Finding the Garden | Teen Ink

Finding the Garden

May 10, 2014
By bean1404, Ontario, Other
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bean1404, Ontario, Other
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Favorite Quote:
"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not." - Denis Waitley

Author's note: I wrote this piece recently, but it was stemmed from months and months of thoughts building on one another. The initial, most raw thought began with the question what if someone had never seen daylight before? What if you had never felt the cool breeze on your cheek or the grass around your toes? After, little questions began reeling through my mind. I wanted to write this from the perspective of someone young enough not to understand why they cannot go outside, and believes it's purely driven by her parents mean spirits. I wanted to explore the complexity of the relationship between young Gemma and her parents, and how her parents are only trying to do what is, in their mind, the best thing for their daughter, but Gemma doesn't understand that. Overall, I really hope readers get a greater sense of perspective about the world and the people around them after reading this, and that all the things they take for granted are mysteries to others.

The first time I ever saw the sun, I thought I was going blind forever.

Truly, I did. No joke. It was years ago, when I was only young. The curtains had opened a little by accident, and I got a teensy glimpse out. It felt as though someone had taken needles and jabbed them into my eyes. At first, everything was black as night and I couldn’t see a thing, but then all these yellow spots started dancing around me as if they were trying to get into my brain.

I did not like it one bit.

I remember Momma got real angry with me ‘cause of that. At the time, I didn’t know why. She did that thing where her forehead got all wrinkled and she twisted her hands together until she was nearly blue at the fingertips. I didn’t like it when she looked like that - it made her look like a fretful old lady, like Mrs. Dennis. Mrs. Dennis lived next door and always came to visit with homemade cakes and cookies for Momma, Daddy, Jules and me. I didn’t mind the treats so much, but she always seemed to worry about me. Every time she went to hug me, she hardly touched me at all, as if I was a china doll that could break any second.

I hated that.

Jules told me that Momma and Daddy called Mrs. Dennis a character. I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but it sounded like Mrs. Dennis.

“Oh, you poor darling!” She always said that, and it always made me want to smack her. Then she would turn to Momma and Daddy and flailing her arms about like a crazed ballerina she would say, “I can’t even imagine what you deal with each day. You two have my heart.”

You have my heart? What was that supposed to mean? I’d never heard anything so stupid in my entire life. But I always sat there like a good girl because that’s what I was expected to do (Momma called it being obedient, but I thought that was what dogs did). Then after Mrs. Dennis had delivered her pies and cakes and babied me until I was just about ready to scream, Daddy would yawn and then Mrs. Dennis would cry, “Oh, how very rude of me! You two must be absolutely exhausted after all that you go through! I won’t bother you another minute!”

“It’s never a bother, Mrs. Dennis. You know how much we enjoy your company.” Daddy would say, and she would pat his cheek, give me one last devastated look and bustle out.

I didn’t get why everyone made a fuss about me, I really didn’t. Just because I wasn’t allowed outside and I got sick a lot everyone acted as if I was a baby. I wanted to do things, exciting things, like my brother did. My twin brother, Jules, always came home with these wonderful stories of playing down by the creek in Garrett Dawson’s backyard; swinging from tires into the water and playing hide and seek in the forests. I always used to imagine what it would be like to go outside and feel the grass between my toes and the wind in my hair. What did wind feel like? I had no clue, but I bet it was absolutely wonderful. I tried putting my face up next to the fan in my bedroom to pretend, but Jules said it wasn’t the same.

I never knew anyone like me, other than Colin Craven from the book The Secret Garden. We were the same - well, except for he was a boy and I was a girl, and I could walk but he didn’t learn how until his cousin taught him. He had never gone outside either, not even once, until Mary took him. He didn’t want to go outside - he was afraid - but when he becomes brave enough to try, he discovers just how lovely it is. Everyone in that story hated him for a long while, but I never did. I guess it’s ‘cause he showed everyone that he was just like them, that he could walk and go outside like any other normal person. He even made friends, Mary and Dickon and the old gardener.

I always hoped Mary and Dickon would come to my room and take me outside, too, just to see what it was like out there. One time, I asked Momma why I couldn’t be like Colin and go outside just once to try, but her face got all hard and she said no real angry. I didn’t ask again.

But I always hoped. Every day, every night, every second I wished and dreamed and hoped that one day I would be able to go outside, go to school, make a friend like everybody else. In my dreams, the outside world was a swirling, colourful, magical place where everyone was happy and free. Nobody was sick or cried, the sky was always blue. I wanted to see a real blue sky so badly it hurt.

One day, when Momma was collecting the dirty laundry bin from my room, I asked, “Momma, why can’t I be normal like Jules? He has friends, he gets to go outside. I get to do nothing except sit here in my bed all day and read.” Momma looked tired as she rubbed her forehead, setting the laundry basket down.

“Oh, Gemma, we’ve been over this.” Her mouth was set into a frown. I hardly ever saw her smile anymore. “When you and Jules came into this world, you were a little early. Jules was okay, but you got really sick. Really sick. Daddy and I knew it was a miracle that you were able to hold on for so long. The doctors told us you were going to be weak and vulnerable for the rest of your life, that your immune system wouldn’t be strong and that you would get sick often. We don’t want to take any chances with you, Gemma… you already get sick more than enough.”

I pondered that for a moment. “What’s an immune system?”

“It’s the part of your body that fights off diseases.”

“Mine doesn’t work properly?”

“No, it doesn’t. That’s why everyone wears a mask in this house, as well as you not able to go outside.”

I scrunched my lips up as I thought about all that. Suddenly, I thought of a great idea. “Why can’t you ask the doctors to make a new one for me? Then they can just put it inside me and I can go outside!”

Momma’s eyes got all watery when I said that. “No, Gem, no… it-it just doesn’t work that way, sweetheart.”

“But why not?! I bet that I could go outside, just for a minute. Please, Momma, please?” I flopped back the covers of my bed and stood up, my legs wobbly. I stumbled towards her, tripping over my own feet.

Her eyes began watering a whole lot, dripping off her face onto my floor, leaving little puddles next to her feet. It made me think about rain, and how much I wanted to feel it on my arms and legs and face just once. “Gemma, no - get back to bed, you can’t —”

I began to cry and I threw my arms around her soft waist. “But why, Momma, why not? Is it because you hate me? Is it because I’ve been bad?”

A sound as though I had hit her came out of her right then, and she pushed me away, turning her back to me. Her shoulders shook. “That’s not the reason at all, Gemma. Never, ever say that.” She spun around and grabbed my shoulders, looking me straight in the eye. “You hear me? Never.” She let me go and I fell backwards, my bottom hitting the floor with a thump.

“Oh, God, Gem, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean —” She covered her face with her hands and started to cry… hard.

I didn’t want to talk to her anymore. I didn’t even want to look at her. I wanted to her to feel bad because she was being mean, mean, mean. My insides pounded with anger and my backside smarted. I crawled to my bed, underneath the blankets, and screamed. It felt good, sort of.

Daddy burst into the room, yelling, “What?! What is it?” I didn’t want to look at him either ‘cause he didn’t let me go outside or go to school, so I just kept screaming until my throat felt as if it was on fire.

Momma’s crying got softer and more sniffly and she whispered something to him. I heard them leave the room. I hated this room. Hated it so badly I hated myself just for being there. It kept me in here, never let me leave, kept me from the amazing stories about running through fields and laughing and feeling the sun on my back. “I HATE YOU!” I hollered to anyone who would listen. Why couldn’t Momma and Daddy see that I was sick? They tried so hard just to keep me from getting sick ‘cause of my broken immune system that they didn’t even notice that I was sick of life, of this room, of being me.

I guess I must’ve fallen asleep after being so mad, ‘cause I woke up and the lamp next to my bed had been turned off. My room was dark, which I was used to, but it felt even darker for some reason. There was still the hot, angry feeling left at the bottom of my stomach. I would’ve given anything for Mary and Dickon to have come into my room and give me my first taste of fresh air, let me feel the glow of the sun on my skin.

I clicked the little buzzer that Momma and Daddy had put for me to call them if I needed them. I sat upright in bed, and I could see things more clear now that my eyes were used to the dark. Just a moment later, Daddy came rushing into my room.

“Are you okay, Gemma?” He was in his dressing gown, the fluffy one that I loved to hug him in. His hair stuck out in funny places, and I realized it must’ve been the middle of the night.

“No.” I answered, and I was only being honest. “I just wanted to tell you that when I’m a grown up like you and Momma, I’m going outside and there’s nothin’ you can do about it.” I folded my arms. “So there.”

He sighed, and rubbed his eyes with his hands. He slipped on the mask that dangled in his hands and came to sit on the edge of my bed. It made the bed creak. “You know that we’re not doing this to punish you, right?”

“Well, it sure seems like it.” I replied hotly. “You always say that you love me and all that but if you loved me, you’d let me go out just like Colin Craven went outside to the gardens.”

He didn’t look as annoyed when I said that. “You really like him, don’t you, kiddo?” He jostled my blanket-covered leg.

“Colin is my only friend. He’s the only one that knows that people like us… we can do normal things like Jules and you and Momma do.” I picked at my fingernail. “Everyone else thinks that we can’t do anything.”

“We know you can do many things. We only keep you inside to protect you, because there are billions and trillions of germs and bugs out there that we don’t want you to pick up. Your mom has already explained to you that you’re easily susceptible to diseases.”

I looked up at him, but I didn’t smile. I wanted him to know that I was still mad and him and Momma. “Does susceptible mean that I get sick easily?”

“More or less, yes.”

I nodded slowly, looking down at my fingers again. “Am I gonna die?” I asked finally. Daddy seemed shocked when I asked him that.

“Well, I mean, one day you will. Everyone does. But not for a long, long time, and not because you’re —”

“I heard one of the doctors talking to you and Momma. She was saying that I could go outside, because I should be exposed to germs. She said it’s more dangerous for me to stay in and never see a germ in my life than go out and get sick a few times.”

He looked like someone had hurt him real bad after I said that. His face when all white. “Sweetheart, you wouldn’t just get sick a few times, you could get seriously sick.”

The hotness inside my grew stronger, and I said, “What if I don’t care?”

“Don’t be silly, Gemma.” He sounded all mad at me again.

“DON’T SAY THAT. I’M NOT SILLY.” My chin wobbled, and I felt the water gather in my eyes again. I didn’t want to cry, but it was so hard holding it in.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” Daddy said. “That wasn’t nice of me to say. But really, Gemma, this isn’t a good conversation to be having at one in the morning. Can we discuss this later on today? Please?”

I let the tears spill out. “Do you not want me to be happy, Daddy?”

He covered his face with his hands. He didn’t say anything at all for a long moment. “We’ve already explained multiple times that the only reason we’re not allowing you to go outside is strictly for your own benefit. No other reason.” He stood up straight and walked towards the door, and for a second he looked like one of those soldiers you see in movies with their chests puffed out. Any other time I would have laughed, but not now. “Goodnight, Gemma.”

I didn’t answer, not even when he blew me a kiss on the way out.

I cried myself to sleep, and it was one of those sleeps where you feel like everything has been sucked out of you with a huge vacuum cleaner, so you’re nothing more than skin and bones. I dreamt of running in the forest with Colin Craven, racing and turning corners until we were flying like birds. We jumped off a cliff, over the great blue ocean, looking down at the crashing waves.

“I’ve got wings!” I cried to Colin, and he turned to grin at me.

We flew over and under clouds, and I felt like I could do anything in the whole world. I had only seen pictures of what lay before me in this dream. Colours swirled around us, and we held hands as we soared across meadows and mountains and jungles.

“See? We can do anything they can!” Colin yelled to me.

I felt so free. “Come home with me, Colin! We can show them what we can do, and then they’ll believe me!”

He didn’t reply, just smiled at me again. We dipped below the trees, and I reached out my hand as far as it could go just to feel the leaves on my fingertips. They brushed against my hands, silky and new.

I would have flown forever, just me and Colin together. It felt… magical.

“I have to go back now, back to the gardens where I belong.” Colin said as we rose above the forest, the wind whipping across my cheeks.

He let go of my hand, and sadness filled me like a plug pulled in a bathtub. “I’ll see you soon, right, Colin?”

He looked at me, his head tilted to the side. It had felt so wonderful, having my best friend with me again. “You’ll see me again, Gemma. Don’t you worry.”

My eyes flew open. I almost thought Colin would be there, next to my bed, along with Mary and Dickon to bring me to the garden, but it was Momma who had shook me awake.

“Wake up, sleepyhead.” She wasn’t crying anymore, but she wasn’t really smiling either.

I was still angry at her, but I decided to say good morning.

“Your dad and I have decided that today, you can open the curtains a little. Just a few centimetres, enough that you can see out to the backyard a bit.” She made it sound as if she had just given me a pony.

I hardly made a face, and she looked surprised. “But I can’t go outside?”

“No, honey, no. It just isn’t safe.”

I didn’t say anything for a long while. I knew she thought she was doing something wonderful for me, but it just made me feel more empty inside. As if she had just yanked out any last bits of hope I had left. “Okay,” I said real quiet.

She waited for a while before leaving, and I think she thought I was going to say something to her.

I didn’t.

Finally, she just stood up and left without a word. She looked kind of disappointed.

After she closed the door, I felt a sadness stronger than I had ever felt. It left a great big hole inside me, and I hated it. I wanted that missing piece to make me full again, but I knew there was only one way to find it.

I sat upright, throwing off the covers. My legs were very shaky this morning, on account of being asleep for so long and bruising my bottom, but I managed to stand without falling. The curtains glowed, and my feet began to tingle with the thought of whatever lay behind it.

I grabbed the window ledge for support, my arms weak, and without thinking, I yanked back the curtain slightly. The sun’s rays hit me like fire, and I shut my eyes, water pouring from my eyes. What was all the hype about the sun, then? All it did was burn you. After a moment, I tried opening one eye. It hurt, but I could keep it open for a while. My eyes were all blurred thanks to the tears, and I waited for them to focus on something outside.

Green. That was the first colour my eyes picked out. The colour of trees. I nearly bawled on the spot. Trees. I had never seen them before in real life, not even one. On TV, of course, but never in front of me, never so close. After a moment of staring at the mass blur of green, looked away, spots circling my eyes like they had so many years ago. I collapsed on the floor, curling my legs up into a tight ball, and I began to sob.

Really sob. My whole body shook.

All of these things outside, they were so close, but so far away at the same time. I couldn’t go out, couldn’t feel them with my own fingers, couldn’t smell them with my own nose. What was the point, I wondered, in staring at something I couldn’t touch? It was no better than a television screen.

It made me so sad to think that Jules would have all these memories of fun and laughter, but I would have none. Nothing but this room, these walls that held me, the door that shut me out from everything I had always dreamed about. What good was a life like this? No good at all, I didn’t think. No good at all.

I sat on that floor for hours, just watching. Watching Jules run around the yard, watching Momma and Daddy throw a flat disc back and forth, watching Mrs. Dennis come over to our yard, probably to give us more cake. Watching something I could never be a part of. That was the part that hurt the most, I think.

“Colin, you know that I can do it, right?” I said softly to the air as I watched out the glass, and I knew that somewhere far away, somewhere that was magical and wonderful and couldn’t entirely be explained, Mary and Dickon and Colin were laughing and running and playing in the gardens, free as the wind.

Of course, Colin replied as he looked around at the blooming bluebells around him.

As the mystery of the world turned outside my bedroom walls, I knew he was right. One day, in the meadows filled with sweet-scented honeysuckles and a sky as blue as a sapphire in the summer sun, I would join them, those three. I’d find the garden I’d always hoped I would.

Then, for the first time in my whole entire life, I’d be free.

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