At the Heart of Suburbia
Richardson, Texas is where suburbia goes to sleep. Scattered parks with swings creaking in the wind. Houses lush with St. Augustine grass and the occasional dandelion. People walking dogs while holding green plastic bags in their hands. Suburbia at its finest.
And that suited me fine. I liked lying on the couch all summer and getting the crust cut off my sandwiches. I had my hair cut by a barber named Allen. I went to a private Christian school, complete with a blue polo and khakis.
But even for a well-combed, khaki-ed kid, when you really looked close or stuck around long enough, you might have seen the wild flash in my eyes every so often.
It all started one day when my mom picked me up from school and turned a different way out of the parking lot.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Got any homework?”
We took another new turn into a neighborhood. It was a nice neighborhood, but I didn’t have eyes for that. What I noticed was how the trees arched above us.
“I found something today that I thought you might think was cool,” she said.
Then, almost as if we had stumbled upon Fairyland, the trees on one side opened up and I saw it. A waterfall thrashed like a roaring dragon, surrounded by a large pool. The waterfall stretched about the length of a school bus, and, right in the middle, I could see a cave opening into the dark underworld.
We slowed down and my mom said, “Who knew there was a waterfall in this neighborhood?” We came to a stop sign, pausing until another car came up behind us. Then, after passing it one more time, we turned toward home. My face was glued to the window as we drove alongside the creek which was winding like a tail away from the beast. As we drove home, the tail of the dragon, then the trees guarding its lair, and then the magic was gone. Hello again, suburbia.
School droned on for months until it sputtered out and summer opened its wide, warm arms to welcome me in. Soon we were to vacation, and after that, my cousins would be coming.
Nothing pricked my wild whimsy like my cousins. When they arrived, my treehouse hoisted her sails, my toys awoke even more than normal. My two older siblings were, well, they were girls, and since they were nearly a decade older than me and already in high school, and also because I didn’t enjoy talking about calculus or the boys in their classes, they weren’t much in the way of playmates for me. But my cousins, one a year older and one a year younger, were like the missing breaths of wilderness my boy’s heart needed every so often.
And our favorite thing was making movies. We had already made several Godzilla movies in our heyday, and a crowning achievement was the space comedy, but this summer, we were in talks of our biggest one yet. Earlier that year I had gone into Toys R’ Us looking for a birthday present for one of my sisters, an errand destined to fail from the moment I went to a toy store to do so, and I walked out of that store with a $75 remote-controlled Tyrannosaurus Rex. I had used every penny of my savings and therefore had to make my sister a card or something. But I and my cousins were in business. This was no toy we had to use strings or stop-animation to move; it would move–it would roar–all with a few buttons.
And not only that, but I knew the perfect location.
So once more, my mom took the turn into the Fairyland in the heart of suburbia. We spent the first few minutes setting up the characters and all that. But we had that dino roaring and chasing after us in no time. As we filmed, and with my mom pretty close behind us, we began going further and further down the creek. After every scene, there seemed to be a spot just over there, just a bit further down, that might be good for the next shot.
Even at one point, pushing past some thorns, my cousin pricked his finger. “Don’t waste it,” we cautioned, and he smeared the drop of blood on the T-Rex’s front tooth. This was going to be the best movie we’d ever made.
Finally, the heroes had won and the beast had been slain. We finished on a touching last shot of our characters revering the dinosaur’s power as they caught their breaths from having defeated it.
But when we looked up, we realized that we stood on the wrong side of the waterfall from the car, and it was a long walk back to the shallow place we had crossed.
This was when my mom stepped in. “I guess we’ll have to cross the waterfall.”
“What?” we said.
“But my camera!” my cousin protested.
“And my remote-controlled dinosaur!” I added. I wanted to remind her of how much it had cost, but my sister’s birthday hadn’t been that long ago, so this was still a sore subject.
My other cousin’s eyes grew wide but said nothing.
“See,” my mom continued, “there are rocks all the way across. We’ll go slow and we can do it.”
“But…” one of us said.
“It’s a long walk back,” my mom answered.
There the beast roared before us. It had been the backdrop of the film because it had frightened us. Its power had made the dinosaur’s gears seem swifter, its roar echoed in the roar of the water. But now, it was not our backdrop. It was glaring straight at us.
My cousin took the first step onto the rocks. My mom went next, clutching her purse. My other cousin, holding his camera above his head followed. I made the rear, wanting to save my remote-controlled dinosaur at all costs but at that moment even more scared for myself.
Step by step we scaled the dragon’s back. The mossy green dragon, whose teeth were the water dripping over the mouth of the cave. Whose tail wound deep into the trees and around the corner. Whose legs and wings were boulders reaching all the way to the road and the car.
As we piled on the rocks on the other side, gazing at the dragon we had traipsed across, one of my cousins looked at my mom, as she wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead and he said, “Aunt Woodlyn, I didn’t know you did things.”
We reached the car as weary adventurers, thirsty for the fame of our film and hungry for PopTarts. But even after we edited the movie, adding in all the music and magic, my remote-controlled dinosaur never did really compare with the green dragon we hadn’t caught on tape. Which goes to show that real dragons aren’t safe or remote-controlled. But they might be around any corner.
Suburbia, I didn’t know you did things.