Visiting the Lilacs
On those heady days in early May when a second day stretched out before us—at least that’s what it felt like to me to have so much time outside after school—I had a ritual. I would Visit the Lilacs, first to see their childlike leaves, a perfect green, evenly veined, smooth and soothing, and then, as spring carried on, to the delicate purple flowers, watching them pop out, first the buds, and then one little bloom, hope and possibility. Spring smells like lilacs.
Our lilac bush stood in the far corner of the yard, once part of a veritable thicket of maples and other New England plants, before the side fence went up, separating our yard from the window of the garage next door, in which once the older neighborhood kids locked me in and then left, my mother finding me only after I screamed myself hoarse. That garage, with a brick chimney, is slowly succumbing to nature, bright green moss overtaking the roof, the sight of it has become a muse when I visit my parents.
I think I was locked in the garage in winter, but that might be because I conflate it some with a different memory—this one where I was a culprit, my best friend and I having dyed snow with food coloring, and, then, deciding that we needed to do something with our creation, chucked a bunch of it in the trunk of my neighbor’s white Cadillac.
That’s my one clear memory of Dick, excuse me, Mr. ____, the second husband of our neighbor Kathy. They may have been actual swingers. It was the seventies, after all, or maybe the very early eighties. All I remember is that my dad went to one of their parties once and came straight home.
The lilac bush didn’t just loom large in my child’s memory. It actually was larger, a younger boy from the Christian school, the brother of my sister’s friend, climbed up it and jumped on it until it broke. I don’t remember if I actually saw this happen, or if I imagined the scene in my mind after my heartbroken mother told me what had happened to the lilac.
That kid went to prison for murder before he could graduate high school, his illness having been mistaken for sin.
I still Visit the Lilacs at my parents’ house in spring, though the flowers are not as many or as strong. Mostly, though, I Visit the Lilacs of a neighbor’s garden, the flowers close enough to the road to be able to bend down or look up. Sometimes, I touch one of the simple leaves.
On the way home yesterday, I saw a boy up in a beautiful Japanese maple with sunshot new red leaves. He shook the branches and I flashed to spring and hope and what can happen next. I spoke softly to the boy as I passed under the tree, in hope and dread.
Gallery: Sundry Wonders
Click on an image to view the gallery.