Cleaning up a fairy garden means that first you have to find all the fairies and give them a bath. Then it may be necessary to refresh a little paint here and there, no matter how hard they try to resist. And if they have left their Winter Solstice decorations up, you must retrieve those, clean them up, and find safe storage so that they can be used again during the appropriate season. There is always a question of how the furnishings have been rearranged, as well. If you have a cat or a squirrel that likes to visit, or a bird looking for nesting materials, you may find that your tables, chairs, mushrooms, and sundials have been pushed about or overturned. Weeds might be an issue too, although it can be hard to tell, in a fairy garden, which is a weed and which is something the fairies may consider important for food, or perhaps ceremonial events. Take dandelions, for instance. Those are absolutely essential to fairies, and you must not disturb them. Best leave them so they can be harvested for dandelion wine or wishing.
We finished cleaning up the fairy garden yesterday, in order to have it tidy in case the Easter Bunny dropped by. This morning when I went to visit and make sure all was in order, I was surprised to see that one of the fairies had let down her hair and now looked like a fallen Rapunzel. Well, fairies do have their own fashion ideas. Or perhaps she had some help from a passing bird looking for some flashy home decor.
Making things tidy is ongoing. It isn't only the fairy garden that demands attention -- sorting, mending, painting, or refurbishing. Choices must be made about one's own life furnishings. Decisions taken. Resolve maintained about what goes to the recycle bin and what is given to charity or winds up in the trash.
Along with organizing the things of my life, I have been struggling to put my writing life in order. Just gathering all of it up into one place has been a real struggle, and I am not convinced that I have yet accomplished that task. There are still some filing cabinets in the garage, and mysterious boxes in the storage shed. A bag of letters that I had written to someone important to me sat for a long time at the back of a closet.
For some time I had felt that these letters were demanding to be read. But I was reluctant. They were sent back to me when I was in my forties, when I had broken off the relationship that had been all-consuming for thirty years. I was just a child when I began writing them, and going through a painful and difficult family crisis. My mother had been exhibiting behaviors that were more than irrational, often angry, manic and then very depressed. My life had become unsteady, undependable. I sought an anchor, a foothold.
The woman who took me in, emotionally, seemed to provide a competence and security that my family could not. She was enough like my own mother to attract, she had the same kind of manic sparkle and unexpected lows, but also, unlike my mother, she seemed still able to accomplish, I thought, the basics of keeping a home. Her house was clean and tidy, she was a good cook, she could sew, and she had a beautiful singing voice. I found her to be a life raft in the uncertain seas of my own life. And I hung on for a long, long time.
Somehow I thought the letters I had written to her over the course of thirty-some years would illuminate that time for me. That they would show me some of the self that I couldn't find, that was still lost to me now even in my seventies. I had so longed, for thirty years, to be like her -- to BE her. Because by being who she was, taking on her competencies and persona, I would somehow be able to protect myself from becoming like my own mother.
Awareness doesn't come easily when you have been enmeshed in another's reality for so long. My relationship with my mother had been reconciled, in some measure, by therapy, both hers and mine. But this other relationship was still impacting my life, and not in a way that was healthy for either of us. I needed to end it. So before I lost all of myself, before I went over that abyss, I said "no more." No more responding to manipulation or emotional coercion. No more time spent chasing an endless demand for attention. I had my own family to care for, I had my own self to find and make whole.
Sending all of those letters back to me was another attempt on her part to engage, another attempt to entrap. Perhaps I should have just thrown them all away when I got them, as I had done with the letters I had kept from her to me. But it seemed like a self-betrayal to do that, a devaluing of who I had been. So I kept them, but did not read them. They sat in the back of the closet, like a lump sits in your throat when you cannot cry.
I opened the bag last week, and started to read those letters that I had begun to write when I was barely thirteen. Those I read were written in a child's hand. Not much content, except for a consistent plea "write me soon, I look for your letters, I long to hear from you" along with words of encouragement that addressed some slight she had felt from someone, or some betrayal. That seemed to be a constant theme, at least from what I can determine from this one-sided dialogue. She had always suffered something, and I was always trying to cheer her up or console her that she had done the right thing, or that someone else had been completely unreasonable and that she was right to feel as she did. The fact that a woman of thirty was seeking consolation from a child of thirteen made me feel so important, so adult, so honored and valued. Today it makes me so, so sad. That child had enough to deal with. She should not have taken on any extra drama.
Survival is an interesting process. I do believe that whatever this realtionship was, it helped me to survive what was going on in my own family of origin. I did develop certain skills, certain insights, that may not have been possible if I hadn't found someone outside to focus my attention elsewhere.
So today I honor that child for doing the very best she could, and against all odds. I honor her for still believing in fairies when all the evidence around her was that they would let her down, were not real, that they might use her or abuse her for their own ends. And I am getting to know her a little better. Not because of what those letters contained, but because of what they did not contain. There was no secret revealed. There was no special message or enlightenment from the past. Those dusty pages from the past held no new information, beyond the affirmation that she did the best she could to order her chaotic life, and to hang onto it. And that matters.
Shredding those letters was like cleaning a dirty window or opening a door into rainbow country. And the lump in my throat seems to be gone.
Don't you love new beginnings?