I’m lying under my grandmother’s clothesline, watching the bed sheets overhead billow in the wind. Wafts of Downy fabric softener and Gain laundry detergent mix with scents of lilacs and dogwoods planted nearby. The linens block the sun every few seconds, casting tree silhouettes that disappear as fast as they arrive. The sheets are the spires of an ice cream castle, the walls of a hidden labyrinth, the canvas upon which stories are drawn.
The sky is postcard blue, peppered with cotton ball clouds; the grass is soft and thick, enough to fill my hand when I grab hold. I hum a song my mother always sings, about a boy who plants a lollipop that blooms into a tree. Mr. Tackitt on one side next door is outside in his workshop, clinking tools and rattling nails; Mrs. Faith is in her garden on the other side, filling a birdfeeder and batting squirrels away; at the house behind my grandmother’s, a strange woman wearing a bathrobe is digging a hole in her backyard.
This is the first time I’m neither playing nor in school, neither eating nor in a bath. Here I feel grown up, in control, content. This is how my grandmother must feel when she’s in her rocking chair staring into the wind, toward wherever it blows. “Where does the wind blow?” I asked her once, to which she responded, “To the other side of the world, and all the way back again.” At once unimpressive, the idea lingered.
The winds that echo through my ice cream castle will fly away from here, across the sands of the beach and onto the ocean, to fork through Queen Elizabeth’s crown, to explore mummies in Egypt, to tickle manes of lions in Africa, to traverse the Great Wall of China and all things first-graders learn, to swing around Santa’s palace to meet with Coca-Cola polar bears, all to end up here again, to explore my fort, to say hello.
This is my first calm wonder I remember as a boy, my earliest vivid memory.
I revisit this memory sometimes in my dreams, and I can still feel the sun on my face, smell the aromas of spring, feel the grass between my fingers; I still hear Mr. Tackitt clinking and clanking; Mrs. Faith cursing at squirrels; the woman in back toiling away. I am still overwhelmed by the distance the wind travels, by how many places it’s been — science has no place in magic.
But the sheets overhead are not blank in my dreams; the wind paints upon them memories to which it bears witness: all of the tragedies and broken hearts, the warmth of a long lost family, the longing for a childhood ended in its beginning and all of the horrors that ensued, all of the death, bullying, prepubescent violations; the suicides and drugs, the rape and self-loathing.
Over time, these sheets became pages in journals, and, for the past five years, letters in a magazine. Over 150 confessions, embarrassments, cringe-worthy thoughts and reflections — genuine, unfiltered, unnecessary. Attempts at solace maybe, or validations of a kind.
This is my final column for Lavender magazine.