The rake leaned against the wall. Unused. When I moved in five years ago, the cherry tree was barely alive. Only in my imagination could I envision the majesty of the tree in its prime. I witnessed the death of the tree and not its vibrancy. I grieved for what I missed. In the empty space, I envision a terraced garden, a mix of herbs and flowers. With shovel in hand, I began to dig in the ground. As I dug I felt something hard. I would have thought it was a root but I heard a clink. Maybe a rock? I dug some more until I saw what might be metal. Curious. I had to do some more digging before being able to pull out the container. It’s not that it was large, simply the result of being so completely embedded into the earth. How exciting. The dirt covered the file-size container. The handle still moved, allowing me to carry it. The anticipation of what would be inside, the treasures, the possibilities, heightened my imagination. Maybe a magic lantern my mischievous self thought. I refrained from washing it, not wanting to damage the contents any more than they might have been. Instead, I put it next to the door and continued my project. Later, with sore muscles and dirt under my fingernails, I went into my house with this mysterious container. Now the challenge would be opening this treasure. I put it on my workbench, took a brush, and started to clean off the dirt. I noticed no markings on the outside to identify the origin of the item. There was no lock which was a relief. After some WD-40 and prying it opened. Inside was what appeared to be a handmade book. Hardcover on the front and back. There was a binding, with the glue, aged and peeling away from the spine. Gingerly, I lifted the paper and print treasure from the box and laid it on the clean cloth I prepared to safely view the contents. I had not yet washed up from gardening. I went inside, cleaned, changed, and now beyond inquisitive returned to the book and brought it into the house.
Questions flooded my mind. How long has this been buried? Why was it buried? Was I intruding by opening the contents? I knew nothing about the previous owner of the house. The contents of the house were sold before it was put on the market, so I had no way of learning about the previous owner, except from the land. From the information on the deed, she cared for the house and gardens for twenty years. The only way to know her was through the garden, which I could only assume she planted or at least continued to nurture. Native plants dominated the land, in a somewhat haphazard manner. Clearly, the goal of the garden did not reflect a formal, Better Homes and Gardens type of display. Walking among the variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, I was always filled with a sense of peace, along with a bit of sadness. When I first moved in, I asked the neighbors about the previous owner. I had smudged the house before moving in, yet there was something about the place I wanted to hold onto, to know better. My neighbors confirmed some of what I felt. She was kind, quiet, and loved being in nature. She often kept to herself, in a respectful, caring way. Was she even the one who buried this box? Could it have been hidden for more than twenty, now twenty-five, years?
My curiosity was a driving force at this time. The questions only fueled the flame. I needed to know what was written in the handmade book. I placed the book on the dining room table, took a deep breath, and looked more carefully at the cover. It seemed as though there was a cloth covering at one time, but the worn fabric had since faded. The binding was fragile, the ties still holding the pages together. I guessed at the number of pages, maybe 100? I turned the cover, half expecting a genie to jump out of the pages. The inside cover was blank, as was the opposite page. A thought whispered, “Maybe all the pages are blank”. Hesitantly, I turned the next page.
"You are my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night. I miss you every day and have loved you before your first breath."
I read the two lines over and over again, feeling the sadness and the love. I began to get the feeling I would never be the same.
"I don’t know if you ever wondered why our connection faded and then disappeared. I know you have your story of what happened. Have you ever wondered about my story?. With deep sadness, I have accepted that we both did the best we could with what we had at the time. I have grieved every day the loss of knowing you, of sharing experiences with you, of the death of our relationship."
It was clear this was meant for someone else to find, or at least to read. I wasn’t sure I should continue. I got up from the table, walked around the house, looked out at the garden, and breathed in the words I had just read. No, I needed to continue. It was possible there was information in the book to provide clues to this uncovered secret.
My daily routine took on a new perspective. My walks around the neighborhood included searching for clues, connections, to help me put the pieces of the story together. I reread the deed to my house and learned the name of the previous owner. Grace. I went to the library to search the records for information about her. I tried to envision how she looked, what her activities were, the sound of her voice. After reading her story, I knew her in a way even her own child didn’t know or refused to acknowledge. I wanted to find this person, yet wondered if that was wise.
"I want to give you this book, for you to know my story. I have decided to bury it here, under this sweet tree, with the hope the roots will spread, will somehow send a message that, as much as I have tried, prayed, wished, with all my heart, has not been received with love. I bury this here so I can live with acceptance of what is. I hope, by burying this story, my broken heart will heal."
I tossed around a few ideas of how I might be able to put this book into the hands of Grace’s adult child. None of the neighbors were aware Grace had children. They didn’t even know if she had been married. I began to suspect she had changed her name since there was no record in my searches at the library and newspaper. Social media is not my preference for communication. I did a search on the more popular media sites, but the name appeared with numerous potential individuals. There was no way to know if any of them were the Grace I was looking for. The idea of publishing the book, little by little, nagged at me. The only other option I could come up with was to hire a private investigator. That seemed invasive and secretive. As much as I despise the dribble on social media, it held some promise, along with the insanity.
As expected, the comments ranged, raved, ranted, and rambled. With strong discernment skills, I discarded most of the responses to the initial post. The information simply described the find, in the physical sense. All that was included was the neighborhood, the handmade book, and the desire for a child to learn about his mother’s experience. I continued to be haunted by the vulnerability of Grace.
"I hope you know I am sorry for the harm I have done to you. There is so much I wish I could do differently. I have apologized and I have attempted to maintain an honest and genuine relationship with you. Over the years, I have had my heart broken time and time again, as you gave reason after reason to keep your distance from me. My heart broke each time you were too busy, you had nothing new to talk about, you wanted to explore new places, and made it clear I was not welcome to join the adventure. My heart broke because I was aware the choice to distance yourself from me came from pain. My apologies did not seem to be enough to heal the pain. My willingness to talk about the past was not enough. Over the years I have witnessed you holding on to your pain as if it was a badge of honor. When my heart could no longer tolerate being your scapegoat and your source of pain, I wrote my story. You may never learn what I experienced. You may never really get to know me. Knowing the earth will hold my words, my experience, my story, has helped me to heal. Maybe, in some way, the roots of the cherry tree will bring my story to you. I hope, with every part of my body, that you have also found a way to heal."
Each day, I read through the growing discussion from my post. As the insanity began to filter out, presumably those addicted to drama moving on to the next opportunity for chaos, I noticed an increased depth of the dialogue.
"I haven’t talked with my mother in two years. The last time I saw her she said she hated me. Now, I wonder, what did she experience to tell her daughter such a horrible thing?"
"My parents are wonderful, loving people. Yet, their love is conditional. If I tell them who I really am, how I feel about myself, I will lose their love. They do not yet know I am someone they despise, someone they believe is an abomination. I don’t know how long I can survive. Either I continue to deny my truth, or tell my parents and risk losing their love."
"My mother had an affair. That’s what my father has always said. Now I wonder, was he so hurt by the breakup that he chose to accuse her of that to get us kids to side with him?"
"I struggled to learn how to be a parent. With alcoholic parents, I learned to survive, but not to love or trust or feel. Every day I live with the pain of knowing I continued the abuse I was familiar with. I tried to do things differently, but it seems it was too little too late. I grew up believing I wasn’t good enough and that demon followed me every minute of every day. I wish every day I could have done it differently. Maybe then, my children would want to spend time with me, to recover and discover joy with me."
I considered my own family, and how much I appreciated the love and support I received from them. Now, I realized how judgmental I have been to people who didn’t have the same experience. My judgment came from a belief that the solutions were easy, to simply love more. Reading through the comments, I was humbly aware that sometimes, you can love until it hurts, but it doesn’t solve the root cause of the conflict. Reading the growing list of pain and grief, I quietly acknowledged my naivete. I went out to the garden and sat where the tree once provided shade. I realized I might never find Grace’s child. Instead, I seemed to have provided a space for people to express their stories. I looked over the bare earth and wondered, about the anonymity of social media, about the power of words, about the need to be heard. Lost in thought, I didn’t hear or see the teenager looking at my yard.
“Looks like you’re good at growing dirt” the person commented, with a grin.
It took me a few minutes to understand. I grinned and then chuckled. We looked at each other for a few minutes before the person continued on. I had never realized before how close I was to the high school. Several other students walked by, chatting about their day. The only one who acknowledged me was the lone individual, with a grin that stayed with me. I felt Grace nudge me. I went into my workshop and made a sign:
All Are Welcome
I may never find Grace’s adult child. I can create a space for people to share their stories. Maybe, that will be enough.
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