When driving down the streets of the town where I live, listening to Simon & Garfunkel, I often wonder whether in 30 or 40 years I’ll come back here. I have this strange mixture of absolute hatred and sappy affection for this place, a small town on the outskirts of Birmingham, England. It’s strange that you can have such a relationship with what is simply a place. A small number of square miles that could be replicated pretty much everywhere in England with the same effect. But it is this patch of ground specifically that has my heart and my distaste. I want to escape it, but I acknowledge that I might never live in a nicer place.
The town is a combination of picturesque sections where the wealthier people tend to live, and ragged sections with council houses and blocks of flats where people don’t have much. It’s very homogenous, and I think that bothers me sometimes. You know, it’s white suburbia. We used to live in a much rougher neighborhood in Birmingham. It was really multicultural, and I loved that. There was also much more of a community. Here, neighbours don’t know one another that well, and people like to keep to themselves. It can seem a tad unfriendly. And yet I can imagine slinking back here when I have conquered the world on my own terms, and reclaiming this city for myself.
There’s this redbrick Victorian house a few streets away that I have my eye on for one day a long time in the future. Once I met the man who lives there—he knows my dad—and he told me that he’d said exactly the same thing when he was my age: he walked past it thinking, One day I will own that house. The house is located right outside of a little oasis hidden within the twisty roads of suburbia—there are huge houses with gardens that slope down to a lake, and fields with horses and a stable. When you are standing in the middle of this haven, you can hardly hear a car engine.
It pains me not to know what will happen in the future until it happens. I wish I knew, somehow, that the milestones of my life will happen—you know, moving away, going to college, first love, first job, getting married, having children. Then I could get on with the present much easier, with the knowledge that the important things will definitely turn out OK. The problem with being 17 in a town like this is that I don’t have much power or autonomy—I don’t even have a driver’s license yet. It’s easy to feel stuck, cemented into this point of my life. So fantasizing about the future is one of my favourite things to do. I have so many storylines in my head about what I might pursue—but which ones will work out?
I once read in the newspaper something some man said—I wish I could remember who—that when you’re young you’re waiting for your life to start, and now that he was 65, he still felt like he was waiting.
Time isn’t a straight line with pinpoints on it. It’s a big huge tangle of crossing wires and good times and bad times and there is no way to control time by thinking about it, however philosophically. Therefore I vow to love my neighbourhood, right now, for what it is. I will love its endless number of white vans and old-age pensioners, the people who don’t smile back, the pre-teenagers who give me attitude, the mix of beautiful old buildings and endless concrete, the parks and playgrounds and dog walkers. The people who don’t understand and the people who do. Though some days, no doubt, I’ll be intensely frustrated and dream of New York.