Suffolk, VIRGINIA, U.S.A. – Distance. That’s one of the first, fleeting words that come to mind when I think about this city that I live in.
The largest city in the state of Virginia, Suffolk is about half the size of Rhode Island. It’s the 14th largest in the entire country.
When I speak of size here, I do not mean population, but landmass. It is large enough that you can drive and drive heading south and cross Virginia’s border into North Carolina without even leaving the city.
Even with businesses constantly opening new branches and apartment complexes frequently being constructed, and small bits of progress being made, there is still the vague yet undeniable feeling of emptiness, as though we as a city are living in outer space, simply floating between planets whenever we go anywhere.
There was barely anything within walking distance of my house for the first few years I lived here.
As a younger child, I didn’t care very much, but now as a teenager who is not yet old enough to drive, living in a place with few options for public transportation, the innate desire for independence makes me hate it.
That distance is still maintained for the most part, except for a new middle school I never had the chance to attend, a shopping center and a few restaurants that only recently popped up.
I live in the northern part of Suffolk, just a minute or so from its border with another city, where the air is mainly suburban.
But that begins to take a drastic turn once you start going deeper into the city.
Even on my way to school in the mornings, looking out from the school bus window, I can see the cityscape in front of me turn into a rural countryside, where there are rolling fields of cotton and soybeans.
If you go all the way to downtown Suffolk, the atmosphere begins to become that of a city again – not like the distant, modern suburbs where I live, but an actual city besmeared with the effects of time, and maintaining a charming air because of it.
This part of Suffolk actually feels historical, with its smaller distances and old-fashioned houses and shops, with its museums, like you are in a place that has roots, that has a story to it.
I’ve only been there once or twice throughout my time as a resident of Suffolk.
It’s a fairly long car ride from the northern part, and we never really had many reasons to go.
Thinking about it, I haven’t gone to many particularly interesting places or events within this city before.
In the eight years I’ve lived in Suffolk, I only recently discovered that it does indeed have interesting attractions to visit.
If not for the internet and conversations with my friends at school, I don’t believe I would’ve ever known of them.
The distance isn’t just limited to geography, though. I feel it with the people around me, as though it were an invisible, tangible barrier too thick to cut through with a knife.
Our neighbors are friendly. We exchange good mornings. I have friends. I have friends who live in my neighborhood.
But it seems as though the vast majority of the time, we are all stuck in our own little bubbles, and the only way out is with forceful intent.
You can’t really go outside randomly and happen upon people you know.
Most of the time, you don’t really strike up any conversation with strangers past that of a ‘good morning.’
It does happen occasionally, though. I remember when a stranger spoke with me and my friend once when we were walking outside. She was walking two dogs, and we ended up having a long conversation about them.
I had my instant camera on me that day, so I offered to take a picture of her with her dogs for her to keep. It was an interaction much different than what I was accustomed to, and I wasn’t surprised when she mentioned that she was only staying in Suffolk temporarily for business.
I think I can safely say that I’ve seen slightly more of the world than the average person.
I’ve lived in other Virginia cities much less detached than the air of Suffolk, and visited the sunny resorts of Florida. I’ve seen the crowded streets of Cairo, the clear, rolling waters of Alexandria’s Mediterranean beaches, and spent various summer vacations in an Egyptian village where my parents grew up, a place where everyone walked instead of drove and everyone knew each other well.
Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Suffolk for eight years and counting, it remains shrouded in mystery to me.
It’s like a friendly yet slightly aloof acquaintance that you say hi to every now and again, but don’t actually know, and you’ve reached that point that you don’t know how to go about doing it.
If I’ve only just found out about the various museums and places to visit in Suffolk, what other things don’t I know about? What other secrets does this vast city hold within its rolling fields and empty distance?
If Suffolk is outer space, then I am a confused astronaut and an eager astronomer rolled into one.
To me, the distance and rolling fields within this city are a reflection of the country that contains it.
The very essence of the United States is distance and long, empty highways. The distance and space that holds so much potential, yet hindered by the emptiness that dwells in it.
This city and its mysteries are not the only things I know of the world, but they are what I am used to, so in spite of everything I do consider it somewhat of a home.
“Somewhat” is the keyword, of course.
Since I am the daughter of immigrants torn between my origin country and birthplace, the concept of home is complex and a bit foreign to me.
I do have sweet memories and wonderful friends I’ve made here.
But I also can’t wait to leave.
Salma Amrou is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.