I was always told that if you had nothing nice to say, than gosh darn it, you might as well just say it all. Filters were never a rarity in our home, so why make it so in the world to the people that need to hear it most?
I grew up proud to be who I am, and why shouldn’t I be? Louisiana is a great place to be, and I daren’t say it isn’t because I knew it best to be true. Walking through swamps never made me feel ill because I could always count on the mud to run through my toes and the leaves to brisk through my hair when everything else just seemed stranger than I counted on. If the breeze tried to push me over, I’d laugh and blow back, even though there’d always be a loving hand to help me hold my stance. Mama never raised me to interject to rules; I’d always be upright, but dear God, did I always try to put up a spunky brawl.
I don’t know what made me do it that day but I just did. I let the breeze in my bloomers slit me up north, but I never let it bend me down south. There’s just something about the way trees talk to you that just don’t let you break in that way, as if they knew it would all settle down into the roots in the end, the way they always do.
I never talked much growing up, on account of all the humdrum adult talk I’d hear down the wooden hallways all the time. It was as if they never counted on me understanding all the fancy language they used; like I was dumb or somethin’, but I knew better. Nana’d always guide me to her room to shield me from all the things I knew to be true that they told me wasn’t, and we’d just giggle. They didn’t get us, but we didn’t care. I’d still make my way down that lamplit side door every afternoon just to hear stories of secret foreign times, even though I knew the stories were much more fancied and animated than she said. I always appreciated her, even though Mama would try to herd me back and tell me it was time for bed even though I could still hear all the marsh wildlife billowing in the middle of the day outside that dusty mosaic tile window. She just didn’t like us plotting to find a way, but I didn’t care. I told Nana someday we’d be free from all this silly formality and she, too, agreed. And so I did it, and I don’t regret a damn thing.
I always thought Nana was beautiful in an older, reserved kind of way; I didn’t care that her nails were longer than they should’ve been and that her hinged feet were more than what I was used to. I didn’t even care that she had jagged teeth because when she smiled, those barbed sprockets always felt like home. As soon as she spoke, you’d feel all the rage and eloquence of her conviction all at once. I was always happy when she was there, and so I begged her to help me do what I needed to do that day, and she loved me so much she couldn’t bring herself to say no.
For a time and a half I had always imagined a sunnier sky, more relevant than what I had been living and I told Nana the same. Even though we only joked of happier times, I knew it was tangible; we had always been confined to the chores and womanly things a lady needed to do daily, even though Nana was excused from pretty much everything except breathin’. She’d seen me sneak out a few times before and I’d always get caught by Mama, only to return to my baby blue-walled room and little cornered bed with white sheets and enraptured mental confines. Sweet symphonies always played in the background and held my mind bound, but in the meadows is where I always felt most free. I thought that if imagined hard enough, maybe I could smell the irises and magnolias that perfumed my skin and stunned my nose on the daily. I had only ever had a taste and was sent back right away. Those flowers made me feel like color and texture met fluently, like a love song I wretched my heart into and could actually, really understand. The irises always called to me. They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen, with their velvety spouts of goodness and strong-backed stems of heat. I wanted to be like them in all their glory. I wanted someone to look at me the way I looked at them, moody dark with a dazzling veined light in the middle that shone so bright it hurt. Like, why couldn’t life be that simple, you know?
And that’s when I saw it. Something so raw and beautiful in all of its glory I couldn’t deny the importance of it any longer, and so I looked back at Nana and I ran because I just couldn’t help it any longer. Even though she had helped me escape to this epic end to it all. Gosh darn it, I ran as far as my lungs would let me. All those nights of plotting a beautiful escape with Nana into the vibrant fields of irises finally came down to this moment and I could finally feel all my blood boiling down to this exact instant, and it was magic, and I don’t regret a thing. And when I finally reached the end of the path, I could only think of how Nana had unlatched and ushered me out the backside of that small crevice I had I asked to be let out of for so long that I didn’t even remember to try and patch and cover up the dirt road footprints I had left behind. This time it was for real and this time I meant it with every symphony in my being. I was finally free, and she, and I, well, we didn’t care anymore because I explained the significance of what that door meant and she just let me brisk on by. My whole life I had waited on the moment to just break out and I had finally broken through.
Running by the perfectly picket fences and wormy roads didn’t make me change my stance because I could feel the rustle of the winds and the change in the air guide me towards the iris patch. They knew me and I knew them. They would understand, just like they and the trees always did. And just as I was about to snip the last one, down trodden and lonely by the edge of the allotment of heart that is my own, I was pulled back. I felt the loving hand that I’d always known pull me back in reverent way I didn’t recognize this time. This time I went too far and only that hand could bring me back. This time it wasn’t my Nana supporting me and cupping me in my brilliant daze. This time it wasn’t my polka-dotted dress pulling me back on the thorns I thought I knew. This time it wasn’t the familiar grasp of of the hand I knew so well. This time it was unfamiliar and foreign, like the stories Nana had be telling me for so long. This time it was unfamiliar, but I slowly understood it all the same by the end.
That day they dragged me back to that house I had wanted to escape from for so long. They led me to a white-washed room that looked so similar to mine, but I didn’t recognize the baby-blue walls or crisp white sheets anymore. I didn’t see the cornered bed anymore. And I definitely couldn’t hear the music anymore. The vibrations felt different and I couldn’t understand why.
They laid me on an outlandish bed and strapped me down to confine my already reddened ankles and blued-out feet; I guess I had never noticed them until then. They rolled out a machine to give me a sedative to keep me quiet, even though I still couldn’t understand why they were doing this to me.
My armored throat and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me, and although I couldn’t say a word because the sedatives put me down so low, I looked for Mama. But more so I looked for Nana, because she always knew what to do. I tried to reach out but the shackles held me still. And even when I attempted to scream and scream, all but a peep came out. I figured the more I tried, the better I stood a chance. And then I saw her walk in, like a white-winged angel of the heavens or maybe even of hell. The more I thought about it as she walked towards me, the more my lungs caved. As I bellowed a desperate look toward Mama with my bloodshot eyes, a doctor I had never seen in my life stood before her and asked me peculiar questions that made me wretch in pain and laughter all at once. He couldn’t believe I had called her Mama! He even had the audacity to laugh! But wait, even Mama bellowed her familiar Louisiana laugh, but it didn’t seem so familiar anymore. All the love and tenderness that was once there had dissipated and died. She looked me dead in the eye and said that her name is Nurse Lana and I’ve been in an asylum for a year now. I tried to ask about Nana and where she was, and she turned to me with most wretched, serious look she could muster and told me to stop with the lies. There was no Nana. Nana wasn’t real and was never there, left behind in the velvet petals of the Irises. None of it was. None of it was ever real at all… now what?