Dreams : The Rhododendron Were In Bloom

I parked my car.
Turned the engine off.
Turned to look
At the passengers I had.
It has been a long time
Since I’d had passengers
With me.
A very long time indeed.

My passengers were young.
At least,
Compared to me.
I was pretty certain
I was older
Than their parents.
And both of them were adults.
Both being photographers.

I’d promised them
I’d bring them
To take pictures
Of the flowers
In the garden
That I love.

I couldn’t understand at all
Why they had agreed.
But then again,
It had been a long time
Since anything
Made sense to me.

I’m not that good around people.
Never have been.
And it showed.
I didn’t say much at all
On the drive to the garden.
About the only time I spoke
Was when they spoke to me.

Which pretty much translates
To talking when I had to.

Something bothered me
On the drive
To the garden
That day.
Something in the way
That they behaved.

Or perhaps.
Something in the way
They reacted to me.
I couldn’t tell.
I never knew
When I was doing
Something wrong.

I had a million questions
Racing through my head.
Was it appropriate for me
To be around
Either one of them?
I found I had to ask.
Because I knew
I wouldn’t have clue
How anyone would feel,
What anyone would think
About me taking them
To the garden on that day.

I worry about such things.
I do.
Because I just can’t tell.
I don’t feel any of the pressures
Other people do.
That silent language
That tells people
How to behave.
I’m completely deaf to it.

The only way I can figure out
How to behave
Like everyone expects
Is to make mistakes.
Do things wrong.
And learn.
Because when I ask
What’s appropriate.
No one answers.
They laugh.
Or they tell me
That everyone knows that.
And so do I.

No one understands.
I don’t.
I don’t know at all.
And God,
I wish I did.

Every bit of me
Wanted to escape.
To make sure everyone
Everywhere
Would know
The two of them
Were safe.

That I’d given them a ride
To the garden on that day.
And then I’d simply
Vanished.
So the two of them
Could have fun
Together.
Taking pictures.
Enjoying the beauty
Of that place.

I could feel the panic
That’s a part of me.
A fight or flight defense.
That had kept me alive
For so very many years.

I knew.
I knew
I’d take flight.
The first chance I got.

That’s when the youngest
Of the two of them
Stopped me
Dead in my tracks.

“Show me
Where your favorite flowers are
At this time of year.
I’ve only been here
A few times.
So I don’t know
Where to look.”

That young lady
Looked right at me,
“Show me.
Please.”

All I could do
Was stand there
For a bit.
And look at my two hands.
Shaking like leaves.
As I told myself
Several times,
“Breathe.
Just breathe.”
Until my hands
Calmed down.
And I was able to get past
The fear I was feeling.

At which point
The second of the two
Smiled.
And nodded.
And said,
“Yes. Please show us.
Please won’t you?”

I knew what time of year it was.
I knew what part of the garden
Was in full bloom.
I’d been there
A few days before.

I visited the garden
At least once a month.
And many months
In spring and summer,
I visited the garden
More than once.

I nodded my head,
yes.
And away we went.
The two of them
Walking with me.
Through the garden.
Down the trails.
To where I knew
The rhododendron
Were in full bloom.

Where the two of them
Could take all the pictures
That they wanted too.

And as I walked
Through the rhododendron,
I forgot.
I forgot all the things
That bother me.
All the things
I have to think about.
The things that I don’t know.

And once more
In the garden
That I love.

I was free.

Free to feel.
Free to smile.
Free to cry.
Free to laugh.
Free to be.
Me.

But even then,
I kept off to the side.
And tried to stay
Out of their way.
So they could take the pictures
That they wanted to.
And not worry about me.

So that I would know
That I could not do something
That was not normal.
Something that would disturb them.
So that they would be
Safe from me.

When the trip was over,
And we returned to the car,
They both noticed
I’d grown quiet once more.

That’s when they told me
How much they’d enjoyed
Visiting the garden.

And the oldest of the two
Said something to me
That I’d heard before.
Perhaps a thousand time.
But I’d never understood it
Until then.

“Why are you
So very hard
On your self?
It bothers me.
It bothers us.
To see you
Hurt yourself
The way you do.”

Then the young one spoke,
“We came here with you.
Because you are our friend.
And we wanted to
Walk through the garden
With you.
And take pictures
With you too.”

The oldest spoke once more.
“What’s wrong?
What’s bothering you?”

No one had ever asked me that
Before.
And I was completely lost.
Not knowing what to say.
Or what to do.

And I remembered,
As I stood there,
Unable to speak.
Shaking like crazy.
Trying to remember
Just to breathe,
The words that someone
Had told me
Many years before.

“Why are you so hard on yourself,
My dear friend?
Don’t you know how much
It hurts me
To see you treat yourself
That way?”

I don’t know how,
But I found my voice
On that day,
As we got ready
To get into the car.
When we would all return
To our separate homes.

That’s when I finally spoke.

“I don’t know how
To care for me.”
I looked straight at the ground.
“I never learned.”

And those few words
Would bring more change to me
Than any words,
Or any thing,
That I’d said
Or done
Before.

For I finally understood
What I had to learn.

I had to learn
What the two of them,
And the others
I call my friends,
Saw in me
That I didn’t.

I had to learn
Why they cared for me.
And then perhaps,
Some day.
I could learn
To care for me too.

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