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A Goodbye to Suburban Summers

by Pia Kristine Raahauge Beiermann

In recent years, I have come to collect a particular kind of encounter. Whenever someone casually asks about my plans for the summer holidays, my response often seems to surprise them: I’m going home. Their immediate reaction is usually a mix of curiosity and confusion. Why? What will you be doing there? For the whole summer? These inquiries typically come from acquaintances or people familiar with the fact that my hometown is a small place on the Western coast of Norway – a place I usually refer to as dull and unremarkable.

Before these reactions started piling up, I never thought about the significance of spending two months each summer in the place where I grew up. A city per definition, I have always perceived Haugesund as homogenous and very limited in its cultural life and interest. It is simultaneously big and small – the center of the district but claustrophobic enough for there to always be a familiar face at the supermarket. Going home, however, has proven my hometown to possess a certain adequacy.

It is just what we do – my childhood friends and me – despite our scattering across Norway or different parts of the world. In summer, we go home.

So, what exactly happens there? We throw parties, play volleyball, go to the forest and swim in the lake. Nothing out of the ordinary – and this is where the charm of going home lies. For just a little while, we return to live with our parents and engage with the same people and pastimes as always. As if time hasn’t passed since the summers when we were fifteen and in love with each other, battling with our parents, and brimming with adolescent hormones and the eagerness to break free. Going home renders the summers of our high-school years illusionary and continuous.

We have certainly changed, but suburbia has not – at least not in a recognizable way. We have moved on and grown up but are drawn back to this liminal space that offers respite from our new lives. Suburbia offers a whiff of familiarity and safety, of innocent irresponsibility. It grants us access to whatever nostalgia may have (or lack thereof) for the messy teenage years, now devoid of hormonal turmoil and the perception that the world is defined within municipal borders.

While my friends in Amsterdam ask if I am going to Norway, my childhood friends ask me when I come home. It is an incontestable dynamic, an integral part of the package, not a matter of if but when. Until now, that is.

In the past, even if we weren’t in touch during the rest of the year, we knew we would reunite during the summer holidays. This year, however, feels different. Gradually, one after another, we are completing our educations, some are securing stable jobs, potentially purchasing homes with their partners. Some are entering the realms of parenthood and marriage. Settling down elsewhere has come to pose a threat to our continuous youth. 

Despite the limitations of this place, it has offered us a sense of tranquillity and predictability, a temporary release for twenty-something adults on trial. We took our going home for granted, a dynamic which the Covid years likely extended as travel restrictions allowed for additional summers when everyone was collectively at home.

As time works on our histories, these 6-7 years have perhaps been an in-between passage from youth to adulthood. We haven’t clinched on to our young years but easily waltzed into our old trajectories. Although friends have drifted apart and reconnected, some have broken up and others have found new connections, we have remained the same group of people. Acting as an infrastructure for our dispersed community, it is only recognized when it faces disruption. Our summer homecoming has been contingent upon our lives being in a state of limbo, unnoticed until they reach their conclusion. As the cliché goes, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.

Photo Credit @ Åse Bjøntegård Oftedal

Pia Beiermann is a dancer and an anthropology graduate

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