Now – The Gardeners Prodigy
“What the hell do I know about building a garden” she cried. “Where is mom – she should be here doing this with me, why can’t I remember more? What am I doing? I have forgotten so much that I need to remember, why didn’t I listen more – where is Seraphina? “
Olivia didn’t have to actually look to know Seraphina was close by, watching her, waiting for her. That made her sob all the harder.
In her mind, she knew Seraphina had always been there – she couldn’t actually remember a time when she wasn’t and honestly sometimes hated her for that. She was always so even keeled and balanced – never raised her voice, never lost control. She was so bloody exotic – from her name to her skin color and even the way she spoke and the words she used.
As with most people and things, Olivia even had a love hate relationship with Seraphina. She hated and loved her both for all the same qualities. Sometimes Olivia thought she was nuts – completely off her rocker for being this way, but never actually checked with anybody to see if it was true. She didn’t want to know – was afraid of what she would hear. She knew she feared hearing the good, worse than if she was evil.
Olivia turned and looked at Seraphina. She knew every inch of her – envied her perfect skin, her perfect teeth and her ability to smile and make other people feel better no matter what.
Olivia new she was hurting and her heart was breaking and that Seraphina would help – but she just didn’t want to be weak one more time. Not again, she just wasn’t sure how much more her heart could take.
She knew if she waited long enough Seraphina would come to her and would fix everything, she always had. Olivia always needed her to. Olivia could only breathe when Seraphina cleared the air. She put her head down and waited.
Then - A Test of Faith
We lived with our grandmother for the next few years. She had nothing to give us at all, but did her best with what little she had. She too waited daily, hoping for our parents to call. She was too old to be raising little ones – but because she loved her children, she would never turn away her grandchildren.
She may not have much love to give them, but she would give them what she could. In hindsight, I think she was repaying some old debts from her previous life – because it was quickly clear that her actions had very little to do with us.
I think we all thought it would get better when we were school age – especially Olivia. Together we walked to the end of our street to wait for the bus to go to school each day, but alone we came back. Long after the bus had dropped us off, we sat there on the curb – each of us looking in a different direction, waiting for our parents to come home. We were never sure which way they would come from but felt sure as long as we were together – we’d never miss them.
We sat there wondering in silence – talking in our heads about what we had done wrong, why they didn’t love us and what we would do differently when they came back so they would never leave us again. We promised to anybody that would listen that we would be good girls.
Every day we stayed there until we had to go home for dinner where we wolfed our food down only to rush back to the end of the street hoping we hadn’t missed them. We stayed here until the streetlights told us it was time for bed; well most times it was our grandmothers’ voice calling us to come in – but the streetlights were on!
They days turned to weeks, the weeks turned to months and the months were threatening to turn into a year when our grandmother no longer allowed us to do this. She said it was too dark and too dangerous for us to be out there like that. I think secretly she was worried about the affect this was having on us. Olivia thinks that she is embarrassed at the behaviour of her own children and doesn’t want the neighbours to see any more.
It was just after that she started taking us to church on the weekends. We were Roman Catholic and went to Catholic schools during the day – and I’m sure she felt that we would now be able to get comforted 7 days a week in the community of the church and all it stood for. Either that or if we grew up with strict morals and values of the church, we would never fall into the trouble our parents did.
Both Olivia and I loved going to church. Not for the sermons themselves as we didn’t really understand the finer points, but we loved the music. It was so peaceful and relaxing. We loved the building itself – with the windows, walkways and secret doors. Much later we would learn about and love its history and architecture
To this day when something negative happens in our lives – subconsciously we put choral music on and get lost in it until we can again return to reality.
Now we loved the story’s we couldn’t understand, but then we were afraid of being good or going to hell. We thought that maybe that was what had happened to our parents. We knew the church kept secrets and punished those that did wrong – and decided that was why our grandmother had decided we needed to attend. It was then that our crying stopped. Actually mine had stopped a long time ago – but Olivia came to some sort of silent resolve and it was years before she would cry again.
I tried my hardest to keep good company with Olivia to make her forget them and start loving herself and what little life we did have. I organized plays with the neighbourhood children in the backyard of our house. Using sheets to separate the audience sitting on the borrowed lawn chairs from us – the stars of the show- sometimes it worked, and it seemed like we were living a different life.
Other days I would take her deep into our backyard with one of our grandmothers’ Tupperware bowls filled with sugar on the look out for rhubarb. Once our mission was accomplished and we had as much as we could carry (and give to grandma and the other neighbours), we lay down on the hill in Mr. Delvechio’s yard imagining the shapes of the clouds in the sky – chomping the entire time.
Sometimes, on the rainy days grandma would treat us to the one thing she cherished. Over the course of her life she had collected miniature tea sets – not much bigger than a thumbnail. She had several of these in her china cabinet – and we spent hours sitting on the floor in front of them imagining the tea parties we could have with them.
On those special days – Grandma brought out the full size sets for us to have tea and brought out two little sets for the middle of the table that we could actually touch. I know Olivia was excited about the little sets – and in those brief moments, she was able to forget how much she missed mom and dad. I think in those moments, Grandma too was forgetting things she didn’t want to remember and honouring the things that she could.
I loved those days – no matter what they were about for Olivia or Grandma, because Grandma would read our tea leaves. I loved to imagine what I saw in those little piles of leaves and was so excited if Grandma told me something that she saw in them that matched what I had imagined myself. I was convinced I was some sort of clairvoyant. I would be able to look into the future and see what was going to happen and tell Olivia that we didn’t need our parents to come back and that we would always be just fine.
One day during our “tea” service grandma just stopped moving. She had had a stroke a few years earlier and had a deficit on her left side, but this was different. I instinctively knew something was wrong and told Olivia to go next door to the neighbours and stay there. I knew that no matter what – Olivia would not be prepared to handle this. All this at the ripe old age of 7 – but it’s a good thing I did know how to call 911 for the police and ambulance and I did. When they arrived they checked her vitals and knowing she was gone, closed the door to the room and called the coroner to attend. I stayed with her during that time. Either nobody thought to remove me or seeing that I wasn’t upset and they had nobody to “give me to” let me stay. Or maybe they hadn’t seen me at all – I did stay pretty quiet and I really didn’t want to be discovered and asked leave.
My grandmother had been a religious person and I think always tried to do the best and in her death – all the things she had done for us were very clear. Despite her own misgivings and issues with her life, she was willing to take the responsibility of being the grandmother she always said she wanted to be. I also learned about distance from her – and how you can love but never truly give. I found comfort in this while Olivia felt completely lost at this concept.
On some level I knew that I had to repay this gift and what came to me was her rosary. She always had her favourite one in her purse that she kept under the sideboard. I removed it from its little case and put it in both of our hands and said the rosary with her while we waited.
The coroner came to the house about an hour later and then took Grandma away. I heard them say that she had died instantly of an aneurism that had gone to her brain. The police told us we were now orphans as far as the law was concerned. We didn’t know where our parents were and didn’t have any other family that would be able to take us in, so we were going to be placed in foster care. They told me a case worker would be coming for us and that I should get Olivia and some of our things together so we would be prepared.
On my way next door to get Olivia I went by the table and picked up Grandma’s tea cup to see what she had seen. I wanted to know if she knew she was going to die. I’ll never forget what I saw in that cup, nor am I sure if I will ever share it with another human being – even Olivia.