The Green Place

May 31, 2011
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That place held a special significance back then. It was practically in our backyard. For some reason we called it a meadow even though it was a plain—it had something to do with the grass, I think, the way the grass was so lush it was almost flowery. The way the hills were arranged it seemed like the green went on forever, like you could follow it over the next rise and the next one and never reach an end, never reach the wall of concrete and smog that we all knew was there. In that place civilization didn’t exist. The whole meadow seemed an ancient world untouched, unchanged, frozen in time, and when we came there we disappeared into it. The bubble was fragile—gone with the turn of a thought—but somehow my sister Carrie and I kept it intact.

It was our escape from reality. We vowed we’d never end up like my mother, chained to a desk for eight hours while the sun shone outside. We’d never settle for a job that we didn’t care for. No gray future for us. We would do whatever we wanted to in life.

Over time we went less and less often, and the meadow lost its sharpness, graduated from a clarity where I could see every blade of grass to a monochrome landscape of dull green. And then it sank into memory, becoming fuzzy to the touch and feel, growing fur, decaying.

One night my sister stayed up on the phone until dawn, giggling with some boy. I stayed in the opposite bed, curled under the comforter in the hot sweaty darkness, thinking Shut up, shut up, shut up. But the loud rattling voice went on, piercing the quiet, and all I could think was that it didn’t sound like my sister’s.

The sky lost its blue, became simply another color on the wheel. I went through high school and senior year and prom. I forgot about the meadow unless someone mentioned green.

Spring came and Carrie took a job in the field of accounting. I began to turn my back on her. “It’s only for a few months, sis,” she said one afternoon when we met at Starbucks. My knuckles whitened around my cup of coffee. “Just until I can get something I want, you know,” she added, noticing. “I promise."

“I thought you wanted to be a writer.”

“I do,” she replied. “Look, I’m applying to be an intern at the New Yorker. Seriously Emily, chill. I’ll be done with this in a few months. Anyway, it’s still writing, right? Just for an accounting magazine.” She hoped I would smile. I didn’t.

“Then I’ll leave you to it,” I said, putting down my cup.

Even as I walked away from the coffee place I berated myself for my rudeness. I knew she truly wanted to be a writer, just like me. She wasn’t selling out or giving up. She was just taking a side path until she could look at her dream realistically. I told myself to take it easy on her. This didn’t mean our promise was broken—she would make it somehow, I told myself.

She never got the job at the New Yorker. Her mouth curled in until I thought it would disappear, and over the next few months she grieved and ruminated by turns under a mask of hysteria. “I’m sorry,” I said on the phone. “I knew how much you wanted this.”

“You could at least offer some support,” Carrie wailed. “Roger’s moving in next month ’cause his mom won’t, you know, lend him any more money. He’s just in a tight spot now. We’re both in a tight spot and I don’t really have options and I wanted to have an option but I—”

And, because she had mentioned his name—the boy she had hung around and fawned over since that giggling sixth-grade night on the phone, the boy who had changed our sisterhood forever—I hung up.

I instantly regretted it and snatched up the receiver, but heard only the dead muted voice of static. And in that moment, phone pressed against my ear, cold plastic turning my brain to mush, I saw the meadow again. The green stretched out just as far as ever and the sky arced just as high overhead, even though I had grown quite a few inches since our last visit. The blue overhead was once again an impossible Technicolor shade, and there were no airplanes rumbling overhead. There never had been at first, but somewhere along the line they had gotten mixed up in the sky and taken away some of the magic. That was maybe one of the last times I’d been there.

But I was sure it was unchanged. The grass would still be the same, and even if it had lost all of its magic, it would still be a nice place to admire the nature that seemed to be shrinking around me.

I twisted and untwisted the cord and remembered how bright the air had been. I could almost taste it. I thought about going back—but it was a crazy, flitting thought, and vanished in a second. I could visit it later, much later. Right now I had work to do. I had…

I had to write my speech on public school education that I would give at New York PS 37. With luck I would be hired as a teacher; they’d said they were looking for help. Maybe start out small, early grades, kindergarden all the way to a college professor. Maybe I would even earn enough money to retire early and write for a living, like I had always wanted.

Years later I came to that place again, but there were only weeds.

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