It didn’t help that each and every one of the 1,000,000 dogwoods that grow in my old neighborhood were blooming today, as I drove through to drop off a check. A stupid, time-wasting errand that could have been avoided if I would have just put a stamp on the envelope and mailed it days ago. The houses, many stone, and wood, look luminescent under the filtered sunlight of the dogwood flowers. They do that; the flowers of the dogwoods cast a shimmer down on anything that stands beneath them, for that so brief time when they bloom. Rather than houses, they suddenly look like large-over-sized pillows, beckoning me to take a rest.
At our house here, we had an apple tree with a branch that swooped down low enough to leave you feeling that it was really a large arm about to pull you in for a big hug, but never could quite make it to becoming that real.
I begin to feel lucky for serendiptiously forgetting to mail that check at the precise time that the dogwoods are blooming. Still, I had completely forgotten how lucky we were to relish in this grass that is always lush and green because it’s always shaded, the dogwood blossoms, and the trees. The trees, and the woods that cluster in groups on ravines everywhere you turn. My four-year old was with me in the back seat. This is a world he’s never known, so I explained to him each and every landmark. I was really talking to myself, trying to draw out the memory that is etched within me, buried, under laundry, questions about what we’re having for snack today, and the refrains of will-you-buy-me-this.
Refusing to believe that Paradise is never really lost, I work hard at trying to remember the relaxed comfort of home I feel here as I drive past these houses where, I suddenly realize, I was living a much different life. I’m looking at the trees, but I’m really remembering pages of days, turning them one-by-one, as I try to reconstruct who I was when I was here. Of course, I believe, I was so much happier then. What is missing now, I wonder.
The roads curve, hiding the houses, so that you see more trees, before you see the next house. Certain neighbors must not see me today. As much as I will try to smile, and ask them how they’re doing, I might crack. If I let myself too close to that edge, I will fall apart like Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s horses won’t be able to put me together again. The egg holds the secret that I now realize I’m keeping, even from myself. I want to go back home. Then, they’ll spill those words they’ve been dying to say all along. Once back here, I won’t leave these trees again. But, I keep hearing those wise and true words in the back of my head, “you can never go home again.”
Still, Paradise is never lost, I tell myself. This is your new challenge. Create the happiness you’re remembering from this place within yourself now. As in the wise words of my yoga teacher, “make this your new normal.” Still, I can’t help but think, shallowly, “If I could live here again, I’d be happy all the time. This IS paradise.”
Up ahead, though I see a familiar car. Could it be he’s back? Or maybe, he just left it here for the school year. As I drive a little further, I see the familiar shape of our favorite babysitter walking his dog. The one who was once our neighbor. I can let my egg crack in front of him, I think, as I pull up beside him and roll down the window, smiling, to see him waving back. He’s here for just a short break, but will be coming back May 15 for the summer. Yes, he’d love to baby-sit. (Can I hold out until May 15, I wonder?) He got me up-to-date on a year’s worth of freshman transformation, the earthquake that hit his roommates this morning while he was here, and seeing that he’s still the same wonderful self. I realize now, I don’t need to compose myself, as I’m not going to crack, after all. We compare and contrast life here, versus life in my current neighborhood, where he worked as a lifeguard for a few years. He doles me out a compliment, collected from the other lifeguards, about being a cool, non-conforming Mom.
The thought of finally having regular scheduled kid-free time, washes a wave of relief over me, as I drive away, past more dogwood trees. I stop at my neighbor’s house to ring the doorbell to surprise her. She always lovingly calls me her long-lost daughter. Margie never lets me mope around or whine too much. She always draws me back in to raw practicality in an unfussy way. Sadly, it turns out they are not home today.
I turn to look behind me and point across the street. This used to be our house, I say to my son. The large lush lawn sprawls out in front, and I remember my oldest running through the sprinklers here. Now, this lawn needs the feet of four little boys to trample all over it, I selfishly think. I want to move here again, he says. I look at him, and see that the dogwood flowers are illuminating the sunlight that falls on his cheeks.