A Brief History of the Suburbs

Cortney Lamar Charleston


In the boy's beginning, it starts off as just a place to sleep at night
after the day has been seized by compulsory education, but there is
some charm to be found there—his house, one humble story told to
the ground, a front yard, a back yard boxed in by chain-link and
a giant tree with branches you barely see the full moon through
when pulling into the garage after a drive from Chicago-proper.

That's where the living really happens: his Catholic schooling,
and his Baptist churching, and his black, black family, dressed
for a funeral from birth and death, maybe, always around them,
a source of loud noise at night, a bullet hole in a hopeful dream.

It's the fear of death written between the lines of any address
near but not leading there, though the boy doesn't understand
why people would live in one place and sleep in another, how
they'd even be sure where they're from aside from two places
at once, each like a parent who they are half of, hybrid in habits,
not all city, not all village as the boy's South Suburb attempts to
brand itself, posturing as a friendlier alternative for child rearing.

But the boy is convinced there's nobody friendlier than Mr. Allen is
dwelling three doors down, an import from Jamaica just like good
rum, who lent the boy a copy of Oliver Stone's JFK on VHS that
he never gave back; nobody friendlier than Jennifer, than Dave—
big Dave, little Dave—next door with the hoop in the driveway,
where the boy balled with bigger boys, all hurling their hearts
at the rim, fantasizing about richer things, from PlayStations
to stereo systems to big screen TVs with picture-in-picture.

The boy was seven years old that day, give or take, standing
in that same driveway, overhearing what gadget got boosted
from Dave's house and not given back. The boy wondered
why whoever took it didn't just go to the ATM; the fence
they share out back with the bank had to be jumped on the
getaway anyway, a blow-by on foot, and as the boy recalls,
he and his family left not long after that episode, last seen
moving in a northwesterly direction, driving a brown, bubble-
topped Dodge Caravan—making their escape from a crime.