When I was a child, there was a hydrangea bush along the side of the house. It was tall enough to hide a sensitive seven year old under her green canopied spring-blossomed arches. My back against the wood siding—uneven, uncomfortable—I lay a towel over the bald earth. That place could become anything: vast interplanetary darkness, the snowy wood of Narnia, the imaginary Terebithian bridge, or an attic castle, among others. Drivers passed unaware of a boy’s sanctuary, while through her drooping blooms, I saw the bricks of the church across the street. I was Lord of that place. Reality bent towards me.
Here, time and place were nimble, supine and hardened by no laws but my own desires. Lightning lit up under her greenly eves and white blossoms shook their petals at summer’s wind. And, flying high—high above, smearing slugpaths across the firmament—were planes in the sky. It was imagination and terror, grandeur and silliness. It was pure childhood. I, the king of this place, could never be overthrown. I could only be convinced to give it away.
After all, I was a child who found paradise. I was a child who stood in front of a loud stereo, waving arms in some form of passionate conducting of Tchaikovsky. I was a child with dreams and visions. I told them to the elders’ amazement. I was a child who fantasized about his own death and funeral and how a casket would be carried into the streets amid the weeping throng, along with a thousand thousand other thoughts of a child dreaming under hydrangeas.
Children have imaginary sanctuaries, of course, but men do not. When I became a man, everything had to be something. Everything was what it was, and what it was is what they told me it to be. A bush of hydrangeas was simply Hydrangea macrophylla. I learned to murder books in dissecting the page’s words. Long daydreams through an afternoon’s clock ticking were replaced by RESPONSIBILITY and ACHIEVEMENT. If I couldn’t do my multiplication tables, I couldn’t get into the advanced classes; if I couldn’t get into the advance classes, I wouldn’t graduate; if I didn’t graduate, I wouldn’t go to college; and no college meant a meaningless life. WORK IS THY SALVATION.
And, yet, in a few years, I gave up my private sanctuary. I became man. I accepted that everything was as it was. And thus it should be forever. I accepted cruel bureaucracy’s whorish machinations. I accepted being led by weak men who clutched whatever little power this reality ascribed them. I accepted the task of proving myself to whichever self-appointed judge sat over me. I slit the child’s throat and left him for dead. While under the hydrangeas, white petals fell and winter descended.
Winter is not kind to me. I watch them stalk in the snow with their traps, trying to harness my talents, my creativity like some kind of dumb beast of burden. Once, I had accepted the bit and the bridle and they taught me to exalt everyone else. So, they rode me into Jerusalem, into the cheering throng while I marched on cold snow-dusted jackets. They would beat me in an attempt to clear my head when walking the streets at night. And my own voice they told me not to speak.
I hate this reality where everything has to be something. I hate living in this world of unkind expectations, of the worship of the work of God, of the worship of the getting, the spending. The denial of beauty and poetry in search of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The fact that we can never ever pause and be, lest rolling past us goes the tide of history. I hate myself for jumping higher when it was demanded.
Sometimes, I think the only way to solve it is to end it. Perhaps in the upstairs bathtub or from the big tree or in a blazing automobile accident of one. How useful is a horse when he’s outlived his usefulness? But then, the tears fall and the feeling passes and I sleep. I try to sleep the winter away, but they keep beating me.
Whenever the snow falls and it hurts to breathe, and the expectations begin suffocating, and when I want tragedy’s end, and when I in bed lie in deep contemplation of the ceiling fan, I think about when anything could be anything and I consider the hydrangeas.
You must meet me here at this place for I will no longer go out to you. You must crouch down, though, and you can’t carry much. Your expectations of me you must leave out in the yard. I am not who I was, I am who I am. Here in this place beyond right or wrong, I shall heap treasures upon you. We will lie down on the towel together and pray resurrection over the dead boy’s grave. Meet me here, under the hydrangeas.
Meet me here at this place, just beyond what you know and what is forgotten. Meet me here, where the floor is stars, and the sound is children’s laughter, and a stream slides from the mountains through a mossy wood. All around will be fresh, new. Come into my soul all ye who are disconsolate and I will save you. You will know my voice. We will dream.