I told you stories. I told you about tree-lined streets, shady in the summer, drooping with wet, plush snow in the winter. I told you about beige houses, tan roofs, white garage doors and driveways with SUVs and the occasional pickup truck. The steady whir of bicycle wheels on gray concrete, the quiet rustle of leaves in trees, the sky so blue, without a streak of cloud, in the summertime that it seemed like a mirage, like nothing could possibly be so unmarred. The air there smelled like budding trees or blooming flowers or crisp foliage or clean snow. The houses looked comfortingly similar. There was a peaceful routine with each summer morning spent on the front or side porch, smiling at neighbors walking dogs and pushing strollers in the pale early sunlight. There was an aching sentimentality with each summer night, when we would ride our bikes to the neighborhood playground, pump our legs on the swings. Climb the jungle gym. Kiss softly under the slide, reclaiming our childhoods, making adolescent memories under the thoughtful watch of the moon. I told you stories about my other boyfriends, high school ones, the ones who took me to Dairy Queen and bought me Blizzards and held my hand and made out with me in the chilly vacant lot beneath the bridge. I told you stories about my friends, about going to the mall on Saturdays and spending sleepless nights in brightly lit bedrooms plastered with posters of teen singers and handsome actors. I told you about my mother, her hands reddened by the housewife’s labor of washing dishes and scrubbing the kitchen linoleum. My mother, soft-faced and so comforted by her role as Marcus Seeder’s husband, as Giselle and Zoë Seeder’s mother. And my father, who taught history at the high school, who came home at four-thirty and spent late nights leafing through scholarly journals and was so proud when I made National Honor Society. His hair was sandy and streaked with gray, his cornflower blue eyes were crinkly and hidden by thick lensed glasses, and he smelled like peppermint and musk. I told you how, on nights where I felt timid and small no matter how old I got, when my ambitions and dreams seemed to tower intimidatingly over me, I would sit cross-legged and barefoot in my pajama bottoms in my parents’ bedroom, and how it would smell like my mother’s Michael Kors perfume and linen fabric softener and my father’s musky aftershave, and I would thumb through their photo albums. Our house, beige and unassuming and similar to every other house in our neighborhood, was in the photos from the beginning: my mother, 27 years old and obviously pregnant, wearing overalls and dark curls wrapped in a bandana, was smiling and holding a paintbrush. My father, his face unlined and his tawny hair without even a hint of gray, had his arm wrapped around her. I showed you the pictures: me, a baby, an only child until six years old. Zoë, a toddler, and myself, holding her. Our first days of school: first and seventh grade; sixth and twelfth grade. Our parents and us, tanned and sandy down at Myrtle Beach, grinning in front of a sunset over the Atlantic with my maternal grandmother, her skin leathery and wrinkled, a pink baseball cap perched on her platinum blonde perm, smiling over us. My high school graduation, Zoë’s National Junior Honor Society induction, my father, graying and solemn and proud, at both of these. I showed you the world that had shaped me, the grainy photographs that captured a glimpse into the American dream I had been living. The dream was green lawns whizzing by kids on their bikes, exploring the same benevolent streets they had known all their lives, waving to the kind-faced neighbor women standing on their front porches, watering flowers, watching the skies change from pale to vibrant to dusky. The dream was refuge, escapees from the tired, dirty cities, escapees from confusion and complication to a place where kids could roam unharmed and everyone knew everyone and summers were sunny and warm and winters were white and cold. The dream was a place for everything and everything in its place, or rather, everyone. The dream was a pretty wife and mom to mop your kitchen floors, bake chocolate chip cookies and brownies every Sunday, grocery shop on Saturday, cook tasty meals in a gleaming paradise, and happily host the neighbors for dinner parties on Fridays. The dream was two or three pretty children, athletic and intelligent and musical and charitable, always outside in the fragrant summer air until dinnertime, respectful to their elders, kind to one another, conventionally attractive and healthy except for the occasional flu. The dream was a working dad, home by dinner, faithful to his wife and playful to his kids, friendly to the neighbors, can grill a steak or a burger, talks sports and beer and manly-man stuff. The dream was distinctly American, the beginning of a suburban culture where cookie-cutter was good and desirable, and outside the box was seen as scary, dangerous, risky, unknown. The dream was all of this, and my parents had it, and my sister bought it, and I wanted to buy it but I couldn’t, so I left as soon as I could. Instead of going to a small Roman Catholic college in a scenic, rural area of the state, located conveniently ten minutes from the highway, I went to New York City, the very same grimy, scary, dirty, tremendous, bursting, vital, lively, perfect city my grandparents had hustled the hell out of in the 1950s, the same city my parents had taken us to visit, tentatively, some long weekends, where we would take pictures in Times Square and ice-skate in Rockefeller Center and stay in a pretty hotel and then jump on the Peter Pan bus back home. I chose New York University for its location, because it had a presence in the city, and I wanted to have a presence in the city, I wanted to be in a place where people stuck out like ridged knobs, where they took pride in their talents and their flaws and in anything that made them different from everyone else. Where I was from, people were smoothed over, flush with the pattern of the town, afraid to branch out, afraid to stick out, even if it meant they were bent and twisted and broken beneath their perfectly flat surface. And we all were, we had to be, we wouldn’t have fit. I was ready for city therapy, to unroll my differences and flaunt them, proud, for the world to see, because the suburbs were a world, but they were never the world, and I needed the world. The whole world. New York and beyond. Whatever I could grasp between my fingers, and hold onto, and whatever could carry my newfound burden, my startling disconnection from all I had been told was right, was what I wanted, and needed. So I left.