Stuck in the Suburbs: Florida Edition

 by Maria Barbera

What if these were your neighbors?

“Stuck in the suburbs.” Not a foreign concept to most college students. Familiarity with the phrase stems either, as most things generally do, from pop-cultural diffusion or, as is the case with this particular example, direct experience. I’d like to write a motivational piece about becoming “unstuck” from the suburbs and movin’ on to the Big City – the most amazing city in the world. In reality, though, to look back at my teenage years in a small-ish town just outside of Orlando, FL and call myself “stuck” just seems melodramatic. Sure, I got tired of it – the flatness, the paradoxical “southernmost but not really southern” qualifier, and the humidity (Okay that last one is more on behalf of my hair than me, but still). But really, to consider myself stuck at 16 or 17 years old was not only a massive first-world problem (oh poor me, I’ve been to Disney World 47 times this month!), but it was – cue the cliché – to deprive myself of the opportunity to really enjoy an amazing time (and place) in my life that I probably won’t ever permanently get back.

Of course, I had to go to college – and back – before I realized that.

Going back to Florida for a weekend didn’t really incite a big epiphany in me or anything. I didn’t do or experience anything extraordinary. I saw my family and four of my best friends, all also home for the weekend. I saw a show put on by the theatre department to which I basically dedicated my entire high school life. I had Fried Cheese Melts (if you don’t know what that is, Google it) at the Denny’s where my friends and I had many an angsty conversation during high school. It was nice. It was home.

Admit it–you thought of this.

New York is anything but forgettable, but as I drove (yes, drove) by Publixes and Main Street and a sign advertising some rodeo, the mindset of home took over like muscle memory. New York is an enigma, it’s this huge, sometimes-overwhelming monument to humanity. And it can, in its own way, become home. It has for me, and I’ve been here for such a short amount of time. But simultaneously, it’s thrilling. Small-ish towns in Florida, however, are not. They’re comfortable. They’re “mall or movies?” “What are you doing on Rodeo Day?” “Wanna drive 45 minutes to the beach and feel like we live in a peninsula for once?” There’s no spontaneous 2am Insomnia run, no “which of the five sushi places on this block do you wanna try?”

I sound much more critical than I want to be. I mean, my visit home did make me realize not only that I do in fact love New York a lot, but that I want to be here. For a while. A long while. However, I didn’t arrive at this certainty because of some sort of small-town revulsion.

I think – and this is my attempt to bring this all full-circle – that the reason I can’t really consider myself “unstuck” is because it would be so counterintuitive. In more ways than I am probably able to identify, the place where I grew up is molded in my mindset; living somewhere for years tends to do that to you. Sure I needed something new, something different. But now in New York, I realize that I haven’t reinvented myself; I carry all of the people and things from home, good and bad, with me here. And I’m ready to take on this amazing city knowing this.

Except for the humidity. I finally got rid of that.

Maria Barbera is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of iDownloadBlog and AllMovie.

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