The Faraway Tree: a place where the ghosts of our past go to rest.
I pack a small bag with simple food and writing material. The path is barely visible. I follow the grass trail and watch for bent grass blades where the Enchantress told me to go. With many stops and starts and backtracking as I go to a dead end filled with brambles more than once. I finally see the silhouette of the Faraway Tree, gnarled and twisted.
The air seems to hold its breath and I gently push a rickety gate aside. This is a secret place. People only go here when they have no choice, when all the roads in their life, lead here.
I find a shady spot and close my eyes and breathe deeply. I feel a presence, I know. It is my four-year-old-self sitting with her dolls. She asks, “Why did it take you so long to come get me? I don’t want to be here.”
“You don’t want to be here?” I ask opening my eyes. “But it is very pretty here.”
“It’s not,” she says. “Mama and Daddy fight all the time. But they are not here right now.” She says looking over her shoulder in her yellow skirt and white top with the puff sleeves, I vaguely remember.
“Why do you ask me, what took me so long?”
“Well, so many grown-ups come and find their own younger selves and take them home with them. Or the little children go away. Maybe they are smothered with forgetfulness or taken home and put into a little box like ashes of a pet…what do you want from me?”
I look at her shiny hair. The perfectly rounded bangs of a child and long dark hair that curls with red highlights. Her hair is lighter than my hair now. Her hands are tiny. I cannot remember having such hands.
“I want to remember things. I want to know what my younger self wanted in my future. Do you have any ideas?”
“I want to make mud pies and ride my bike, but not too fast. I want the kids next door to not tease me. I want butterflies to land in the little bush outside my window,” she says.
I smile charmed by the memory. “I mean, what do you want when you get older?”
“I don’t know? You will have to talk to Fourteen. She knows a lot more than me. I am only four.”
I see myself age fourteen sitting on a swing going round and round as in nowhere. I take number Four’s hand and we go towards Fourteen. She looks at me and gives a small smile.
“I always wondered what I would look like in my thirties. I thought being thirty would be the best. Is it?”
“It’s better, but I am not sure of the best, at least not yet.” I say.
She unwinds from the swing and I take a natural seat in the tree roots.
She spies the journal and pen. “Can I see?”
She holds the journal and reads a little and shakes her head. “Mom is always there isn’t she? She’s got her fingers wound so tight, yet she allows him to do so much damage.”
“I know…” I look down. This is my fourteen-year-old self who finally stood up for herself, for me. And she has my deepest respect. She is wearing hot pink pants with a muscle tank top that was the fashion then.
“Please change my clothes,” she whispers. “ I hate wearing this…”
I imagine blue Levis and a white t-shirt with a pocket in the left side. My James Dean look when I was 16. It looks good on a fourteen year old. She puts her hair in a ponytail and the bangs splay out.
We just gaze at one another and then I remember why I am here. “What do you want?” I ask.
She sighs a big, long sigh and smiles broadly. “This could take all day!”
I turn to a clean page in my notebook and begin to make a list.
“I want to be thirty! I want to be an artist or a photographer or both. I want to have an artist boyfriend who understands me and to have deep conversations. I want to make $30,000 a year. I think I could be happy on that. I want to make beautiful watercolor paintings. But I don’t want to be famous.”
“I want to travel the wide world and see many things. I want to meet people from everywhere. I want to journey to the stars. I want to ride a unicorn. I want to have five kids. I want to have a beach house, a boat, a house in the country, a condo in the city and a townhouse in Hawaii. I want the freedom to make my own decisions and make my own money.
I nod. These are still things I want, but maybe, not so many houses.
Four asks. “Do you still have all my dolls?”
“Some..” I say sadly.
Fourteen says, “When you are grown up you can’t play with dolls! Well, not so much.”
“I need to talk to…” and she appears.
Me at eighteen. She walks in my favorite black short heels from Sasha of London in a long lean black skirt with a white crisp cotton shirt. My hair was bob length and I wore dark kohl pencil around my eyes. I looked like I was going out dancing. I was lucky I wasn’t smoking, but I never did take that up.
She looks me up and down and I remember what a snob I was then.
“You have gotten pretty casual.” She smirks.
“And you need to go to school and meet Scott. So quit the act.”
She sighs. “Okay, so what happens to us?” Her eyes widen, “We are okay aren’t we? We haven’t turned…boring
I smile, “No, it’s fine. I just want to remember what I wanted long ago. So I can make a good decision for all of us.”
I look at Four, Fourteen and Eighteen. I remember every stage and still I am the same.
Eighteen leans against the tree and says, “So ask your questions.”
“What do you want?”
And she smiles the same smile we all have. That, I know well.
“I want luxury. I want a dark, gothic, artist, boyfriend. I want a white Porsche 911 from1969. I want a beach house. I want to be a children book illustrator. I want to be a photographer. I still don’t want to be famous.”
“I want to make my own decisions. I want to make lots of money so I don’t have to depend on anybody. I want to be free of my family and all their shit. I want to be… surprised by the unexpected. Things I cannot of even know right now.”
I write this all down. And remember parts of it and then I want to add and enlighten. My four-year-old self has taken a nap on my lap. I am like the mother here and the sister to my former selves.
Eighteen asks to see my journal. “I love stories, but English was never my best subject. Creative writing was always a favorite despite what I could actually do.”
Sunglasses appear and she has gone incognita. I love that look. And she fixes a pleasant expression basking in the sun. Oh, how I remember that self.
“Why didn’t you take up writing more?” I ask.
“Oh, I hated the kids in those classes, they never said anything original. The writing was flat. And I was too nervous to be myself. I did write some poetry though.”
“And writing classes later was too weird and nerve racking. I think online blogging sounds amazing!
“It is!” I smile and try not to gush.
Can I inform them of my fate? They are me after all. “I did a children’s book and I wasn’t happy with the process. Maybe in time I will get better. But for now I really want to paint personal paintings about my ancestors and myths my parents told me.”
I look down at the sleeping four year old on my lap. She may have some interesting things to tell me.
“Scott and I are moving and I want to reevaluate where I have been and where we are going. I know it’s a luxury, but I feel it’s necessary for me to remember, so we can go forward deliberately, fearlessly.”
“I also got interested in glass and have wanted to work in that. But I am not sure of the money. I consider it a hobby. It may be awhile till I can get to that.”
They sit listening to me, really interested except the sleeping one. I’ll have to come back for her. She is the mystery, whether she knows it or not.
The gate creaks open and the Enchantress appears waiting serenely.
They all look at her and fear travels across their faces. They want to come with me.
“Don’t leave us. You can’t.” Eighteen whispers.
I look at each of them. The four year old has dropped her dolls and hugs my leg. The fourteen year old holds her arms and implores me with her stricken face. The eighteen-year-old’s face has crumpled and her eye makeup has smeared.
“Come with me,” I say. “It will be very different. Stay with me and know me now.”
They sigh a collective sigh and we all embrace. When I open my eyes I am alone hugging myself and hearing the giggles of girls in my head. I laugh too.
I pick up the forgotten dolls and put them in my backpack.
The Enchantress holds out her hands, I take them in mine. “Nicely done,” she says. “They may keep you up all night, you know.”
“I know, it will be like a slumber party.”
I close the rusty gate, as the grassy slope turns golden in the afternoon, the Enchantress leading the way.