I want to finally talk about what happened to the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.
Because every time I walk past it — even now –I feel wings beat in my chest, and if I don’t look away I might throw up.
I want to tell you what happened, because maybe it’ll get easier if I do.
The garden was right behind where we first lived when we moved to Israel, the man who was my husband and our babies, when we moved to that first house that never became a home for me, the house that was never permanent.
(And ohhh I wanted it to be permanent)
The first time we saw the house, we walked past the most beautiful garden I have ever seen. It was behind a high wall of wild honeysuckle and pink jasmine – I looked through the gate, and saw lavender and lupine just around the edges, I saw sage and rosemary and gerber daisies and hollyhocks. There was a rose garden, and a a stone path around a koi pond, and a fountain with a mermaid statue, and a little wrought iron table and two chairs. Someone had left a cup of coffee and a newspaper.
There was an organized wildness to this place — like wood sprites came into the night and planted seeds, reading instructions by starlight, a wildness that made sense somehow, a balance between stone and flower, between a cup of coffee and trickling water, between earth and sky.
THIS felt permanent.
Deep roots, this garden was forever.
And the house that would be ours was still under construction – they cracked open the kitchen wall to add an extra room for the kids, and we got to choose the paint. We picked lilac. the room fit into the house oddly like a jigsaw puzzle piece you force in that sticks out permanently, that never fits. Square peg, meet round hole. There were windows, but they weren’t big enough.
And there were no flowers.
My kids still sleep in that room half the week, but I don’t tuck them in there anymore.
But when we first moved in, I wanted it to be forever – I wanted to believe that this was it, home, finally, half a world and 10 timezones away from where I buried my mother and I birthed my babies, where we drank beer on Thursdays with the homies, where we lit shabbat candles with my dad and his wife and anyone else who wanted to eat sweet challah and drink red wine and talk about the Lakers or the next city council election, where I, too, had once planted a garden with my mother years before.
The earth by our new house wouldn’t yield, so we went to the plant nursery and bought clay pots and a few plants to stick in them.
But still, there was this other garden, and I would peek inside every time I walked past.
And then one day, when there were only a few boxes left to unpack, I met the woman who made it grow.
She was this juicy, golden 68 year old goddess with chocolate eyes and platinum hair, her neck decked with sunspots and sparkles, a tiny jewish star, a giant hand of fatima, and a diamond pendant safe between her breasts.
She greeted me for the first time in French with a kiss on each cheek.
“I’m sorry, I don’t…” I said.
“Oh ma petite chou, I just assume everyone who is not from here should be from France.”
“I’m not. But how can you tell I’m not from here?”
“Come now, it is obvious to everyone that you are a wild flower.”
I took that as a compliment.
“Your garden is beautiful.”
“Yes, when I came here I wanted to put down roots.”
And she had. We drank coffee and talked about Paris, and Province – places she had lived in that had shaped the garden she had planted. She loved Monet and dreamed of water lilies.
“Yes, I love it here,” she said to me one day. “But living here means always missing somewhere else.”
I wanted to be like her, this earth nymph who sang Edith Piaf and planted lilacs wearing Chanel. “I will never be a kibbutznik,” she told me. “Je Suis Parisienne.”
She knit huge rainbow scarves and decorated the palm trees with them.
“Be true to yourself!” she told me. “Be true and you will find your place!”
So, I wore my otherness as she did hers — Only mine listened to Tupac and wore skinny jeans and tank tops and stilettos, because “I am Los Angeles, yo.”
The ground still would not yield.
I went back to the plant nursery and bought lavender. I bought lupine. I even bought golden poppies, the state flower of California. All planted in clay pots.
“You may visit my garden any time,” she said to me. And I would, sometimes with my own cup of coffee, alone. Sometimes with her. Never with my children — this garden was my secret.
And then I left. My roots didn’t take. But every time I would visit the kids in the house that was once ours, I would walk by the most beautiful garden I have ever seen, and say hello to my friend.
I was rootless. I lived on couches, and in a tent. I slept in strange places, in different beds. There were no flowers there except on wallpaper, tiny tulips parading in perfect lines up and down and back again.
“Think of me as your mother,” she said to me the last time I saw her. And I realized that was it — I was still looking for my mother.
“Thank you,” I said, and I kissed her on each cheek.
A few days later, she was gone.
“Her husband kicked her out,” they said. “He’s from the kibbutz, but she wasn’t a member. So she had to leave.”
How could it be? This woman who had planted roots, deep into the ground, who turned a patch of land into Provence, into Paris, into her home, a home of her own creation. How could it be, this woman who put sweaters on the trees was gone?
What permanence? What’s the point?
And as each season passes and I look back into the most beautiful garden I ever saw, I feel sick: Its gone to ruin. The lavender is dead. The rosemary long gone. The roses claw each other, full of thorns, without a single blossom. The honeysuckle dried up, and the jasmine wilted. Someone gutted the lupine and the lilacs and the Gerber daisies and the hollyhocks and put Astroturf in its place. The koi pond stands empty.
The mermaid on the fountain lost her head and now she’s just a fish.
The wrought iron table and the two chairs are rusted and tucked into a corner as though ashamed.
And then last autumn, one of the sweater trees toppled to the ground. “It happens sometimes,” they said. “The roots were rotten.”
And what’s the point? What permanence? I wonder where she went – she, the planter of seeds with deep roots, deep roots that withered. Did she find another place?
There’s no one who will answer me.
And I’m ashamed.
Across the way, my ex repainted the living room. He made the windows bigger. The plants I bought at the nursery are still there and growing. But I’m not there.
Instead, I’ve found a place that I share with the kids. I hung pictures on the walls. I framed photos of my mother, and her mother and HER mother. I light Sabbath candles here, and drink beer with my friends. I tuck my kids in on our nights together.
I don’t have a garden.
My house is on the edge of a deep green sea of wild wheat and cactus, deep green fields rolling West, rolling towards LA, rolling home. Yes, being here means always missing somewhere else. Being here means I’m a wild flower. But I’ll stay and drink my coffee.
And if you see a woman with limpid eyes and bleach blonde hair planting seeds in the earth somewhere, tell her I say hello, and I have a cup of coffee waiting for her.