TW: mentions of death and illness
My grandma Sue told me stories of fairies, witches, sword-wielding maidens, mischievous pixies, and wise-cracking toads. Her husband Dennis built fairy houses for her. They were sprinkled throughout their flourishing garden, tangled in twisting tree branches, hoisted atop hand-painted toadstools. Their house was a mystical place filled with love and light. My grandparents gave me hope, love, and creativity in abundance. My memories of them are some of my sweetest and most cherished.
I grew up in a townhouse in an outer suburb of Chicago; bare white walls, beige carpet, fluorescent light, crumpled clothes piled high. The stench of the mills made it impossible to go outside some days. My mom encouraged me to follow her dream of being a shrewd lawyer with deep pockets. My dad, a hard-working electrician, just wanted me to pass math class. My grandparent’s house was a refuge where I could escape judgments and expectations just to be a kid. I wish I had more time to be a kid. I think about that often.
Sue passed from cancer in February 2009 when I was eight years old. Dennis passed six weeks later. The house was sold to a family from the city that let my grandmother’s beautiful garden rot; the koi pond was picked clean by birds and bricked over by the new owners. My stomach still twists in barbed knots when I drive past their house.
After their deaths, I remember sitting alone on a hill of hard-packed dirt during recess, writing in a dingy notebook, and leaving the world for a while. I took comfort in writing poetry and short stories. Sometimes I would write letters to Sue and Dennis, telling them how my day was when I felt no one else would listen. Writing gave me an outlet to express my emotions in ways I usually couldn’t, and it served as an escape to a place where things were better. Writing gave me a sense of security and comfort that couldn’t be replicated. Nearly fifteen years later, I always come back to Sue and Dennis; glittering crystals on the window sill, hand-painted grapes lining the kitchen walls, the slap of Uno cards on the kitchen table. I will always cherish and cultivate my imagination, just like Sue and Dennis cultivated their garden.