In my town, we never see much of the real world. Everything is under control, peaceful, and quiet, with white picket fences and no fast-food in Small Coastal Town, USA. Dark skin can be found in the kitchens of our restaurants and the dirt and dust of our construction sites. And at the library, where National Geographics are stacked neatly on a long shelf (every issue since 1963, except October 1987). Here, “poor” is still pretty rich in the real world. Any murders? Nope. Poverty? Sorry. Crime? Sure, if zoning violations and underage drinking count.
If nothing seems to happen here, you’re wrong - look behind the flowered drapes of our homes, at the town elections or the teachers’ union crisis, the occasional house fire - it’s just all in slow motion, not the fast pace of the real world. From my house I hear no traffic, or the whistle of birds, or people laughing and walking.
Sometimes I can hear the commentary from high-school football games up the hill, other than that, just the sound of cars starting and doors slamming. Here, people file complaints against the construction of a commuter train to Boston. Too much noise, they say.
I wonder how many complaints they get in the real world. Gunshots. The moans of the hungry, the pleas of the homeless. And we can’t handle the whistle and rush of a train filled with white collars, morning newspapers and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The people here complain about the sound of planes flying over our roofs from Logan Airport. Somebody wrote a song about the sound of silence but people in this town don’t listen to folk music like that. Is this a movie set, or a real place?
In school, my classmates and I wonder what the point of all this is. When will we ever need to know about the Proclamation Line or the second derivative or gerunds or thermodynamics in the real world? When I ask my parents for help with a calculus problem, they almost laugh. How would they remember? None of it matters to them. None of it matters in the real world, the world of different languages and ideas and traditions, where people die of unnatural causes and where not everyone has a computer and an iPod or a family. If you’re not living in a real world, are you living at all? Or are we just the mesmerized inhabitants of Pleasantvilley, where you can paint your house any way you like as long as it’s white with black shutters?
But perhaps, just perhaps because a place is louder or more diverse or more exciting in general, it isn’t more real. Maybe there is no real world. When I finally am liberated from the binds of trivial pursuits, I may discover that it was real all along, just like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter indeed is not butter, but nevertheless is a passable, and quite real substitute. I’ll have to make do with my world of dubious reality for the time being. It’s the only world I’ve got.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.