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"The Garden" by Emily Godollei

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High School Honorable Mention


The Garden

by Emily Godollei, St. Joseph High School, South Bend



            They came back last night. I was in the garden, picking the tiny, red cherry tomatoes from the small plants near the fence. I had just put a particularly sweet one in my mouth, when I heard my name called out. It echoed around the walled courtyard. I turned from the small green plants, and peered around the other layers of the garden. I saw them there, standing with open arms, waiting for me. She was in her faded blue jean dress, her brown locks falling over her shoulders into her eyes. He was right next to her in his dark brown overcoat, his eyes shining behind his wide-rimmed glasses. I remember feeling tears coming to my eyes. I rushed around the watermelon patch with its two new melons, around the tall stalks of corn getting their first small ears, over the row of potato plants, their fruit hidden away under the soil. I ran through the wooden gate, across the short, withered lawn, and right up to them. As we were about to embrace, I saw them fading away right in front of me. I tried to reach for them, but they were growing fainter and fainter, still calling my name…

            I woke up with a start in a cold sweat. I gazed around the room. The other girls were still asleep on their cots. The clock on the small stand by my cot read 5:30. They wouldn’t be up for another half hour. Enough time for me to go to my garden.

I pull up my bright red rain boots that were a size too small, and quietly headed out. I got into the backyard and looked around. It was a small courtyard, surrounded by a six-foot high tan brick wall. There was an old wooden swing set in the north end of the yard. The wood was a deep green, rotting away on itself. None of the girls used the swings anymore for fear of them giving way underneath them. There was an old, cracked sidewalk with a Hopscotch painted on it. The walk led from the old iron gate to the back door, not used anymore. It used to be black and shiny, but now is brown and rusted into place with ivy tendrils growing up the design. There is an assortment of discarded toys all around—cheap, plastic hula hoops, flat rubber balls, jump ropes tied in knots.

I sigh as I look across the messy yard with its withered, brown grass. The only good thing that stands out to me is my garden in the southeast corner. It was nice of the orphanage to give it to me. When I arrived here eleven years ago, it was just a patch of weeds and wildflowers, protected by a wire fence. The only thing it was good for was to add some green to the otherwise barren courtyard. Whenever I see it now, I am reminded of all the work I have put into it, and all the work it has put into me. Coming here, I was like the garden. On the outside, I was protected by a thin fence, but inside I was a disaster. My parents had decided to take a one-day sailing trip with some of their friends, leaving me home with a babysitter because I had severe seasickness even looking at the waves. They never came back…

            I never recovered from the shock of losing them. Instead, I was filled with a hatred of everyone, my parents for going sailing, their friends for offering to take them, the nuns who took me in, the other orphans, everyone. I didn’t listen to anything anyone said to me and didn’t eat for a week. I would sulk in a broom closet in the orphanage and often wouldn’t come out, unless dragged. I hated the world.

            One day, I saw the patch of weeds outside the dirty windows. I looked at its ugliness. I hated it, yet I felt a pang of sympathy for it. It seemed like it never had the chance for someone to love it or nurture it, like my mother did for me. I walked out, barefoot into the overgrown mass of weeds,, and felt a strange sense of peace within me that I hadn’t felt in weeks. I pressed the soft, damp soil between my toes, feeling a warmth wash through me. I looked at the plants around me and saw the potential they had, if they had someone. I thought of everything my mother did for me. I realized I had never thanked her properly. The closest I could get to that now was showing others how great she was and what she taught me.

I dropped to the earth on my knees and began to pull the weeds away, feeling something stir within me. It was as if I pulled out my own thoughts of pain, hatred, and ugliness within me. As I worked on the garden, I worked on myself. I cultivated the cabbage plants, and cultivated my mind. I pruned the blueberry bushes, and pruned my thoughts from hatred.

The nuns saw how hard I worked at the garden, turning it from a mess into a work of art that provided for others, and me, giving us peace, shade, and food.  They gave me the garden, making me the gardener.  I can now see beauty in the world through the soft leaves of the strawberry plants. I can now see peace in the world through the cluster of grapes growing together on the vine. I can now see an inner love in myself through the different plants growing in harmony with each other. The garden changed me as I have changed it. I know I am pretty old to be adopted, but I’ll always have a home here, at the orphanage, at my garden.


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