77 comments

Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age Friendship

Springtime in the garden always began when the pink azaleas started to bud. Dad would find them while checking the garden fence for rabbit tunnels and come inside with an armful of the tiny blossoms, ready to trim and slip into a Mason jar. The first year it happened, he came inside, his face flushed with excitement, a single pink bud the size of a fingernail pinned between his dirt-crusted fingers. Look, the azaleas are flowering, he told the both of us. Springtime. 

In the summers, but mostly in the spring, in the heat of the day when the wind was heavy and sluggish, we used to go out to my father’s garden and sit on the red hammock and rock back and forth under the shade of the peach tree. He was always very proud of that peach tree, though it was young and had barely flowered; he had planted it three years before my older sister, his first child, left home. He had always been sad that she had not seen it flower or produce a single peach before she left, that she’d been absent when we finally peeled the first small peach and let its juice drip down our chins victoriously. My father dug out the garden, planned where the raised beds would go, and planted the peach tree with the intention of a pretty, ever-expanding little kingdom, because he wanted a place to watch green things grow, a place of peace and life, a place away from the perpetual motion of the ugly street nearby and the constant changing and leaving that came with having a family. 

Because it was so young, the peach tree barely put out any shade, and only covered about half of the red, threadbare hammock, and that was the half we always fought over. When we brought more friends we made them sit in the branches or lean against the rough bark or on the splintery edges of the wooden raised beds, instead of making space for them on our hammock; it was the way the garden was run, how our friendships flowered, and no one minded, not even those who got splinters or fell out of the tree branches. In the spring, when the cherry tomatoes began to green and the peach tree to draw itself up in readiness, we would go out there and swing back and forth in the hammock, reciting poetry or trying to shush the other so we could write a line of our own. It was always such a pleasure to write our own lines; there was something in the wind and in the ripple of the lush leaves above us, in the words of the books lying on the dirt beneath our swinging bodies, and it filled us up; we had the world at our fingertips, the sun itself and the earth it shone upon was all ours. 

My father grew many things in his garden, as well as the peach tree and cherry tomatoes. Weeks before my mother died he dug a pond for goldfish, so my youngest sister could toddle out in the backyard and lean against the stones and watch the little gold flickers in the clear, moss-tipped water. He grew also a couple potatoes each year as well as carrots, just so he could tell the stories of growing pains and thieving rabbits and squirrels that came with growing root vegetables. There were always big beds of sunflowers and chocolate mint, some corners of beds devoted to peonies and poppies so we could wear them on Poppy Day, little tendrils of malabar spinach and shallots and basil that grew tall on the trellises originally intended for white roses, and sometimes he planted rosemary, lavender, and azurea when we had a nice warm February that promised a good summer for them. He grew a bed of asparagus fern too, a plant so prickly that you liked to break off pieces when I wasn’t looking and then slip them down my shirt. 

We would run out hand in hand on a Wednesday night and the air would be warm and the earth hard and the feathery tendrils of asparagus would move in the night-breeze. With friends over in the long golden hours of warm spring, lush green wind in the peach tree and on the surface of the small fish pond and through the leaves of ferns, ruffling the sunflowers and poppies, we would lean against each other for hours, reading aloud lines that slid together satisfyingly like a daisy chain, someone’s bare foot pushing against the ground to keep the hammock going. It was in the garden that you told me who in the house was angry, who to avoid, who to smile at during dinner; it was the politics of dreaming young girls, the politics of maiden springs and lazy summers long gone by. It was in the garden you whispered to me who you loved and who you hated during the school year, though the summer always wiped the slate clean, a future gift for the approaching autumn. It was in the garden, when we were relaxing in the final retreating days before leaving home forever, where we told each other stories of sex and scandal, falling into each other laughing, wondering when we might be the dazzling protagonists of such stories. I remember perfectly when my mother died and you let me cry in your embrace, there in the garden, and then dried my face with your malabar-stained fingertips.

It seemed that the weather was always fine in the garden, always perfectly warm and breezy, though outside the cracked, curling iron gate the realities of too-dry spring and too-hot summer came crashing down. The pond’s water level never dropped; the tomatoes which we snapped off to nibble on before dinner never drooped or tasted sour; the sunflowers which we wove through our hair and clasped between our hands for a pretend spring wedding never turned pale or leaned over the raised beds because of thirst. We would traipse into the house in the cool evening with dirt and scars embedded in our knees, peach-wood splinters and tomato juice staining our hands, laughter and sunflower pollen speckled in our hair, and sun and youth and happiness flushed in our faces. The secrets we told in that humble, perfect garden, like the magic of the poems recited and written, were never allowed outside out of the curling gate or past the vigilant watch of the peach tree and outstretched asparagus ferns. To allow them out would be to ruin the magic of it all, the delectable draw of no one else knowing or being allowed to enter our precious kingdom of growing green things. We never left if we could help it; if my father had let us sleep out there we would have. Leaving meant dying, leaving meant growing up and abandoning paradise for a trek to forge our own paradise. There was always a chance that making our own way would never turn out as beautifully as our garden did, as our friendship did.

But as spring ripens and turns to summer, so girls must grow up and leave. The garden was full of living things that turned inevitably to dying things. We forgot that we were living too. As the little goldfish rippled beside us in the water, and the peach tree moved in some silent song above us, and you rocked the hammock with your tough, bare foot on the damp earth, whispering lines long written and dead yet forever alive, we confided secret silent things, laughing secret silent laughs, writing secret silent words, and slowly, silently, reluctantly, we grew up.

March 23, 2021 18:32

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

77 comments

22:57 Mar 24, 2021

Heyyyyyyy

Reply

Guys I’m crying laughing all this was was a “hi” and it got 17 upvotes yet no responses lol

Reply

XDD wow lol

Reply

Meera Lakshmi
13:37 Apr 12, 2021

Haha...it's at 21. courtesy of yours truly. haha.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Zilla Babbitt
20:10 Apr 15, 2021

Hey! Just trying to clean up my page a bit... would you mind deleting that comment if there isn't anything in the thread below you mind losing?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Izzie P.
15:17 Apr 20, 2021

Book lovers, would you like The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielson to become a movie or television series? Well, say no more! Please sign our petition and help us reach our goal. You can do that here: http://chng.it/RXXqmhFqF8 Please spread the message if you can!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 3 replies
12:37 Mar 24, 2021

Lush, warm, and encompassing. This is everything that “The Longing” is not. I like it. To give a short critique, who the narrator is talking to does seem slightly confusing. He/she feels like a non-entity for half of the story, only taking shape towards the end. I can feel you developing the character as you progress through the story. To give a slightly longer critique, your ending feels cut off. It feels like there should be an entire paragraph for that last line, more of a drawn out conclusion. Many similar stories even add their singul...

Reply

12:43 Mar 24, 2021

I forgot to add; “The Garden” sounds like a great title to me! “Spring Song” sort of lacks the ‘essence’ of the story which I think the alternative brings to the table.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Scout Tahoe
13:40 Apr 01, 2021

...why did you delete your stories? I used to come back to your profile and read old ones that I liked. They comforted me. I'm sad but you did what you needed to do. How are you? Congrats on 30,000 points, although it doesn't matter.

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
01:30 Apr 02, 2021

Oh, several reasons. There were so many. So many not-very-good ones and I wanted the good ones, the old ones, to get some recognition. I kept my favorites and of course all my winning and shortlisted ones. I wanted to clean up my profile and pare down my comments. Some stories had bad memories attached. I kept all the material but... I feel lighter. I am doing well! Thank you. It's hard to work on a long writing project after months of quick short stories. I am reading new books and old books at the same time, Solzhenitsyn and a Noonan bio...

Reply

Scout Tahoe
03:41 Apr 02, 2021

I see--I would hate to see you feeling pain associated with your stories. But I'm glad you've trimmed if it makes you happier. Are you writing another novel? Did I miss something? What's contra dance? I'm good. Trying to write but when wonky prompts like these show up it's so hard. (I say wonky just because I myself can't write for them.) But otherwise I'm stumbling through life with my blue-light glasses on my nose and temporary fantasies on my tongue.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply

Wait, why'd you delete stories?

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
15:09 Apr 02, 2021

Wellll... various reasons. Some, as I told Scout, had bad memories attached. There were so, so many. Going through I loved the diversity of setting and plot, but few were well-written. So I kept my shortlisted and winning ones as well as ones I like and think should get more recognition (See "Nightfall: A Reimagined Twilight Story" and "Night of the Flaming Cow" if you want some fun). And now I feel lighter and my profile is cleaner.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
R. K.
14:11 Mar 31, 2021

Your 200+ stories—I just noticed. Wow, I know it isn't tangible, but it. . . looks good. Like a fresh, new haircut. We'll miss them (and I'll miss seeing the 200 rise) but I know this was a good thing for you — it'll bring clarity and focus. I've actually deleted a couple too, so that's how I know. Good luck in everything you're reaching for!

Reply

Show 0 replies

Oh my goshhhhh you were downvoted noooooooooooooooooo *upvoting intensifies*

Reply

Show 0 replies
Angelina S.
11:29 Mar 30, 2021

Heyy Zilla! I've never read anything so lively since a long time, this was absolutely marvelous! I read your bio a while ago and saw that you have a book published on Amazon, I may check it out later and if possible leave a review :) Would you mind telling me the steps for publishing novellas on Amazon 'cause I intend to write one myself? I browsed the internet and saw all about Kindle Direct Publishing and then I come across you so like I thought of asking you! Thanks and again terrific job!

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
14:20 Mar 30, 2021

Yes, I love being helpful! I hope you enjoy that book :) Of course! In theory it's super simple, though if you don't already have things like a checking account and tax information it's more difficult. You'll want to get an Amazon account and that way you can get into KDP. Here's the link to sign-in: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/ Sign in and follow the steps there. You can find a form where you put in all the information, author, co-authors if applicable, page count, byte count, things like that. Then you can upload a Word doc or pdf. as t...

Reply

Angelina S.
15:50 Mar 30, 2021

Thank you so much, it really helped!

Reply

Angelina S.
17:30 Apr 02, 2021

Hey Zilla... I've posted a new story and I'd absolutely love to know what you think of it, thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Scout Tahoe
13:44 Mar 25, 2021

I like "The Garden" as a title, but I also like "We Grew Up" or something along the lines of that. This is amazing, Zilla, how you used the garden and the idea of growing up alongside it. It's magical in its own way, and feels personal. Is it based off something you've experienced? Good job.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Sammy Xoxoxo
23:46 Mar 23, 2021

WOW, this was so beaitiful. Have a great day, love your writing :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Aspen Morris
23:09 Mar 23, 2021

This story was amazing! I like the sound of 'The Garden' more than 'Spring Song', but regardless, the piece was beautifully written.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Shreshta Writer
19:35 May 11, 2021

Your stories are so awesome! I should really get inspired by you! my stories are... eh, medium. :D Good job!

Reply

Show 0 replies

Heya! How are you doing? I see you haven't submitted a story in a while-am I being pushy? Oh wait-I probably am. But, anyways. Do you understand the new prompts? I don't understand the "Write about an ordinary person speaking truth to the power." And "Write about a cautionary fable about someone who always lies."

Reply

Show 0 replies
18:22 Apr 07, 2021

Hey, friend. Okay, I saw that you'd deleted more than half of your stories. I've read your reasons and it's okay as long as you're happy with it. Although I still think I'll miss seeing everything there. Haha. Secondly, why haven't you written anything yet? For real. I've missed your writing. I know I don't get to talk about anything. I'm more the "keeper" if you know what I mean. But I miss your writing and I honestly think you need to write one. Anyway, do take care of yourself!

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
19:21 Apr 07, 2021

I love it when you comment, I really do. I've stopped writing Reedsy stories because a) novel and b) Friday morning was terribly stressful. When a good prompt comes up I'll probably write one :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
12:22 Apr 04, 2021

Good going?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Pam Hicks
21:44 Apr 03, 2021

I wa a little confused about who the narrator was talking to at the beginning of the story but I loved the ending. This was a good story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
17:47 Apr 03, 2021

ORENDA IS BACK

Reply

Show 0 replies
Orenda .
17:03 Apr 03, 2021

hey, hey, hope you're doing well!

Reply

Show 0 replies
17:10 Apr 02, 2021

I loved every second of this story!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Scott Chadwick
16:05 Apr 01, 2021

I enjoyed the nostalgia throughout and the ending: Harper Lee influence?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Leilani Lane
14:37 Apr 01, 2021

Hi Zilla, I saw your bio and wanted to wish you the best of luck on your novel! Thank you for writing so many fantastic stories that have inspired many, myself included. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies