My Backyard

February 26, 2011
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Once upon a time, my backyard was a kingdom.

It never had the guise of a kingdom, but I suppose that's why I was sure it was one. The unkempt patch of grass in the back corner was where the Prince sat, as mighty as he was, on his majestic throne, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of wildflowers and lilac weeds. He was shrouded in shadows so dark that I never saw him, which was convenient in my part because I could then easily imagine him a lot more dazzling and sprightly than I should have allowed.

“He has blonde hair and blue eyes,” I told my mother, who just patted me on the head and called me a “quaint little duck.”
Perhaps the most endearing thing about this little elf prince who lived in my backyard was the fact that I knew nothing about him. His mystery, his nonexistent face, those were all a blank state for me to run my imagination wild upon. I made him out to be someone characteristically spherical: handsome and pretty, smart and clever, noble and brave. He knew how to rule the lands with justice, he defeated dragons, worshipped gods, rescued princesses (but only the pretty ones), he was revered and feared, catered and cauterized—in every sense of the word, he was perfect. His kingdom consisted of a giant bush which I called the Great Wall (for it divided the kingdom into the wealthy and poor regions), two lemon trees (royal gardens), and many, many weeds (peasant farms, if you will), an expanse bordered on three sides by an old, molding gray fence. His throne, of course, overlooked the territory from the West, guarded by black-brown fortresses in the shape of domes that housed worlds of pain (in other words, ant hills).
He never emerged from his hideout, and he never shew even the slightest indication of his existence. The reason I knew he was there, though, was because a lot of his trumpet-men liked to gather around his fortress. Their small blaring trumpets, which sounded more like buzzing to me since I was a giant and so large, must have signaled the coming home of some royalty. What royalty, I never knew. What ceremony, I never figured out. Everyday, I’d just imagine myself as merely ‘that’ giant, a lonely outsider in the Prince's kingdom, left to control my own species from rampaging the lands, lest the Prince unleashed his team of highly trained assassins to come terrorize me (I’ve been under attack before, those mosquitoes).
Of course, before getting into the story any further, I must interject and add that all of this was the secure and prominent imaginings of my very ambitious, very flexible six year old mind, and certainly none of these ramblings had any semblance of truth, or what the world perceives as such. My life as a child revolved around petty daydreams, because I figured in some other way or another that my life was special. That, despite all odds, despite everything that I had been taught in school and in home and by my parents, that my life was magical. My backyard was my playmate, my sole companion that escorted me through my tribulations and troubles, and thus it was apart of my magical world. My prince, his kingdom, they were all real because I felt them to be, and certainly for a child like me, who believed and put faith and naively grew up without a nicked hope, everything I imagined was real.
So it was no wonder that I often had little snippets of “real” conversation with my prince. It went a little something like this:
“Prince! It’s your humble Giant, Jessica! I have thwarted the evil dissenter and his filthy Lawn Mower yet again!”
“Jessica,” he would reply, “My loyal Giant! You have pleased me yet again! Shall I give you a reward?”
“Prince, it is only my honor. Please, you need not burden yourself with such menial tasks as providing me material compensation for my services. Your safety, my Prince, is enough.”
“Ah Jessica!” his voice would cry, silky smooth and without falter, “You silly Giantess. It is of no trouble to me at all!”
And as a reward, he would shower upon me twenty million brilliant coins, and he would show me his bright eyes and brilliant smile, which was worth more than all the brilliant coins in the world put together. And I would grin back, chin up and saluting, knighted with a ruby encrusted sword, and once again in the Prince’s favor.
So, for little old me, whose only playland was inside this padlocked kingdom, the Prince was my god. He ruled my lands, and I, a lonely outsider on his lawn, could only admire his striking form from a distance. Sometimes, I'd lay upon a blanket provided by my exasperated mother, and watch his “throne” serenely. Sometimes, just for hours, I’d lay on the rather thin quilt, made clumped and pointy by the spiny grass underneath, and watch the sky and sleep under the clouds. The heavy, hot Houston weather turned my skin almost olive brown and I sweated heavily. But the peace made me think of my prince, because, unlike all the fighting and violence and action movies that erupted through my brain even before I could barely read, the tranquil scenery of my backyard was available thanks to my prince. Because he was here, the world around me circled without a hitch. My daydreams flowed from my mind, until I almost lost myself in my fantasies.
In the summer of my third grade, my dreams shattered. Overall, I was becoming more in tuned in reality as my age progressed, because more and more of my time was spent away from the kingdom. My backyard kept getting increasingly unsightly, until it was not possible to walk through it without landing on a fortress of ants or two. My father, who had only once cared about the front lawn (“It’s the only one the neighbors see anyway, right?”) suddenly turned his attentions to his backdoor. Despite my protests, despite my cries and tantrums and mental screams that no one seemed to care about, in the summer of my third grade year, he decided to prune the yard. The unkempt grass in the corner was cut, everything weeded. The scruffy patch of grass in the western corner was shredded away to reveal nothing. The prince was no more. It was empty and my delusions were a lie. There was no prince.

“Why’d you have to do that?” I yelled at my father, the poor bewildered man. “Why, why, why, why?!?”
I was devastated. Of course, who wouldn’t be? My world had been taken away from me, swept from right under my feet. What magic? What belief? The cold, harsh truth of reality crashed down and broke my support system. The backyard was cleaned up, the trees poached of their fruit, the bush replaced with a small tool shack. Everything looked far prettier to the superficial eye than before, but at the same time looked far so much uglier, so normal.

My mother told me: “Your prince is going to come back, Jessica, so don’t cry, okay?”

“No, no, no, no!” I cried.
My mother thought that Prince was a little made-up boy, an imaginary friend and playmate. But that wasn’t true; she didn’t understand. She could never seem to understand me, and I never her.

For two weeks, I selfishly terrorized my family simply simply because I knew that my broken dreams could never be reassembled. That, the prince was a lie, and nothing could ever change that into a truth. I felt revolted at our new backyard, the unscented rose, nothing but a hideous reminiscence of the beauty it had been before. It was a terrible loss, the loss of something great.

“You’ll get your prince back soon, Jess,” my mother kept telling me.

“I’m sorry Jess, but the backyard was just such a mess,” my father kept saying.

All of their words just kept me crying more and more, even more so after I heard them talking about my imaginary prince as something that “she’d get over with in a few months.” There’s no way I could, I thought, because there was something in my childhood that came with that broken shard.

But eventually, after I finished sniffling and rubbing my red, swollen eyes, I realized something. For a six year old, this was a very profound thing to realize.

Had I been deluding myself?

Had I known all along that it was fake? Otherwise, why else would I vehemently oppose my father and his shears in the first place? Was it not because I was afraid of facing the truth myself? Was it not because I already knew that the Prince was not real, that he was just a figment of my mind's eye? If I really had believed in the Prince, I would’ve let Daddy cut away, knowing that Prince would be revealed once and for all. But I didn’t because I knew that once that grass was cleared, the Prince wouldn’t be there.

My epiphany punched me clean through the roof. Why hadn’t I realized this before?

The Truth, I realized, was something I hid away. If I really had believed that I found Truth, then I wouldn’t be afraid of the attacks against it. It was all simple, if looked at from a different angle. I was hiding in a fantasy world disguised as my backyard.

I apologized to my parents and went on with my life.

Once upon a time, my backyard was a kingdom, but now it is merely a memory.

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