It’s been a long while since I was in the waters of the Gardenmaster. It took me a while after my waking world move to reconnect with many of the dream world denizens who had kept faith that I would be able to escape the circumstances that kept threatening to drown me.
But here I am, floating in the waters of their curated garden again, gently entangled with the plants they tenderly care for, and feeling the current of the river under us all sweep down my back and my legs.
I have missed this place.
In the waking world, the COVID-19 lockdown has been aggravating already tenuous and strained connections, both internal within myself and external with coworkers who have made it very clear how concerned they are for others.
In this dream world, I have space to work out what I can within myself, and realize what external influences I have erroneously accepted as internally sourced.
At least, that’s what I tell others when I’m trying to justify why I like coming here so much. To be honest, I just like floating in the water without having any other duty than just to relax and be.
This being a place where mental wounds present as physical scars, my chest displays a gruesome gash from sternum to diaphragm. It is a wound I have borne in my dreams for several years now. I know it will never completely heal in this lifetime and that my goal is to keep it from festering.
The Gardenmaster fusses over me with the same care that they fuss over their plants. “Let the water cool and rinse that. I like not the look of it. You have been allowing others to grind the embers of their hate into you again.”
“Only because physical instruction of emotional boundaries are still against the law. This is not the time for confrontations.” Seeing a large rock jutting out of the water nearby, I turn and move to hold the rock with my arms and let my body be massaged in the current.
I have only begun to plumb the nature of this river, but it has consistently been eager to pull and accept any “uncleanness” poured into it. The water rushes into the exposed wound with more pressure than the current is pushing. It hurts and my instinct is to pull away from the source of the pain. I remind myself that sometimes healing hurts more than the trauma, but untreated trauma will destroy more than the pain of healing and stay put.
“I know you’ve told me that I shouldn’t worry, but I’mma worry anyway. I don’t want to poison your plants, dear friend. Some of this stuff coming out of me is just disgusting and repulsive.”
They rub my back with their animated roots. “And I will remind you again, that what is cleaned out and from you will feed these plants and that which is in the river. This is not one of your hospitals where cycles are broken because everything must be what others pretend is pure.”
A root slips under the water and presses gently along the edges of the wound. It hurt. (Oh hell, it hurts!) But as I accept their care, they push more infected pus into the current. With their action came understanding: Sometimes we need to let those who care for us touch us to show how we need to care for more ourselves.
No further words were said for a while. I remained lazing in the river while they remained silent over me. The cold water soothed inflamed flesh and cool reason reminded me of forgotten truths. As the water of the river worked on my body those forgotten truths worked on my mind to remind me of who I am and who I need to be.
“Turn over. Face the sky and float as level as you can.”
Realizing that I was dozing off and amused at realizing that I was dozing off in a dream I was having while already dozed off, I quietly complied. They moved floating plants underneath me to hold me level. Now exposed to air and light, the wound started to pull itself closed in what I assumed was a metaphor for my tendency to portray myself in public as a solid wall of impenetrable and unparsable emotion.
(Yea, I never buy that either.)
Before the wound closed completely, a wide leafed plant sprouted from the gap. It grew very wide, very fast, and covered the entire length of the wound with its canopy. This would not be the first time here that a plant has grown from a crevice in my body (naturally formed or not) so I was not distressed to see it.
The Gardenmaster, on the other hand, was suddenly very cold and still. “How do you feel, my friend?”
Sleepy. I realized I had not spoken the thought. When I opened my mouth to do so, I found it was hard to take in the air I needed to make sound. “Sleepy, exhausted. So tired. I just want to rest, don’t want to think, just want to be.”
The Gardenmaster moved so that its bulk was near my head. “Just want to be… what?”
The plant’s layered leaves were now wider than my torso and they threatened to shade my face. The underlayer moved to conform to the shape of my body. I noted the leaves over the wound were sealing it, acting as a bandage and numbing all pain associated with the wound. I had the briefest glimmer of thought that maybe this wasn’t a good thing to happen. Don’t wounds need to able to drain?
I don’t know how long it was between my friend’s question and the thought to answer. I realized that was a warning in itself. “To be… nothing. No. That’s not my quest, that’s not… something’s wrong.”
“Yes.” They moved their bulk directly over me. Somehow, they showed me what they saw. The center of the plant in my wound had grown a flower bulb which was now opening. In the center of the lotus-like flower, was a single eye with a slitted iris. The eye rotated to look at the Gardenmaster. The eye showed no further movement, but it was clear that the apparently sentient plant that was growing in my wound wanted my friend to go the hell away.
My friend moved, but not away as the thickening plant desired, but to my side. Their roots pulled up something from the riverbed beneath us. A small metal thing, no larger than a railroad spike and just as heavy, was placed in my hand. “If I try to remove the parasite, I will cause you more pain than you are able to bear, and will wound you greater than what it is doing to you. You must decide, my friend, will you allow yourself to be anesthetized and rendered as if dead until you are as such, or will you do what needs to be done to heal yourself, even though it will make your pain as sharp as knives?”
I could feel the invasive plant’s roots crawling up my throat and invading my arteries. Everywhere it touched was numbed into slack relaxation. Once upon a time, I thought what I wanted was to be free of pain and never be hurt by anyone again. The invader was giving me the fulfillment of that desire, but after all these years since facing a similar choice, I understand that this was just a very dragged out and lingering death.
I forced myself to ignore the cloying softness of the invader’s touch on my mind and gripped the metal thing tightly. I recognized it at once and knew what I had to do to save myself.
The metal thing that the Gardenmaster had dredged up from the depths is the black iron knife I had made in a dream so many years ago. It was proven then by the successful hunt and capture of a malevolent spirit. Better knowledge and understanding of what it was had recently came to me in the waking world. How best to apply that by putting its dream world counterpart again to the test.
The invader <spoke> sweetly to me with floral scents and delicate touches. After all the pain I continue to have both in the waking and the dreaming worlds, don’t I just want to close my eyes and rest? It doesn’t have to be forever. Just long enough… for both of us… to get… our… desires… fulfilled.
“I’LL REST WHEN I’M DEAD AND I AIN’T DEAD YET!” The small knife felt as heavier than sum of all of my guilts. It took all that I could muster to swing my right hand out of the water to stab the invasive plant in the sole eyeball. The dull knife, so short that just gripping it covered more than half of its length, punctured the golf ball size orb with the ease of piercing water.
The plant’s roots contracted in my body, causing more pain than I had forgotten I have experienced. If it weren’t for the Gardenmaster’s plants holding me up, I would have sunk to the bottom of the river and drowned along the way as my body spasmed from the torture.
I pushed the knife in deeper, screaming as the invader ripped at the raw edges and interior of the wound. I reminded myself that pain meant I was alive, and if I was alive then I still had a chance, and if I had a chance then I had to take that chance even if it meant more pain because I’m still alive!
A root ripped itself free from my throat to flail against the arm assaulting the plant’s core and I took a breath in reflex. Doing so pulled more of my awareness away from its grip and I remembered what I had done with the black iron knife to proof it and what I have learned about that knife since. If this was my dream knife returned to me, then I knew what to do with it. If it wasn’t, I knew who to call on for help with it.
I still couldn’t form words. Any thought other than “Make this fucking pain stop!” was impossible to hold longer than a second. I stopped trying to deal with the plant in a rational manner and just let the black iron knife be what it has always been so it can do what it needs to do at this moment.
The knife’s handle somehow gripped me back with the same intensity as I had gripped it. I was not able to open my hand even if I wanted to. Using my arm as a lever, it forced itself even deeper into the plant until the tip of it had gone all the way through and was now touching the floor of the wound.
I didn’t think it could hurt any more intense, and yet, here I was, soundlessly screaming.
And giving in to the pain.
And with the pain, came clarity.
Take it. Whatever is not of me, take it. Seize it and grip it. Thrash it and trash it! If I have my identity wrapped up in it, oh fucking well, just means it needs to have been gone twice as long ago! TAKE IT ALL!
My arm twisted and pulled at the command of the black iron knife. The parasitic plant, now wholly caught on the blade, was wrenched out of the wound. The leaves and roots flailed in panic and distress as blood and pus dripped from it. Once the plant was free from my body, my arm lost muscle tone and hand, plant, and black iron knife all together fell into the river underneath me.
I gasped for air, stretching the seeping wound, then shuddered and cringed as the mat of plants underneath me suddenly lowered my body into the river. Only my face was left in the air. Other plants swiftly grew over me to hold me in place as the cold water of the river rushed against raw nerve endings and I thrashed in uncontrollable spasms again until the cool of the river brought relief.
The mat rose, exposing the wound to the open air once more. Despite all that had just happened, it did feel a lot better. But as a whole, I was completely exhausted and without the ability to just make a grimace at the Gardenmaster. They pulled one of their large leaves off themselves and laid it over my chest to bandage the wound. Unlike the parasite, this leaf did not numb and did not dig itself into the wound it was covering. It merely laid in place, held by one of the Gardenmaster’s many roots.
I realized my right hand was empty. “I… lost… the… knife. Oh no.”
Another of their roots pulled my right hand out of the water. They closed my fingers into a fist and the small knife pulled itself out of the gap to fill the space. “You never lost the knife. You didn’t remember how to pull it to you.”
“Oh. Well. Fuck.” The Gardenmaster rumbled at the sound of my expletive. I knew they were chuckling at me.
I was recovering faster from the pain than I thought I would. Breathing was easier now. “Dude. I didn’t mean to come here and start shit. I’m sorry.” I started crying. “I didn’t mean to…”
They laid a thin root over my mouth to hush me. “No. Don’t plant more seeds of what you just extracted. This has always been a place for you to rest, recover, and heal. Sometimes, the process is messy. Sometimes others don’t want you to heal because they benefit from your pain someway. Sometimes you don’t want to heal because you think you’re atoning for guilt that was never yours to bear.”
“Yes, you have seen others of my kind take me to task for having you here. As you have noted, animals of your kind are not well received here. But I have made a space here for you, my friend, and that space is for you to use to rest, recover, and heal. What you call ‘starting shit’, is… in your words, ‘putting shit right that should never have been shit to deal with in the first place’.”
I tried to laugh. They were so cute, using my words with the most professorial tone I have ever heard. All I could to was pant but the emotion was conveyed.
Finally, I could get another word out of my mouth. “Why?”
“I refuse to answer that question. I will not help you furrow a new row in your soul.”
I was too tired to argue, too tired to feel guilty, to tired to do anything but accept the coolness of the river on my skin and the Gardenmaster’s unblinking stare through my useless intellectual defenses. “Fine.”
My reward for my grudgingly defiant acceptance was a gentle pat on the head and an unspoken command to allow deep sleep to finally grace me.
I slept well.