CW: Suicide, grief
Eight months ago we moved to a new house sitting on two half acres of wild and wooly plant life. Nature had been left to her own devices — and everything had devolved into a massive, tangled mess.
I’m not sure what possessed me, but I got it into my head to restore the property to some semblance of cultivated beauty. So I’ve been working outside for hours on nice days; pulling weeds, yanking vines, removing leaves.
I thought it would be fairly straightforward, but as I’ve worked, the project has taken on a life of its own…a story similar to The Secret Garden.
Which makes me both laugh and cry, at this place to which the universe has brought me— my own secret garden.
The Secret Garden was Eden’s favorite story (and movie — the 1993 version with Kate Maberly). Never had she identified with anyone so closely, or, to be honest…at all. An angry unwanted little girl with no parents who was (after tragedy) transported to an unfamiliar place where several people were trying to be kind to her, but she didn’t know how to let them. Sounds about right.
Gardening was her strange little passion, even from a very young age. I so clearly remember 4-year-old Eden sitting on the couch with Denise (I was looking on in the background), holding a dark blue marker, stiffly coloring a very tiny, lopsided object in the bottom corner of a large, otherwise blank piece of paper. It was one of the first times Denise had actually gotten her to engage in any sort of way. Most of the time Eden sat silent — frozen — and could not talk or even look at anyone.
“What are you making?” Denise asked softly, trying to convey the correct amount of interest. I think she assumed whatever Eden might be moved to draw would be of great symbolic and metaphorical importance.
Eden gave her a tiny side-eye (she was always the best at this) and said with exaggerated patience, “This is called a bluebell.” (subtext: you dummy)
Eden always had a penchant for not only knowing what every single growing thing was called, but for also favoring the weird stuff. Her favorites were not the typical irises, daisies, or roses. She didn’t love tulips or marigolds or even pansies.
Her most loved favorites were foxgloves, hollyhocks, moonflowers, crocuses, larkspur, plants with names I’d never heard of and can’t even remember now…unusual plants. I only found out years later that many of these flowers are poisonous, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at this discovery. Eden had never been a people person. Did she know? — she had to have known. That she had never bothered to mention this just made it more humorous.
The Secret Garden changed Eden’s life.
And then, after being rejected and abandoned by the only real mother she’d ever known — someone she risked everything she ever knew, to trust — she ended hers.
It was around this time of year, in 2019. I could try to chronicle what I believe are my failures surrounding her death; how I didn’t recognize all of the signposts pointing to the likelihood that she would make that choice; how I miscalculated her need for space and instead of pushing past her protests, I left her alone when she told me to; how I mistakenly believed that she’d come to understand it wasn’t her fault, if I just gave her more time.
…could have, should have, might have; if, what if, if only.
But it doesn’t matter. She’s gone.
I think of her as I work. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m gardening as a way to feel close to her, or as an apology to her. Am I building a memorial to honor her or am I constructing a symbol of my guilt?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that she deserved better.