My little-girl self comes to my big-girl self and tells me something I already know: I don’t feel good, she says. I look at her standing next to me with a bloated belly, the green plume that has been trailing behind her for weeks now swirling between us. I light a candle.
“What do you think is the matter?” I ask. She has been refusing to eat her favorites.
I’m everything intolerant, she says, rubbing her eyes. I see that she has scabs on her ear and on her nose, a rash on her eyelids, and a cyst that looks like a small hornet’s nest growing out of her chin. How awful.
I take her to the bathroom for a closer look. I notice a bald spot on her head, an array of medicinal lotions on the vanity, and an empty bottle of fruity chewable antacids. This is her bathroom and the paint is peeling. I try not to be frustrated, but I just painted this bathroom last summer. I pour some anti-everything into a thousand splendid cotton balls and dab at her weeping sores. I put fresh sheets on her bed.
I give her a snack of ultra-super-duper pasteurized chocolate milk and a bowl of Rice Krispies.
I ask if she’s ready to go outside and she is; she always is. She runs off to hide; the new game is to find her by smell, Hide and Reek. She likes me to take a long time and pretend that I have forgotten about her, so I do. I’m eager to inspect the oleanders, which for many years bore the brunt of my boozy pruning, but which now live in splendor as they greenly rise from thick, low-cut wood. We are all starting over.
“Hi Ole,” I say, squatting in front of my favorite bush, a fast grower. He recoils slightly, as he’s done before, and I don’t blame him. A few years back, he was a fine, healthy, tall person-plant. Now he feels like a stump. “You are much bigger and prettier than a stump,” I say.
Look what you did to me, he says, when you were drunk.
One pulse of adrenaline stabs my heart, then a brief washing-over of shame, but I have been through this with Ole before. He knows I’m sorry. I raise my garden scissors and whisper “Sorry buddy” before relieving him of one individual stem that is too thin to support its leaves effectively if we’re to continue our pursuit of optimal growth. Poisonous oleander juice sprays onto my clothing and I am unable to block from my mind a story I recently read where a ranch family made their little girl slaughter a sheep for her birthday. She was wearing her favorite jeans. I wave the thought away like a swarm of black flies and try to concentrate on Ole because this is supposed to be Relaxing Time.
It’s time to look for the little girl of me. I find her hiding underneath the rosemary bush, and we are both glad for it. I watch her skip towards the house trailing her streak of intolerance, her bald spot shining in the sun, knowing I will give her anything she wants tonight.