Midwest Suburbia: The Heart of It All
by eliza souers
Northeast Ohio Writer
Editorial Mentorship Recipient
I come from Midwest Suburbia, where Tim Misny watches from billboards like Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. Politicians consider the overpriced neighborhood developments the pride of America. These cookie cutter houses line the land that used to be beautiful. Another is being built down the road, so another tree is chopped down. There are drifts of snow along the broken-down barns that adorn corn fields and golf courses. Parents drive two minutes to the nearest car wash and relieve their minivans of road salt buildup. Because they washed their cars, it will rain tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, goes by and nothing changes. Save for a few more pieces of trash that join the snowdrifts along the highway. Save the donut shop down the street that closed. I’ve never been to the donut shop but somehow I still miss it. It was a landmark on 83. Now, a FOR RENT sign is outside the building. A new mattress store will open in its place. Or the walls will fall with time and dandelions will root and sprout through cracks in the spring. Did the land used to be beautiful? Beautiful girls go off to college to find they are a “Midwest 10, California 6.” They come home for Christmas break with new girlfriends that might have undiagnosed schizophrenia. Their mothers with short bobs and Nikes hug them, say, “Welcome home,” brag about them on Facebook. The girls feel displaced, cringe at the idea of “home” amongst the bare oaks. They talk of the palms, the beaches, the tourists. Tourists in Midwest Suburbia stay in Red Roof Inns on their way to The Upper Peninsula. Ohioans shout, “Michigan sucks, go Bucks.” Bucks with considerable antlers are shot 400 feet from houses during hunting season, their heads used as decorations in the Man Cave basements of cookie cutter development houses. At Christmas time, ornaments hang from their antlers. The bucks’ glassy eyes stare, bored. They ask, “Why?” Why live here in Midwest Suburbia? Because we have corn hole. Because we have low cost of living. Because we have Cedar Point. Teenagers go to Walmart for fun. They buy margarita mix and cheap tequila. Nobody cards them. Cashiers understand – they were teenagers once, thirty years ago. They’ve been here since birth. Birth certificates are filled out: Brynnleigh Rose. January 2, 2023. Brynnleigh Rose will grow up in Midwest Suburbia, too. Brynnleigh Rose will work as a Drug Mart cashier. Brynnleigh Rose will die after a drunk driver crashes through the store's front entrance. Enter Elyria, where newcomers find opioid addictions. Enter Ohio. “The Heart of It All.” “It” being undefinable, like the moon. We have Machine Gun Kelly. We have Toni Morrison. We have Paul Newman. We have Neil Armstrong – who would rather be on the moon. The Birthplace of Aviation got him there. I try to escape. Go to college in Tennessee. But end up back in the clutches of broken-down factories and mediocre farmer’s markets, in the hold of hole-in-the-wall diners in historic downtowns serving perogies and Polish Boys. Boys here shoot dented pop cans and thrift store plates on weekends. They wear cowboy hats. Wish they were in Texas. They refuse to wear jeans in the winter. Only shorts or sweatpants. They marry their high school sweethearts and name their first son “Liam” and their first daughter “Brynnleigh.” They move to overpriced neighborhood developments that line the land that used to be beautiful. They shop at Aldi’s every weekend. Weekends filled with backyard barbeques and drug deals come and go. I participate in neither. I watch Ford sedans and motorcycles cruise down JFK. Going too fast. Giving police something to do. A boy overdoses from opioids at a backyard barbeque while the police arrest another drunk driver. Driving past the fields, I stare out my side window. The sun comes out. Shining gold and pink on snow dust. It would be beautiful – this land – if not for scattered cigarettes and Dollar General bags decorating the ground like carnage, reminders of where I am. Am I destined to die here? Will I fall into weekend routines? Cut my hair into a bob? Start smoking and drinking a little bit too much? My parents live in a development that lines the land that used to be beautiful. And their parents before them. I should be more grateful. This is the American Dream. This is the Heart of it All. This is Midwest Suburbia. But the land is stuck in time. Snow falls gently as I cross the potholes in the Erie Island Coffee parking lot. There is chai inside. Waiting for me. The barista that knows my name. But not my story. I breathe it in.
eliza souers is a fiction writing candidate in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Akron. Her writing tends to focus on the overlooked, beautiful little things of life, like pigeons and breadcrumbs and pigeons eating breadcrumbs. Her tuxedo cat Poncho inspires her to work hard and write well.
Twitter: @eliza_lsv | Instagram: @eliza.l.sv
Read about eliza's editorial mentorship experience here.