simply weren't in use. If you walked down the street to the left there was the high school, and to the right was the town hall. Behind the hall there ran a set of train tracks and behind those was a small line of houses, marking the border of the town. To the north sat the elementary school, baseball diamonds, and the skate rink. If you went south you would pass the two churches that sat only a block away from each other and very quickly hit a dirt road, which rounded around the outskirts of the town until it connected to another road that skirted the west side of town. You could make the walk all the way around in an hour if you dawdled.
Spending my teenage years in such a place should have drove me crazy, and it would have too if not for the scenery. I have always been a sucker for trees. I can't get enough of them, and this town had a ton of them. Almost every back yard boasted at least one tree, and plenty of houses had trees in both the front and the back. If that wasn't enough, there were tons of trees just outside of town and an old path cutting right through a line of them. Farmers surrounded my town too, so I could look endlessly down their fields, right into the horizon. It was the prettiest during the summer sunsets, when the skies would become drenched in blood red and flaming orange hues.
Surrounded by so much beauty, I counted myself lucky, especially since I could share the splendor with my best friend. She lived across the street from me, and we were inseparable. I felt like a character out of some fairy tale, but for years I had forgotten that even fairy tales have dark twists. Sometimes bonds are severed in unexpected ways, the princess loses hope, and the prince never seems to be coming. Those are the parts of a dream come true that you don't ever want to think about - those sacrifices that are so important to make in order to learn the lesson that will ultimately make you stronger.
Trees and sunsets and abandoned houses lost their charm the day I saw the paramedics in front of my best friend's house. I had been called up from my room by my mother. She pointed out of our living room window, which overlooked our front yard right into my friends front yard, asking if I knew what had happened. Dread overtook my heart as I shook my head no, mentioning that I hadn't heard any word from her for a few hours. I remember sinking onto the couch, my eyes glued onto the scene before me. Flashes of blue and red lights from parked police cars mixed in with the dying light of the sun. It seemed too out of place and so far out of reality that I had a hard time believing it. I would blink and expect those cars gone, hoping that I was just dreaming.
The thing about a quiet neighborhood is that word spreads around quickly. There are no secrets and that was just the way things were, and it was Hell. I went to school the next day, wishing that I couldn't feel the stares boring into my soul. I went to work that week, hoping no one would ask me about what happened on my block. My heart ached at what I imagined my best friend was going through. She had tried to take her life that night, and failed. I had never experienced such a strange feeling of loss as I had that day, though even now I still can't find the word to truly capture what I felt. I still had my best friend, she was breathing and speaking beside me whenever I went for a visit, but now it seemed different. Things were transparent, and my spell was broken. The tree's lost their vibrancy, the sunsets all looked grey, and my world was no longer a fairy tale. It wasn't about me, the day she tried to take her life, or even after that day, but it opened my eyes to the harshness of reality.
Quiet neighborhoods taught me that you can't escape despair. That even small towns with their tiny restaurants and fairy tale like charm can't protect you from heartache. My little block has been stained with sorrow that I still feel even now, though years have gone by since the incident and both my friend and I have moved to different and better places in our lives. You don't forget the street that took a gun to your innocence and shot at point blank.
I've always lived in quiet neighborhoods, but quiet neighborhoods aren't always so quiet.