What I Remember
It’s the garden that makes me remember that something has changed. The sight of it in complete disorder—crawling with weeds, littered with dead bushes and wilted flowers—makes me realize something isn’t right. Like a breath blowing life into a place long untouched, dusting off a memory laying hidden beneath the surface, and with the same force a fogginess lifts from my eyes and the passageway of my mind flows once again bringing focus and meaning back to the outside world. This is my garden. This is my backyard. This is my home.
Hungry for more, I squat down into the flower bed and run my hands along the ground, rubbing the concoction of dried petals and soil between my fingers as if hoping to release additional untapped nutrients. It’s a position that my body is most comfortable in and naturally inclined to— the curve of my back arches at a precise angle against the sun, my thighs and calves tighten for stability as if transforming into stone pillars as they shift in the dirt— it’s a position carved by experience and memorized over decades of repetition. I feel tingly gaining a second wind of liveliness as my body resumes its function and purpose again.
Dirt under my nails I pull out handful after handful of weeds. I remember we used to do this together. Under the summer heat, the sprinkler waving back and forth across the lawn catching glimpses of a rainbow. The sound of the neighbor’s lawn mower creating a suburban ambience while the fragrance of freshly cut grass and blossomed flowers mingled. We used to win awards for our floral display. We spent hours manicuring each berm and flower bed even after the sun would set, and at the end of the day we would sit back and look at our day’s accomplishment. In silence you’d rest your head against my shoulder and squeeze my hand, and that was all that needed to be said. Whatever happened to the chrysanthemums and roses?
I stare at the yard. It’s more brown than green with growing bald spots and clover patches. It wasn’t always like this. There was a fireplace and a patio where we would have our host our annual neighborhood barbeques with the Edelmans. Kramers. Petersons. Johnsons. A playset that you and I built for Bruce and later refurbished for Ellie. A scar near the center of the lawn where fragments of root can still be seen as a reminder of the oak tree that was torn down during a tornado. I remember hiding in the crawl space where Bruce cried for Spike to come downstairs. He clutched onto your shirt and you patted his back as you tried your best to sooth his fears. The dog always hated storms. Shaking like a leaf, he would hide in some corner of the house or under some blankets or piles of clothes as if he were no better than a child. I told you I would only be a minute that I would find him and come back. But the lightning was so beautiful that night. I remember standing by the window after finding Spike nestled amongst Bruce’s pillows. Cradling the dog in my arms, we watched the lightning web across the sky, tracing the clouds of the coming storm that would soon funnel down. Although it feels recent, like a memory freshly formed, that was more than thirty years ago, wasn’t it.
Then it sinks in.
Something is wrong.
I remember that I began to forget minor things: like where I put my keys, or where I put the remote, or that I forgot to take my slippers off and shave before going into work. I remember the embarrassment of not being able to place names to buildings, streets, things, and faces. That I would pause for a moment when someone would greet me and apologize profusely when they re-re-re-introduced themselves with an excuse of being spaced out or distracted. I remember we started—or rather you started—labeling items around the house. Notes as simple as “Refrigerator” or “Iron” to notes as complex as “Lock this” “Don’t touch this” “Call This Number.” Stuck on walls, stuck on counters, they hung like decorations and clues for me to follow the rituals of the day. I remember the anger during holidays when—with notecards in my hand—I would match the strangers coming into the house with their descriptions. “Bruce. Son. 41 42 43.” “Mary. Bruce’s wife. Ex.” “Ellie.” “Jacob. Grandson. Likes Trains.” Everyone gathered in another room while I sat in a chair watching a boy push around an object on the floor in circles: making a chhh-chhh sound with his mouth while the others talk elsewhere in hushed whispers. I remembered those holidays always marked with someone crying before they left.
But the garden is my returning point. Even now, guided by something like an overwhelming instinct, it’s where I am: squatting in slippers against the sinking evening sun, pulling my bathrobe closer to my body to keep the autumn cold away; pulling at weeds and thorns that begin to bleed my memories and emotions together from the growing cuts on my hands. It’s as if I am fueled by a desperate adrenaline. I want to restore it. I want to show you when you come home that it will be alright; that we can go back to those times again. That I will plant those memories and those details into the ground, and that if we take care of it like we used to, they will sprout and bloom and be a constant reminder to me. I want to show you that I haven’t forgotten your name. Lola.
I straighten myself to watch the sun dip below the surface. The shadows of the night slither along the yard searching. Soon they will find me. I close my eyes and breath in and out repeating your name. It’s like living in a dream that I can’t wake up from.
You’ll find me here after the sun has long since set. You’ll ask me how I got out here and why I’m covered in dirt. But, of course, these questions will be rhetorical. I won’t have an answer. But as you guide me back inside, I’ll try to remember your name.
It’s the least I can do.
About the Author: Brandon T. Madden hopes to one day become a competent writer. For more of his works please visit here.