Dandelions & Haven
You don’t remember all of the details. You can’t say, for sure, whether you ran or not. You can never remember if you ever screamed or not. You don’t know what was said every time and you can’t put things in exactly the right order. You remember being pushed down, remember his gruff voice ordering you to kiss him there… but don’t remember actually doing that. Those memories, I keep.
You keep the fragments. Like, the pants being pulled off, hard fingers at your throat, pushing you down, the Kris Kristofferson song on the radio. These are scary, especially when it is dark at night, but they aren’t as scary as the other memories, the violent ones. You must know that because sometimes I can’t hold them in and they spill into your nightmares.
The day you found the dandelion… I was so sad that it wasn’t whole. You were sad, too, but you were sad because of the sky. One of the fragments you remember from that day is being on the hot ground, staring up, at the sky.. It was pale. I guess it was blue, technically, but it looked more opaque, almost like a grayish color. In fact, everything did. You looked from the sky to the grass to the bird flying above you to the weeds growing beside you. Nothing was bright. Nothing looked alive.
It was scary because you knew it was not normal. That’s when you first realized something must be wrong with you, that you must be sick. You couldn’t tell anyone, though, because you didn’t have a fever or a rash or even a cough. If you were sick, it might be inside of you, where the ants crawled. Or maybe the sickness was in your mind; You might be crazy.
Mama said plants could heal, that people sometimes used things that grew outside instead of medicine doctors gave. The next day at school, you went to the library.
Mrs. Thomas was the librarian. She was very short, and a little pudgy. She always wore her gray hair in a bun on the top of her head and she had big, leopard-print glasses she kept on a chain around her neck. Mrs. Thomas was very nice and you liked her a lot.
“Are there books on how to make medicines from flowers?” You asked, holding your health book and hoping she’d think you were asking for a school report.
Mrs. Thomas frowned. “Well, I’m sure there are,” she typed on a keyboard and then took a short pencil that didn’t have an eraser and wrote down a number. Mrs. Thomas must be the smartest woman ever, you thought, because she didn’t make mistakes.
She led you to the back of the non-fiction section where she pulled out a book with the title Herbal Medicines. You told Mrs. Thomas thank you and flipped through the book.
It did not look easy.
You put it back on the shelf and looked at the one next to it. You skimmed three or four books until you saw a thin one with a yellow cover. Dandelion: How to Harvest and Treat Everything from Dry Skin to Cancer.
The pages had lots of pictures and the words didn’t seem too hard. So you checked it out from the library and took it home. Most of the book talked about the brightly colored yellow dandelions that grew by the tracks. You could not find much on the dandelion wishing flowers.
You learned a lot about dandelions.
Dandelions are weeds. People don’t like weeds; they kill them. This was very upsetting to you.. It made you cry. You thought dandelions were beautiful. When you saw the fluffy ones, I saw wishes, not weeds. People always tried to kill what was most beautiful.
You also learned that you can eat dandelions. The yellow ones and the fluffy ones. The book said that they are very healthy for you; their leaves have more iron in them than spinach! They have calcium, too, and we learned in school that calcium is good for your bones. Dandelions make you pee! That made you laugh. The best part, though, is that the yellow leaves of young dandelions are sweet, especially if you eat them in the Spring.
The sweetest things are also the most fragile.
Even though you didn’t see anything in the book that said dandelions could help you see things in vivid color or make you feel like you were normal, you believed that they could help. The book said they were good for you. And you were so worried that there was something wrong with you that you wanted to try.
Some of the recipes looked too hard. You didn’t know if you would be able to find the root of the dandelions and there was this big red box on one page that said:
Some leaves that look like dandelion leaves are
poisonous. Be careful!
That was scary. And enough to convince us you couldn’t make a recipe from the leaves. But then you found one to make dandelion oil. The book said it was good for your skin. Maybe if the oil could soak into your pores, it could help clean out whatever was bad inside and help you be normal.
You had a bucket and the directions said you needed to fill the bucket halfway with the heads of the yellow dandelions.
“These are not dandelions. These are daisies.” You kept thinking to yourself, every time you plucked one from the ground. .
“They are both in the same group which is called Taraxacum.” The library book made you sound smarter than you really were and you repeated what you’d learned to keep yourself going.
You used scissors to clip the yellow flower off the stem and put the flower in the bucket. You didn’t stop until the bucket was halfway full.
You carried the bucket home. You were sad. The sight of the flowers, torn from their stems, in the bucket made you sad. And sad because even though you saw that they were yellow, they looked like the sky had that day in the dirt: pale.
You followed the recipe exactly when you got home. It said to wash the dandelions and let them dry overnight on a paper towel. You couldn’t find any paper towels so you got a roll of toilet paper and laid them on that. The book said to leave them in a sunny area but you were afraid they would be thrown away if left in the kitchen. So, instead, you put them on the floor beside the window in the bedroom.
The next day, Mama gave you a jar and a bottle of olive oil. You put the flowers in the jar and covered it with a washcloth.
Then you went back to the book.
It said to leave them in the jar for two weeks. You couldn’t remember if a week was six days or seven, so you counted the days on your fingers. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are seven days in a week. Seven plus seven made fourteen.
You had to wait fourteen days.
He’s chasing me. I can hear him getting closer. I’m not sure where I am; I have never been here before, but I feel trapped. A row of doors line the unfamiliar hallway, and I know one of the doors lead outside. If I can find it, I might get away from him.
My heart is beating twice as fast as it should be and I feel myself holding my breath. I jerk open one door. He is there; laughing at me. He reaches out to grab my arm but I slam the door and run as I scream. I turn to the left and pull at another door knob but this one is locked. I run, as fast as I can, down the hall, passing doors that might lead to safety because I can hear his footsteps, I can hear his voice.
Haven. I’m going to get you, don’t you worry.
I pull another door. I scream when his face pops out, inches from mine. Sweat beads on my forehead. I whimper and toss to the other side, trying to get away. My head shakes and hot tears roll down my cheeks. It’s a terrible maze, the hall of doors, and it doesn’t end. It’ll never end.
At the end of the hallway, I swallow and grab the doorknob of one last door. I take a deep breath, hoping and praying and begging for it to be the way out. Just as I pull it towards me, hands grip my ribs and yank me backward, jolting me. I scream and bolt straight up.
Gulping in air, I feel my body shaking; my teeth chatter. Moonlight streaks in, making shadows dance across the walls and the floor. The window beside my bed is open; the cicadas are loud tonight. The room is dark and it makes me nervous; I wish we had a nightlight.
I look over to see Poppy, but she’s not on the mattress. Sometimes she still gets up to go to the bathroom during the night; that’s probably where she’s at. I lay back down but am really restless. I don’t like the bedroom door being closed right now. It makes me think of my dream, makes me think he might jump out.
I slide out of bed and pad across the floor to open the door. I can see the bathroom door. It is open. So Poppy is not in the bathroom.
“Poppy?” I whisper as loudly as I can. I walk down the hallway, but no one is in the bathroom. I don’t see anyone in the kitchen, either.
A knot of fear coils in the pit of my belly. What if Daddy came and took Poppy to his room?
“Poppy?” My whisper is louder this time, but I still don’t hear anything. Mama and Daddy’s door is closed. I walk to the kitchen to check the backdoor. I don’t think Poppy would go to the fort; she knows we got in trouble for that, but I don’t know where else she could be.
The backdoor is closed and locked. Poppy is not outside. The front door is closed, too, and the paper-sack colored car is still in the driveway. The fear making me sick melts a little. If Mama is here, Daddy did not take Poppy.
I walk back to our room.
Poppy is still not in the bed.
I feel the fear creeping back in; then I glance at the closet door.
The fear slinks away.
“Poppy?” I ask softly.
I pull open the closet. Behind the hanging clothes, in the far back corner, lays Poppy. She is scrunched up, her head laying on a tower of sweaters, her knees pulled to her chin.
The closet is Poppy’s favorite place. I used to think it odd because she likes doing things, she likes adventures. But, when it’s quiet, she likes the closet. Anywhere cramped, really. Sometimes, when we go on long car rides, she likes to crawl up in the back windshield space and sleep. She likes sleeping with her back against a wall. She says boogeymen can’t get her if she’s hiding. The closet is where she goes when there is fighting, after a nightmare or when she’s hurt. We must have both had nightmares.
The thing is—I don’t want Poppy to be alone. She’s too little. I pull the blanket from my mattress and find the small flashlight hidden under the bed. I have to pull two boxes out of the closet to fit but then I wedge myself on the floor, beside Poppy. I don’t want to wake Poppy, but the dark is scary, so I turn the flashlight on, then slide it beneath a pair of pants so it’s not so bright. I pull the blanket over both of us—my feet stick out, it’s not long enough, and lay my head on my knees.
Maybe being together will keep the nightmares away from us both.
Waiting fourteen days is hard.
When it came time to work with the dandelion oil, you were so excited. You carefully took the jar from the floor and into the bathroom. The instructions said to drain the jar. You held the washcloth over the top of the jar and poured the oil into a cup. The book said that water might have settled at the bottom of the jar, so you really only wanted what was on top.
Your cup was almost full with oil. The blossoms looked wilted. You didn’t think you’d be able to reuse them. So you took the rest of the jar, what hadn’t been used, and poured it in the backyard. You went back to the cup of dandelion oil in the bathroom.
You stuck one finger in. It was oily. You guessed that made sense. The book said you could use it on any part of the body. You looked in the mirror. If you wanted to see colors more brightly, you needed some of the oil on your face. So you lathered it on. You could feel the ants on your bottom and on your arms. You put the oil on both of those places, too.
You didn’t know how long it should take the oil to work but you were hopeful that the next morning you should see things brighter, feel more like everybody else.
The thing I wish I could have told you then, the thing I wish I could show you now, is that you were never like everybody else. You’ve always thought that makes you dumb, ugly or weird. The truth is, it makes you you. You’re different in a lot of ways from others and some of those ways are sad.
You’ve never known how to make a friend, not really. When you are bubbly, it’s usually because you think that whoever you are with wouldn’t like you if you aren’t. When you are quiet, it is usually because you are afraid to say aloud your thoughts. You’ve never really given yourself space to make a friend.
Because you are scared you can’t keep them, you reign yourself in and have taught yourself how to make obeying rules a talent. You don’t want to change because you are so scared that people might see the real you and flee. Sleep terrifies you. Death is a constant shadow, both a nagging fear and an unspoken wish. You think you are damaged, broken beyond repair, and so you’ve given up on every one of your dreams. You don’t think you are worthy of them.
These are the reasons you sit curled into a fetal position in the corner, unwilling to get hurt by doing anything that’s not carefully weighed first.
But I know the other ways that make you different. I know the ways that make you truly special. You are very thoughtful. Like with the bird and the late night story-telling. You are the care-taker, remembering to make the most out of every, single moment. You are the best listener. You see the details. You are an abundance of potential, more so than any of the bubbly girls you wish you were more like. You try really hard to do the best at whatever you do. You are creative and, beneath the silence, you are a beautiful songbird. You’re scared… but you teach magic and wonder and hope.
Mostly, you are loved.
I wish I could have told you that, shown you that, when you lathered yourself in the dandelion oil you made. The next morning, when you woke, you quickly ran outside, stared up at the sky.
It was blue… but in a sky-blue, pale sort of way. Puffy clouds dotted the heavens; maybe that was why. You looked down at the grass. It was green… but you couldn’t remember it being a brighter green than before.
Shoulders slumped, you shuffled back into the house, to the bathroom. You stared into the mirror. The freckles were still there across the bridge of your nose, the gap was still there between your front teeth.
You turned your right palm over, held it in your left hand. Using your two fingers, you stroked the soft skin of your right wrist. Your skin felt softer, smoother. And you didn’t feel the ants. Maybe the dandelion oil halfway worked.
You’d put more on every day until it was empty, everyday hoping to see the world differently. Hoping to be a bit more like a dandelion: bright and beautiful. But when the oil ran out, a piece of you dropped. You didn’t make more.
You still rub your inside wrist, though, without realizing you’re doing it. I wonder every time I catch you: are you thinking of the oil or is it a way to feel the beating pulse, to remind yourself that, normal or not, you’re still alive?