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The Grass Is Greener
My eyes were always larger than my hands. Big, bright eyes that swallowed the world and spit it out between wobbly baby teeth: transformed. The large Floridian palm trees were my friends, the tennis court behind our small apartment was my playground, the hedge embedded between the pores of backyard dirt was my wall to scale.
I saw the world with radiating irises, with pulsing lenses of naïvety. Using nimble, seven-year-old fingers, I carved my name into my tree to advertise that I’d been there, that I’d been alive. My tree, the one I called some frivolous name, rested beside my sister’s in a field of wild grass. And, throughout the years, the dense hedge beyond our trees continued to separate the world between what was known and what was unknown.
We wanted the unknown.
My mother confined herself inside our small apartment on the second floor, vacuuming the carpets and scrubbing our petite black and white kitchen. If I looked up from the backyard, I could spot our little balcony, a drooping orchid in the corner, a bleached plastic chair in the center. My father was away, working his second job of the night. We shouldn’t expect dinner for a while. We ate when my father returned home-- carrying piles of leftover pizza boxes from his evening shift as a Pizza Girls delivery man.
With so much time stretched before us, most hours were spent walking along that hedge and peaking between the gaps between webbed leaves. We were young. The question of our lives was not how we were going to do what we wanted. It wasn’t logical. It wasn’t punching numbers into a calculator and analyzing the probability of being able to squeeze between the branches. In reality, the reason we marveled at the prospect of something beyond the hedge was due to the fictions we fathomed; a tiny voice in our subconscious whispered that there was a secret we had to discover, a magical land that grown-ups weren’t allowed to enter. We knew that the world cradled something that only we, children, keepers of imagination, could perceive.
It was on one of those days my sister and I walked along the hedge in silence, as if the hedge itself was a dreaming creature that snored softly through its leafy teeth. My sister, thin, blonde, and at the time five years old, ran her hand over the leaves. “I wonder what’s on the other side,” she whispered.
I felt a curious sensation of desire, of the need to want the knowledge. Grown-ups tended to draw a thick line between the concepts of needing and wanting, between necessity and impulse. But I felt them entwine inside me, combine in a collection of roots and thorns. I whispered, “I dare you to go inside.”
She blinked at me, looked between the leaves, back at me.
“I’ll be on lookout for you, I swear. I’ll go right after. It will be an adventure.”
“But… what if I get lost?” she asked.
“You won’t. All you have to do is wish for me to be there, and I will be.”
She trusted her big sister too much. I could tell that, similarly to me, there was both a need and a want tangling inside her, a mess of longing. But hers was fueled by a wish to impress me with her bravery. Without reluctance, she pulled her shoulders back, took a deep breath. She lifted one foot and wedged it between the roots of the hedge.
Writing this, guilt twists inside me for sending my sister into what was, at the time, uncharted territory, but I had thought of myself as the leader of our inseparable duo. Most late nights, my father would come home and read a book to me. We’d read The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Fablehaven. In the books we read, the leader was brave. He was bold. He sent his most trusted soldiers before he ventured as well.
I imagined my little sister clothed in black, a stealth machine of a little girl. I watched her slip farther into the hedge. “Good luck, soldier,” I murmured.
A few moments later and a couple leafy shuffles afterward, I heard a sharp gasp from the other side.
I leaned forward and clung to a few branches when I heard it. My seven-year-old heart constricted. “What? What’s wrong?”
No answer. Oh God, I had led her into a death trap, I had pushed her out into the unknown and into a place even our parents refused to challenge. She was gone, she was swallowed up by a very hungry carnivorous creature on the other side of the universe and it was all my fault.
Holding back tears, I forced myself into the hedge, the branches scraping away at my skin, my mind disregarding the hatched scratch marks along my arms. I shoved myself through the leaves until I reached the other side.
I could not believe what lay before me. My eyes swallowed a huge expanse of small, bright green hills, as if I was transported into Tolkein’s Middle Earth and Bilbo himself could have greeted me at any moment. Tall, yellow flags towered over each hill, and small white holes imbedded themselves periodically into the green expanse. The sun hung low in the sky, sending rays glittering atop blades of grass.
Sarrah. Where was Sarrah?
“Wow…” My little sister sat cross-legged beside me, staring out at the emerald hills.
I sighed. We were okay.
“What is it?” She looked up at me as if my little mind possessed every piece of knowledge in the world.
I grinned. “Want to find out?”
She stood and smiled a toothy smile. Of course I do, her eyes seemed to say.
We spent an hour scaling the magical land. We studied the curious holes in the grass, the neon flags, the occasional abandoned ceramic balls. We traveled far into this world; no one stopped us, no one spotted us along the edges of the hills in the grass. It was as if we were the last people left on Earth. And I’d never been happier.
The sun was going down. “Mommy is going to want us back home,” I said.
My sister nodded, and together we found our way back to the hedge, squeezed our way through its branches, and walked between our two trees. We’d had a successful adventure. I was happy. I was free. Knowing this secret gave me a sense of responsibility. I no longer held just the responsibility to protect my sister; I now had a responsibility to protect this seemingly ancient piece of knowledge as well.
“Had fun?” my mother called over her shoulder. Her feet were bare against the cold tile of the kitchen, her hair suspended atop her scalp in a messy, wild bun. She heaved the freezer door open. I stood on my tiptoes to peak inside, eager to know what would accompany our dinner that night.
The freezer was barren except for a half-empty bag of frozen peas.
My mother poured the contents of the bag onto two foam plates. This was our dinner until my father arrived. The mahogany Grandfather clock chimed in the corner, swinging its heavy pendulum back and forth. It was seven thirty. My stomach rumbled.
My little sister cupped her hands and scooped the peas into her palms, gobbling them between her fingers hungrily. The pendulum continued to swing behind her in monotonous motions. Back and forth, back and forth. My mind wandered. The golf course still expanded out there, over our perfect other side. It still raised tall flags, golf balls still lay in its unexplored crevices, the hills were still countless.
One day, I want to run my fingers along my tree again, along the carving of my name. I want to squeeze between the branches of the hedge. I want to stand in the middle of the world, accompany a lonely flag. I want to sit cross-legged in the grass.
I want to look past the golf courses.