Grounded/Rooted: A Diptych

Grounded/Rooted: A Diptych

Grounded/Rooted: A Diptych 1920 1280 Rachel Laverdiere

Grounded

This time, the heft arrives dead-centre in my chest. Some mornings, the rectangle of sunlight splays across my quilt; other mornings, the magpies squawking in the mountain ash outside my bedroom window is too heavy to bear. Before the sun rose, I woke from a recurrent dream where I wander the maze of a mysterious house that feels as familiar as my mother’s smile. In these dreams, I never find what I’m looking for—a key, a door, an exit. An escape. If only I could discover the object before waking, it would unlock the riddles of my past.

When I was a little girl, a wind gust opened up a secret passageway and coaxed me out from the box my father had drawn around me. The wind, a puppeteer tugging at strings attached to my limbs, danced me across the threshold. From my clumsy husk, a prima ballerina sprung free! Saut de chat over badger holes. Pirouette across tufts of quack grass and cow patties. Pas de cheval throughout the uneven terrain.

In spring, a playful wind leaped out, spritzed sagebrush perfume and the chase was on. Beneath the hot dust of summer, the wind lazily edged cottony clouds across the bright sky. Come fall, autumn leaves swirled around my feet. The wind puffed them into the air, then impatiently huffed them toward the horizon. Winter revealed a raging gale that howled like a fearsome coyote.

My father’s moods were as unpredictable as the wind. One moment, nowhere to be seen, the next a tornado gathering speed and threatening to obliterate the tidy rows of bearded barley. He rescued hatchling sparrows that tipped out of their nests and came home with baby bunnies blinded by his combine. My father once bandaged the wing of a fledgling crow and nursed it with an egg yolk filled syringe. How could my father’s burly hands turn supple with wild animals, yet, for me, survival mean dodging them? His hands landed at will, leaving behind scarlet and violet blooms as testaments of his buried rage. I was a mouse shivering in his shadows.

Just before my ninth birthday, my mother, siblings and I escaped. But on alternating weekends, his truck swerved up the trailer park’s gravel roads. We piled in and took off, spitting rocks and plumes of dust as we sped away. My mother shrank in the rear-view mirror until she disappeared.

At the farm, I sat grieving in my childhood bedroom where my mother had consoled me after father spanked me when my bronchial cough made me cry. Where, the night before we escaped, my mother had crawled in through the window and, teeth chattering, hidden in my top bunk. My father had locked her out in the bitter cold. Like mice, we shrank into the dark until he stormed in and yanked my mother from my bed. She sailed across the room and thudded onto the cement floor. Her head cracked against the heat register, so he plucked her limp body from the floor, then tossed her aside like a mound of dirty rags.

How I wished to be anywhere but that haunted room! Then, the door creaked open. My father solemnly stepped in and sat next to me on the shaggy blue bedspread. He’d never before entered this room without a scowl, so I froze. I held my breath and counted the heartbeats pummelling my ears.

His words clanged against fear-blocked ears until he said, “You must love yourself before you can love anybody else.” This man had terrorized my sleep, my mother and our home. Now he spoke of love? His grey eyes, usually cold and hard, glistened. I’d yearned for this man’s attention, but now I knew I no longer desired it.

Later, in the pasture, a half-buried piece of driftwood winked from the sagebrush just before a cloud draped over the sun. The wind rose and swept the hair from my shoulders. A blink later, the sun reappeared, but I knew the magic had ended.

On the drive home to my mother, through the corner of my eye, I watched my father take deep drags from his cigarette. This man did not love himself; therefore, could never love me. In the rear-view, alfalfa fields waved farewell and wheat fields bowed their heads before they deflated behind me one last time.

This happened almost forty years ago, so rather than lie in the dark trying to shake my grief, downstairs I go. Barefoot, I walk through dewy grass, then ground myself near the blooming cherry tree. I squeeze my toes into the ground, stretch tall and hold my pose. Soft pink light floods my backyard. The wind gusts behind me and cherry blossom petals rise then scatter at my feet.

 

Rooted

I toss a handful of seeds into the air. The wind sweeps them up and they parasail, landing willy-nilly on the freshly turned topsoil. I bury the seeds, mound mulch around them, then cross my fingers that they’ll snuggle in and soak up the sun’s embrace. It takes perseverance for some seeds to take root.

I can’t say I’ve outgrown my tendency to chase whims, but motherhood tamped the earth around my feet. But even when I’m coasting along on an even keel, I fear that I’ll leap into the abyss without ensuring a soft landing below. My bones have grown brittle with the burdens of such sporadic moments of inspiration. My latest scar, a noose-mark on the ring finger of my left hand, makes me question every decision I make. And yet… My heart delights at the thought of great unknowns lingering beyond this white-picket world.

Sometimes, I fear this urban sprawl is fencing me in. I was not meant to set down roots amidst sharp right angles, yet I find myself unnaturally dead-centre. I’ve always envied my mother’s sense of discipline, but I find solace in irregular patterns. From the birds-eye-view of Google maps, I find myself trapped in this rectangular grid—but the maple tree in the backyard umbrellaing out of control makes me feel that maybe this really is home.

If there is rebellion in my methods, it’s not against my mother’s measured rows of peas, carrots and corn but against the rules that caged me as a child. The first time I slipped into a daydream, I was four years old. A tiny wood sprite with iridescent wings, I flitted through the trees of our shelter-belt. When my frantic mother found me nestled in a half-buried tractor tire, her heart must have ached knowing she had to take that first clip from my wings.

The disarray of my backyard calls to mind details my mother dwells on from the days of my teenage rebellions—seven earrings and peroxide in grade seven, a nose ring and bright red lipstick at sixteen, wool socks and “Jesus” sandals poking out of my graduation gown. And after university—in the years before the World Wide Web helped us feel less far apart—I flew halfway around the world with no job, no money and nowhere to live. Weeks after I planted my garden, the most regimented have taken root and sprouted. A few weeks later, the rain slants against the dining room window, and these tidy sprouts flourish into chaos.

The downpour turns to drizzle. The overgrown grass recalls the magical world of my youth. Childhood was weaving through goldenrod, milkweed and sagebrush and chasing the wind that raced tumbleweeds across rolling hills. This out-of-bounds pasture peppered my soul with liberty. Barefoot, I step out onto the rain-slicked deck and breathe in the sweet smell of spring. Watching the sparrows dart in and out of my maple tree, I realize this search for freedom shouldn’t be so difficult. Because, really, I am as unfettered as I allow myself to be. I lift off the wooden planks and glide above the coulees and survey the undulating hills and towering rock piles of my childhood.

Mothers want their children to rise—it’s our task to prepare them to take flight. Watching them waver in the sky, we hold our breath and force ourselves not to blink, praying they won’t tumble too hard. Growing stronger and braver, they eventually believe in their invincibility. We hold our tongues and silently suffer that pang of pride and loss. We desire and mourn the same result. Then, one day, we must watch our fledglings disappear into the horizon. It’s taken my own child’s leaving to understand the hollow of lost companionship, but an empty nest is a cost of parenting well.

The ringing of my phone grounds me. “Hey, Mom. I was just thinking about you. Green shoots are poking through the mulch.”

My mother devours this good news.

Header photograph © S. Schirl Smith.

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