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the moon in the garden and me

something i wrote quite a while ago and discovered, in an old format, on my computer. i think that it's actually from a few computers ago, which goes to show you how careful i am about reviewing the contents of my precious writing folders. god only knows what i've lost over the years. i like to pretend that i remember every single one of my literary children, but the fact is that as i've gotten older, i'm just as lax about them as i am about almost everything else in my life. [i can however, tell you for certain whether or not i have a specific limited edition lipstick. my priorities need tweaking.]

aside from the fact that this story was written a long time ago, the idea for it goes back years earlier. it's something that came to me as a much longer idea, but written out long, it got very whiny and dramatic in a way that i didn't like. i've condensed most of the plot into a much shorter framework and as far as i can recall, the only thing i've retained from the original work-in-progress-that-never-seemed-to-progress is the opening line. i'm still not sure about the final result, but i'm at the stage where i truly don't know what to do with it anymore, aside from just add it here and contemplate its existence.

strangely, the story always seemed secondary to me, because the idea was fuelled more by the idea of the atmosphere i wanted to convey. the two words that come to mind are "foliage" and "watery", which aren't descriptive of atmosphere in any meaningful way, but that's as much as i have to offer. i seriously think i got the original idea looking at reeds in a pond at the halifax public gardens. not that you can tell.

the pictures i've used are from all over, but i found them all on pinterest. my page is linked at the right and you're more than welcome to peruse my boards at your leisure. all the photos from this post are on the board "flora" with links to their original posters/ owners.

*

Now I am a mermaid, vines for hair, breathing water and mud, stirring up clouds in my descent, clouds that obscure and clouds that disguise. I am falling back through time, sinking into dreaming where I am safe again, where I have always been at home, Tendrils of grass are woven into me, forming a braid with my body and everything around me that I call myself, that I call myself because it is so familiar. I am not trying any more. It is earthy and real and I am as relaxed as reeds. Powerless.

We would play here when we were children. Carolyn and Eva and I, out of sight, quietly, not like children but like elves or fairies, on the edge of reality for those large people who looked on over us. Those large people who were so incomprehensible, statues in the garden, this huge mysterious garden that isolated and protected us. One Father, close and distant as if that were possible. Warm by turns in the evenings, with a thousand life stories we might have believed early on. Not for long. One Mother, while she lasted, frustrated and wanting, always, to be let alone. She was never alone. For too long, I believed that it was because she was always surrounded that she really did always dream of being alone. Because I believed she wanted the one thing she could not have. I believed that although she had so much, she did just want her private space. I believed her claims longer than my Father’s. She was more convincing. But, in the end, just as aluminum-siding fake. She wanted to be out, but never alone.

When I was a student, living in a larger city, I was entirely alone although I wasn't by myself. I was older than most students. I lived with someone then, not so long. Long enough. My Father would call, more stories. And my sisters. They would call to remind me that there was still a sense in which we were together. And then I would come home for a few days, where my Father languished in loneliness, never understanding why she had gone, why all his women had disappeared, and I would realise that the home where we had been, where we had stood in the pond and sat in the garden, no longer existed. Autumn comes and burns away the last golden ashes of Summer and the foliage fades to  brown and grey and there is ugly detritus where beauty once ruled. Here is home.

None of the three of us understood the whole story. We knew our Mother was from California. That her family had a great deal of money. We found the pictures in the attic, our Mother as a young woman, perhaps pretty but not as polished as when we saw her. We could not picture the scraggly tendrils in the photographs being lacquered into the hairstyle she wore for us. There she was, unaccustomed to her handlers. Filled with so much kinetic energy that her two-dimensional image seemed ready to charge off the page. What would our Father have thought of her like that? Not much, but he never had to think of her that way, since she came to him later. Not much later. Late enough.

Around Carolyn’s graduation from high school (it must have been then, because I remember that there was a sort of occasion in progress), that was when the mysterious other man with dark hair came to visit. He spoke softly to Mother and to Carolyn and after that she was Carolyn Morris instead of Carolyn Fitzgerald and we understood that what we had found long before in the attic were souvenirs of a woman who no longer existed. Her parents didn’t approve of him and they cut her off, Carolyn explained later. It was like she was telling someone else’s story, one from a book, but from the staircase, I had heard her sobbing softly, rhythmically when Mother and this new man were speaking to her. In one stroke they had told her that she might have been someone else, someone happier with a normal Father and a happy Mother but had lost out and, at the same time, she was severed in her mind from Eva and I, made into someone else, without any history.


So our Mother’s parents, my grandparents who came to visit every summer, had starved their daughter away from this mysterious man. And they had, indirectly, brought her to our Father, my Father, who had left her so angry. She might have meant, once, to be a good Mother. But only once. What thin patience she had for children was entirely lavished on Carolyn. Eva and I were gifts she offered up to Father to buy his absence and his silence, to distract his attention from her when she grew tired of entertaining him. From birth, we were sacrifices, resented because of our ongoing presence, and because we were, as she was so fond of telling us, our Father’s daughters. I always wondered who else’s daughters we could have been to make her less angry with us. After the nocturnal passing of the dark-haired man, I knew. 

I left art school around the time my Father became sick. He wasn’t sick, really, wasn’t sick with anything that I could help, but I thought that maybe having me there would keep him happy enough that he could fight it off himself and besides, I had nowhere else to go. But my presence meant little because to him, in his state, I was hers and I was a grisly reminder of the limb that had been severed. He was the limb. She had run off with the rest of their shared body. I was no help and I was trapped, having no option to go back to school after I had pulled up in the middle of term. So I stayed. What else could I do?

Eva would stop at home in between travels, sometimes bringing small gangs of people with her to camp in our living room and snicker at the simple domesticity I had to offer by way of company. I must have been an anachronism to them, someone their own age who seemed older than their mothers. They would whisper to Eva, asking if the two of us really were sisters. It was a little welcome company for me, in spite of this.

When I was a teenager, some of my friends had jobs, but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to have one, that I was supposed to pretend to be above it, so I stayed walled up in our house. And I have been falling back to this home ever since. What else could I do?

I came back here in the hopes of healing; an always-incomplete process since closing one set of wounds involved opening another. A few weeks before I arrived, I’d no intention of coming back. It was not my idea to move. I had no intention of leaving Trevor, who said that he loved me. We smoked a lot of pot and argued and sometimes had sex and it was fine.

Carolyn came up to visit not long after her wedding as a surprise and pulled me out, just led me right out of the apartment while Paul, who had always suspected what was happening, gathered up my belongings. Carolyn and I sat in the cafe saying nothing in that way we have while I cried and looked at the white and red lines on my arms and neck, the blue circles spattered over my skin and felt ashamed. I don’t think I’d really noticed what was happening, or I imagined that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I don’t know if I thought at all until I was back at home and had my Father to occupy me. I still cried then, but differently. Because I had been trapped. Because I had been used. Because these things seemed to be pressed into me, pinning me down. Because I had believed Trevor when he said that he loved me. And because being with him had given me the hope that someone was there to help me escape.

Carolyn didn’t see what made me stay with him. She saw why I had to go and she took me, held me while I cried and told me, her voice filled with doubt that everything would work out. For her, things had already worked out, because she had Paul and she was married and she didn’t have to think about being alone or unloved any more. So this is what her voice said: that she knew things could suddenly become better, but because better had come to her through no more effort than it took to wish it, she had no idea how to bring it about.   

Paul married Carolyn but I don’t think that he loves her. I believe he wants to, but I can see the strain when he looks at her, knowing that she deserves to be loved and that he is failing. I know she doesn’t love him, but she likes him. That’s harder to do. When I was at their wedding, I was bigger than I’d ever been, not huge, but different enough that the bridesmaid’s dress she’d fitted for me a few months earlier was too tight and I stood in the sweaty heat of Indian Summer with that stiff, crimped fabric sticking to me, cutting into my sides. I told her I was crying because I was so happy for her, but mostly I was crying because this dress had been made for someone who wasn’t there. I felt like I’d been wedged into it as a last minute replacement. Even when I wanted to be there and be happy for someone else, I was a fake. 

Paul appeared out of this garden, our little private forest. Just materialized out of the trees at dusk in front of me, coming to drop off some notes from school with Carolyn. He had been real for her for some time, but for me he came out of the trees and for me he remains a part of this. It’s not their marriage that makes him family. It’s the fact that he comes from here. Carolyn was sick then and he was trying to help her. And at the same time he tried to help me by staying evenings and talking with me while we looked at the ducks bobbing on the pond. So Carolyn and I both needed him, one in the musty confines of our ageing house and one outside, in the shade of the trees.  Only Eva remained aloof for all that she liked him, remained aloof and watchful, watchful but aware that he was above compromise. Did she feel cheated that with all the idiots she had dealt with, she could see someone who acted so differently?

Trevor was one of the only people I could never bind to this place in my mind. Everyone else seemed to pass through the garden like the fluff on dandelions gone to seed- here, gone, reappearing, disappearing, belonging. I liked that about Trevor, that he could not link me with the person I was here and I wanted him to make me someone else, to construct what he wanted to have from the inside out. And he’d tell me, when he was feeling kind, that he liked me the way I was. Of course.

Eva came home last month, her stomach distended as if she were carrying a tumour rather than a child. You could see how miserable she’d become. It was like a cloud of flies was settled around her, thick enough that her words were indistinct inside the fog. She was debilitated enough that I could take her to her old room and make her go to bed without any resistance. This is where we come when we are wounded, because at least we do not feel alone. I took her face in my hands and marveled at the feeling of the bones cutting almost through the flesh. Then I held her bloated hands and it was like touching a warm sponge, not like the same person at all. Our Father was slack in a chair on the patio, muttering imprecations about Eva’s behaviour and slurring out his disappointment and contempt. I don’t try to stop him any more. He falls asleep early and I get my release. I finish what he leaves or I brazenly open my own, bought with my own money as I like to remind him, when we both are feeling emotional, when we want to brawl but lack the energy.

(My own money I remind him because my money is her money. Would have been hers except that her parents, out of sheer spite for all we can tell, left their money, their Californian mountains of money, to their three grandchildren. Her parents who wrinkled up their noses as if there was garbage in the room when they sat with my father. Her parents who told us to be quiet before we'd even opened our mouths and never called or wrote or sent us cards and presents. Her parents who never expressed a single emotional link to any of us. They knew that she would appreciate the gesture of them leaving their money to us. Even as they died, him first and her three years later, they could shake their heads at her and show her how generous they were. Once more, they had stepped in to clean up the mess that she had left.)

When Eva came home, I separated myself from my Father. We live here, we pass each other on the stairs, we see each other outside as we did when I was a child, me wandering around our garden, imagining myself capable of being somewhere else. Him on the patio, resentful of my still having the ability to imagine such a thing, but comforted by the knowledge that I would never attain it. We no longer sit together and drink and argue about nothing for want of better things to do. I can handle looking at myself in the morning and seeing the dark circles deepen, the stain on my cheeks spreading, but Eva deserves better. We both returned here as a last resort. She has reason to recover and I have reason to hide the person who circumstance has forced me to become.

Carolyn comes only for visits, comes for Eva and me and winces if she has to speak to her not-father. When she comes, Paul comes too. She has never remained here, never feels the mud around the pond suck at her feet and hold her in place when she wants to move. We all fail at times, but her failures are private, they are quiet, less spectacular than Eva’s or mine. Whatever cuts away at her security does so in the silent pockets in conversation, in those lost times trying to sleep and being unable to do so. She smiles her pretty, emotionless smile and pats Paul’s hand and I see that her pain is fear. She saw the pictures in the attic with Eva and me, but she saw that reaching the peak meant descending into the chasm. Eva ran out and tried to seize that energy for herself, always jumping at the bait. Carolyn saw it was better still to stay on level ground. She comes and talks to us and offers what she can to help. She doesn’t touch us as much as she used to. She knows we might still be contagious, for all her precautions.

After Eva arrived this time, Carolyn stayed here for three days. She was concerned about the baby, she said, but really she was guilty for us. I know now, know from the slavish way she attended both of us during those three days that she wonders if she could have protected us from our fates if she had been less concerned with protecting herself. She caressed Eva’s hair and whispered stories to her like she used to do when we were very young. Even then, Eva was constantly injured, scrapes from tree climbing, gouges from our perimeter fence she was always trying to climb, bruises from fights with other children, most of which she started. Such a tomboy when she was a kid my father would drawl to whoever was listening, whoever passed for a close friend at the time. When she was a kid was his way of telling people she wasn’t like that now. He never said it, but he drew the line between her days as a bruised, scratched tomboy and those as a young woman at precisely the moment when her mother (it was always “her mother” as if she were someone he didn’t know) disappeared. As if this departure somehow cured Eva of a kind of disease. How little he saw.

Eva’s misadventures had moved beyond the confines of our yard, out there where we couldn’t see them coming. Not like mine, which were drawn out, tragic, dusty dry with predictable anguish. Eva’s defining moments snapped like a whip over our heads and made everyone pay attention. She arrived home swollen three times her usual diameter, with no names to join to what was in her, only a story of living the last several months with bikers and seeing the sunrise in the desert near the Nevada/ California border. She painted the sky in words for us to consume, streaks of light like a kaleidoscope as it shifts, azure and grey like the wings of a blue jay, stars spread across like a dusting of flour. I sighed at the appropriate moments and thought of watching the sunset from my apartment when I lived with Trevor. No light show, no breathtaking splendour, just an unremarkable moment when the sun slipped behind the next building and then cool darkness.

Carolyn and Paul stayed and cared for Eva, and, from the corners of their eyes, for me. They wanted, I know, for me to believe that it was all for Eva and that they thought I was doing well for myself, doing myself proud by running our shambles of a house. I knew better. I knew from the mirror how tired I looked, how everything hung from me like slabs of meat in a butcher shop. I knew that they were there to patch me up as well. I knew it and I was happy for their company. Most of the time.



Other times, I wandered out around our garden, our little private park with five generations of my father’s family with me, bitter ghosts waiting to steal hope from the living. I would wander to avoid cracking, to get away from the feeling that I was being usurped by an interloper. My Father would watch from his slouching position on the balcony, smirking because he saw how the mighty had fallen. He saw that the little power I had obtained, the power that allowed me to order him into the house or away from me, was ebbing in the presence of my sisters. He smirked because he remembered what it was like to feel impotent, to watch something that had been taken for granted simply
vanish. He smirked because, after having me berate him and lord my little isolated power over him, he was happy to see me suffer. I wandered past, glaring, venomous, at him as I hurried away. Took solace in the memory of his shattered face the morning my mother had calmly packed her suitcase and left the house without explanation. In my own bitterness, I remembered seeing him, from a hiding place, since everyone believed I was at school, sink to the steps of the porch and sob. I had for some time regretted not reaching out to him when it happened, but at the time I believed it was just another fight. Later, resentment swollen in me, I wished I had called out to make fun of him.

One walk kept me outside, circumnavigating the property again and again for two hours. Carolyn was inside helping Eva with her exercises. My Father was ensconced in front of the television, blankly staring at whatever flashed in front of him. I walked to the edge of the pond and watched the colourless reflections in its surface. Through the trees, Paul walked out to check on me, concerned and curious. Once again, he came like a nature spirit out of the garden, offering friendship and understanding. He comes to look for me on purpose now, in among the plants, seeking me out in those places where I hide. To me, he talks about those things that are not part of his life with Carolyn. To me he talks about what he dreamed of doing. How he expected things to be. And of me he asks the same questions. He does not waste time asking me about the ordeals of everyday life. He asks me how I would make things if I were to repaint the world. I try to answer, but it often upsets me when I see how many things I would change, how far away from reality that new painting is. I have no idea what changes would have to come first. Every one seems predicated on another and the beginning is lost even though the end is clear. And I cannot begin even one of them.

It was through his advice that I went away to see my mother last year. I told my father that I was going back to Toronto to visit friends and he did not question me (being happy to be relieved of me for a few days). I went to ask her why. Not why she left, because I understood that well enough, having lived with my father a few years. I went to ask her why she stayed so long. Why she stayed to damage us by refusing to love us rather than run away immediately. I went to ask her what she had felt for us. If we had meant anything.

I lied to my Father about where I was going, because I thought it might kill him to know that I could see her and he couldn’t. In the end, I am not so cruel as I believe myself to be. She liked to twist the knife a little by sending pictures of herself from time to time, nominally for Carolyn, but they continued even after she knew that Carolyn wasn’t living there any more. Carolyn always knew more about her life than the rest of us. I don’t believe they ever lost contact. She sent pictures of herself, handsome and tanned, looking younger than her years as she always had, gold and dazzling like an Oscar statuette. There were other men in the picture. Men of varying ages, looking smug at having her with them. Bronzed men who made me see how rumpled my father had become. I never wrote her until there had been a long break between letters. When I wrote it was out of hope, because I didn’t see how I could still try her nerves, or get in her way, or hold her back. And when I heard from her new husband that she was sick, I thought that illness might weaken her, bring her down to my level. Made her human.

She was in a clinic and had responded to my letter as part of the therapy that was recommended. I had to laugh at how little the doctors understood my mother that they thought forcing her into contact with her daughters would make her better. I went to see her in this place, met her sitting at a picnic bench smoking a cigarette, her head a little crooked, eying me like a bird observing its prey. She was paler, greyer, thinner. She was also louder, calling out her pain and frustrations, of which I was one, to the world. I had known her as cool, in control, perpetually discontent but never emotional. She had walked out of our lives as if she were leaving on a weekend trip. Now she was shouting and blaming and leaping from one subject to another, all on the theme of the wrongs done to her by everyone. I looked into her resentful eyes and saw that she had reverted. She had become the woman in the pictures we had found in the attic.

I saw her several times the week that I was there and talked to her about her life, her deeply unsatisfying life, since she had left us. I talked to her about her misery while she had been with us. I talked to her about the blighted happiness she had felt before Carolyn was born (the period of which Carolyn had become a souvenir). I did not talk to her about the pain my father felt every day, or my own problems in taking care of him. Partly, she did not seem interested. Partly, I did not want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that her triumph had been so total. I told her nothing of my life. She never asked.

She let me leave, calling out after me that she had never been a bad Mother. She had never beaten us or exposed us to any danger. We had been well provided for. I had never expected her to ask my forgiveness, since such gestures had never been part of her character. I had not expected any real remorse. I had not expected to be able to forgive her. So I left her sitting by herself in the park outside her prison, surprised only by the fact that after so many years, she had still been able to intimidate me to the point where I could not ask the questions I had come to her to answer. 

I stood with Paul by the side of our emerald pool in our overgrown garden and looked at the clouds passing through the night sky. I thought of my world with new colour and filled with happiness and I struggled to find my elusive beginning, the point from which all other changes can emanate. Even with Paul’s guidance, it eluded me. We stood together with the water pooling around our ankles and the moon reflecting silver above us, the waxing moon. A beautiful false promise with no light of its own to shed.

From these moments I am constructed and from these moments I long to escape. I want to sink back and move beyond the clutches of all those who have painted me as I am. I want to be free of the burden of power, the power I have over others and the power they have over me. Most of all the power I have to change. These burdens float away from me until I am nothing, nameless, without past or future, another creature in the water, moving among the reeds. This is how I paint my world, with no struggles or new challenges. My colours are the greens of the garden and the pond, peaceful, tranquil, earthy, real, fading. 

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