06 September 2013

13: Stillness: A Story About Flowers

I told this story at a party once:

I grew up in a neighborhood that was always being torn down.

I can't even remember a time in my life when the streets were quiet and absent of plastic orange fences and plywood, large dumpsters, men in wife-beaters, hanging off the shingles, and slamming those nail guns into the roof. When I was young, my dad would take my brother and me on walks and we would sneak under the orange fences and explore the empty, half-built homes. Together, we would decide where our bedrooms would be, where we'd put the pool, and what we'd do with the basement. I collected thick, rusty nails from the sites and buried them in holes, with handfuls of glitter, in my backyard. 

But at some point, the lure of the construction sites ended, and they were just eye-sores that led to mini-mansions and odd, pants-less neighbors and gaudy landscaping. One by one, the 1970's ranches that embodied the midwest so well, gave way to cold homes that towered over ours. 

One day, as I was walking my dog, Mickey Garbage, around the block, I came across a recently torn-down home. Sparked with an odd curiosity, and ears filled with the music above, my dog and I wandered to the chain link fence to stare into the empty pit where a small, denim blue ranch had once stood. As we peered, I noticed something strange in the back of the property. Lifting my too-heavy-for-a-small-dog dog over the orange plastic fence, the two of us wandered beyond the pit to what was once a backyard and, to my surprise, discovered a grove of sunflowers. 

Really, they just appeared. And they were huge. Bigger than anything I'd ever seen, scraping up against the sky if you stood close enough. I couldn't believe it; there must have been about 50 of them, all of them about ten-feet tall. 

After several moments stunned by their existence, I quickly grew anxious with the knowledge of what happens to plants when mini-mansions are to be built, I raced home with my fat dog and told my green-thumbed father about the sunflowers. 

"We have to go get them! They're so big-they've probably been around for a long time! We need to go get them and plant them in our yard or the trucks will come and the men in wife-beaters and they'll rip them up, just like the trees and the flowers and everything else around here. We can't just leave them there!"

My dad walked back with me to look at the sunflowers, and hopped over the orange fence to evaluate them. He came back and told me that their roots were too deep and he didn't think they'd survive the transfer. I don't know what it was about them, but leaving them there really did a number on me. I still think about them from time to time; those long, thick stems, breaking up into the sky and those giant, sunny heads tilting altogether in the wind. And me and Mickey Garbage just standing there in the sunshine, the last eyes to see them growing happily in the summer. I don't know--it just go to me in one of those ways. 

After I was done with the story, this guy who ran the campus bar came up to me and wrapped his long, Minnesota farmer arms around me and rocked me from side to side. 

"That was such a sweet story, Lis."
"Thaaanks Sean."
"You must have been such a cute kid-I could just see little Lisa and her dog with those sunflowers-you should write about that someday."

I left the party after that and walked back to my dorm wondering if it was stranger that I had actually been nineteen when that happened or that he would think I was younger. But that's not really the important part of the story, just that there was once a secret grove of sunflowers in my neighborhood, and for a few days they were exposed to everyone, and then they were covered up so good, it's like they were never even there. 


  1. Your writing inspires me and makes me reminiscent of memories I've never even had.


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