The Dandelion Massacre

June 12, 2010
I stood up straight, beads of sweat dotting my forehead, a prickling green stem caught between my clenched fingers. I pushed my limp bangs out of my eyes, and glared at the sun. How dare it shine so brightly, when my world was so dark? How dare it bring people happiness when my own was nowhere in sight?

I looked to the top of the hill I was on, up to the tiny inn that sat at its peak, and saw my mother tottering about in her hideous blue heels. The shoes had been a gift from my grandmother, my father’s mother, and it amused me how she was treating them. Aerating the garden with them was the only use my mother could think of for a pair of neon blue Manolos. If you can’t stick it to the man himself, you might as well stick it to his mother.

Two people stood outside her garden, linked arm in arm, chatting. Probably admiring the tulips. People often do. The garden belonged to a ramshackle hilltop inn that had been abandoned for 27 years. I remember her calling in every favor she could think of from people all over the country, seeking out building materials and a reliable construction crew that could make the building strong again.

And although she arranged for the building to fall together, all of her personal attention went to the garden. She always tells me how the garden was the hardest thing for her. Everything was overgrown, and so choked with ivy and bittersweet that she’d had to raze it. It broke her heart, destroying the patch like that. She never realized that things sometimes need to get worse before they get better. When all the dead things had been removed and burned, she began planting. Sunflowers in the eastern corner, daffodils in the western, and tulips everywhere in between. She worked day and night whipping that dirt patch into shape, raking and sowing and watering. Sometimes she went for days without eating a meal, so intent she was in her work.

Eventually, I think she ended up pouring too much of herself into that garden. It became her baby, and she rarely left its side. One night, before the flowers grew tall enough to bloom, we had an incredible rainstorm. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and seeing my mother outside. Holding a tarp over her precious seedlings, she stood in the driving rain, yelling obscenities that were lost on the wind as thunder and lightning tore the sky to pieces. She became a ghost in her own hotel, leaving the work of running it to whatever pompous hospitality major had happened into town that week. As the garden grew and flourished, I saw less and less of her.

It occurred to me then, as I bent down to pull out another dandelion, that she was probably channeling her emotional distress into her work, trying to distance herself from anything that could get out of control and hurt her. Her parents disowned her when she married my father after they made it clear that they hated him. Her marriage turned into a disaster when it was discovered that my father was a drunk and a gambling addict, who ended up stealing her money and her integrity. Her first two children died in a car crash the year she was pregnant with me. All she had left in the world was that bed and breakfast, that garden, and me. She only ever noticed the garden. “I should be a shrink,” I muttered, wrenching dandelions from the earth. I resented how she only ever thought highly of things that would never hurt her.

This morning was the first time in a week that I’d seen my mother up close. When I said good morning, she muttered something incoherent about useless dandelions and ambled out the door with her gardening can. Apparently, I had a job to do today. I promised myself that I’d weed the whole hill by nightfall. The sun had started to burn up the back of my neck, but after a while I didn’t notice anymore. I wondered if my mother felt like this when digging in her garden. Just this total sense of disillusionment from reality. I liked it. It felt good to have my mind wander, and be welcomed into a strange alternative environment where it was free to bloom and grow like my mother’s tulips. “Not being forced from existence, like her bloody dandelions,” I announced acidly.

I don’t know what time it was when I threw the body of my final victim onto the burn pile. I surveyed my work, and noted that no one could possibly appreciate the magnitude of the massacre that just occured unless they stood exactly where I was.

I plodded up the hill back to the inn, and made my way into the kitchen. It took me a moment to realize that my mother was sitting at the kitchen table, holding a steaming mug. “Hi, mom.” I ventured, not wanting to disturb her, but craving her attention. She turned her head to stare out the window at her garden. “Hello, mother,” I tried again. Nothing. Anger coursed through me, and dozens of hateful words crossed my mind. “Good evening, madam. I have completed the task you requested of me. Every nefarious dandelion has been purged from your hillside, and now reside in a mangled, agonizing heap. May I be of anymore assistance, or shall I retire for the evening?” “Burn them when you get a chance,” she murmured absentmindedly. Clearly missing my sarcasm.

I felt like I’d been slapped. I retrieved the lighter and fuel from their places near the sink and stormed out the door. Tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t even figure out what about her made me the angriest. Her inability to recognize good work when she saw it? Her lack of basic parental affection? The fact that, no matter what I do, she’ll never acknowledge that it happened? I had a brief memory of the time when she first embedded the tulip seeds into the dirt. “Tulips are the world’s most tenacious flower,” she’d said. “They keep blooming and growing, even after they’ve been picked and put in a vase.”

Did these tulips remind her of herself, with the way they could still be after everything they know has been cut away? I reached my pile of dandelion carcasses. If my mother is a tulip, am I a dandelion to her? “A minor inconvenience that constantly appears where you don’t want it. And nobody EVER appreciates it,” I grimaced.

I set the lighter and fuel down on the dirt, and nestled in the pile of flowers. If I was a dandelion, then torching them would be suicide. I smiled as the mop-top petals tickled my cheek. Their sweet, milky smell drifted through the night on a passing breeze. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and felt content. It was nice for everything to feel right, even for just this brief moment, as I realized that the Dandelion Massacre was over.

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