Once upon a time there was a girl who had a fairy garden. She was small, and her garden grew quite large. It began when a stray cat gave her magical seeds to plant in an empty plot of land. The girl loved her garden, and tended it carefully. Many enchanted flowers grew into fantastical plants in her garden: blue bells rang in eerie tones; tall grass whispered poetry when the wind blew; morning glories exploded into fireworks at night and grew from their own ash each morning. Soon the garden was taller and longer than the girl. The cat often sat on the small fence surrounding the garden, flicking its tail and meowing instructions at the girl as she tended her plants. She watched her flowers all day and dreamt of them all night. She forgot about her friends, family, and chores. She never left her garden, and she wanted to live with her flowers and keep them growing larger and wilder for the rest of her days. One day, the girl had to leave her garden to find special soil that would help a new flower grow. The cat told her where to find the proper soil. The journey took her many days. When she came back, the garden had been flattened by pavement that was laid to build a new road. There was little to be seen of her fantastical garden, and the cat had turned aggressive and wild. The girl cried and cried.
It wasn’t the first time I was pixilated by a place. With my first step onto the glittered sidewalk outside of LAX, I was sure of my destiny–Los Angeles was my soul mate and I its queen. The wind from whizzing honking cars blew my hair like a princess in a Disney movie.
There is much about that trip I can’t remember, like how I, a small town girl never before exposed to a big city, managed to walk across four lanes of airport traffic. There are also people I don’t remember clearly. The person I stayed with on that trip is a ghost in my mind—a softly moving wisp of intention without form. I’ll call her Cat.
One day Cat and I went to a certain beautiful spot along the ocean known as Point Dume. The sand was soft and squeaked like cold snow. We laughed about people and we laughed at people. We talked about swim suits and the greater variety that California has than Michigan. We talked about fruit and the greater variety California has (all year round) than Michigan. We talked about the sun and the ocean and how a life without them is really no life at all. We talked about mountains, and we gave them homage with our words.
As the waves rose, dolphins gathered near the surfers and played alongside them. They mimicked the surfers as they rode their waves. The dolphins took turns watching as one member of their group swam as close to the shore as it could, and then darted back to the rest, exalted in its bravery.
As Cat and I murmured about cities and townships, great men and men who fail, I felt a slow power build in me. Leaning back on my elbows I let my muscles tense and my knees intertwine. I felt a rhythm in my mind as well, a cycle of thoughts that had a musical quality, a loop of West Coast/Los Angeles sights that were all tinted purple, a series of scents that were indistinguishable and delicious. A smile crept up on me and I enjoyed it, though I did not feel happy.
Two months later I was sitting on my warm carpeted apartment floor in Ann Arbor. The humidity was heavy in the air as cars and bikes passed by my window. I had just returned home after chaperoning an alternative spring break trip in California. I was either the worst chaperone or the best. I’m still not sure which, and it still keeps me up wondering some nights. By then I was sure that California held my true future. Come hell or high water, I was moving. The going away party was planned for July. I danced to Coldplay that day, and I saw the same rhythm of purple-tinted thoughts cycle in my mind. I did not see the extra veggies and pesto my roomie had waiting for me in the fridge or the maple tree flirting with my window. I did not notice the pervading sense of safety and respite that saturated my daily life.
Epically selfless friends, coworkers new and old, and even past employers pulled together to throw me a going away party so grand in which even a hobbit would take pride. We cut ribbons, pulled pranks, and made playlists. Ever before my pixilated eyes was the dream of California, telling me to rise.
Note: “Though pixelated is the standard spelling of the word meaning rendered with visible pixels, there’s a good reason that spell check does not catch pixilated. Pixilated is an old, seldom-used Americanism dating from the middle of the 19th century and peaking (in this use) in the middle 20th century. It meant (1) crazed, bewildered, or whimsical, or (2) intoxicate” (Grammarist).
Rina Caldwell was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where she likes to dream big and make small waves. She’s a writer, a coffee artist, and a perpetual analyst of her environment, and she knows the street-smart ins and outs of small city life. She spends her time making sure the stories and voices of individuals and groups in her community are heard. Connect with Rina on Twitter @rcaldwem to read her favorite quotes about literature and life.