Growing up in the epitome of society for a family, I dreamed big. My family was ordinary. Mom who cooks dinner and drives me and my brother around, dad with a 9-5. And there’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong. But naturally I dreamed of what I didn’t have. I dreamed of being a superhero or professional athlete, scoring a game winner in the World Cup or racing down the court in the final seconds of the NBA Championship Game. I spent hours throughout my day living out my wildest fantasies. I would practice my soccer skills in the backyard and pretend to be Lionel Messi. I would practice my basketball skills out front in the street and pretend to be LeBron James. I would chase my friends around who were alien threats to the multiverse.
Mom, duck quickly the aliens are shooting at you! Don’t worry, I’m here to help!
Get down from that tree, Billy, you’re not a superhero. Superheroes don’t exist. They can’t exist. You’re just a kid. An ordinary kid. It’s time you woke up to reality, focus on school, maybe get a job soon.
Only they did exist. Grandpapa was a superhero, saving kittens from trees and people from burning houses and saving forests from the wildest of fires. As I got older, I realized that these dreams were unlikely to come true. I wasn’t going to become a professional athlete or a superhero. But that doesn’t mean I had to be like Mom. I didn’t have to be ordinary. I decided early on in life to be like Grandpapa. Perhaps not a superhero, but a hero.
Ms. Walder Who Always Lived There
I took a leap backward as I creeped down the stairs. I didn’t even know there was a basement in Ms. Walder’s house. But that’s not what really made me startled. There were old TVs with static and antennas and carpets glued to the ceiling and chairs with no legs lying gloomily with their backs on the floor. As if my neighbor – whom I’ve known for thirteen years – having an anomalous hidden basement wasn’t weird enough, the floor creaked and wallowed with every step, like there was a dead body beneath my feet that had been present for a hundred years. It’s time to get out. I don’t have a good feeling about this new neighborhood. On my way out, I stumbled into now unfamiliar Ms. Walder casually doing the dishes.
Okay. Remain calm. Maybe if I just tip-toe to the door-
Ranen? Ranen! How are you doing? Here to hang out with Johnny, I presume?
Uh Erm yeah, I- I just was um- he texted me to come in, I didn’t know he wasn’t home yet.
Oh it’s all right, can I get you something to eat?
No thanks, I’m not hungry.
I was a second ago, but my neighbor having a hidden basement with unexplainable things lost my appetite. Outside, I noticed the cars weren’t in the driveway.
When did you get home, Ms. Walder?
Oh you know, five minutes ago give or take.
But… your car isn’t in the driveway.
Well, I parked it in the garage.
Ms. Walder never parks in the garage. Which means – she’d been here the whole time. No. Impossible. I looked in every room searching for Johnny. The only explanation is that the car is in the garage. I have to check. Sure enough, it was. A part of me feels relieved. Another part, disturbed. Anyways, it’s time to get home.
Wait, her car has a church sticker on the rear window, where is it?
When You Hit Rock Bottom, The Only Way is Up
Once there I immediately received glares. That look. I’ve seen that look before – the rich eyeing down the poor, the majority disgusted by the minority. This was the first time I had ever been moved up a group in my seven years being on this swim team. And this was the first time I was severely lacking speed compared to my new teammates. Following my last race I felt a cold, stern grasp on my shoulder. Of course – being the youngest and slowest in my new group — I came in last.
You swam that time.
Whispers emerged and glazed my ears.
Ranen went that time.
I told myself I would never go that time again. The first week was survival. Trying to get through the practice. Checking the clock after every lap, every set, everyday. Weeks passed, months, and before I knew it, survival turned into competition. I was keeping up with the other kids. Come time for my first meet, present was a feeling of subtle confidence. Satisfaction with my persistence at practice. All the hard training and verbal beatings were finally being cashed out. I dove in the water and instantly felt stronger. Faster. After my race I felt a stern grasp on my shoulder. Familiar. But not a cold one. A warm one. Not like the last, rather leaving a graceful impact.
Holy – You swam that time
Yeah, I replied, I swam that time.
I grew up with a dog. A black lab named Nolla. He wasn’t just a pet, he was a brother. Nolla was my best friend. He was always there to play with me, to comfort me when I was sad, to protect me when I was scared. I felt safe and loved when I was with him.
Taking care of him was my favorite thing to do, and so it became all I did. He listened to me and never judged. He kissed me no matter how sweaty I was from practice. One day I took Nolla to the park a bit later at night than usual. The dusk of New Year’s Eve. I lived where the streets were dangerous. Especially on a celebratory night like this. Nolla was bigger than me. Much bigger. Much stronger. We crossed the street from my house to the park like usual but this time Nolla got distracted. A bird in the road. A mockingbird. I wasn’t alarmed as there weren’t any cars on either side of us for at least a mile. Until there was. This car was fast. It zoomed out of the neighborhood right around the corner from where we were. The man driving saw us. Surely he did. But he didn’t slow down. I bolted to the sidewalk.
Nolla! Come! Nolla! Quick!
Nolla was distracted. She didn’t come. Not in time at least, not before the sound of a thunderclap bombarded my ears. The man came out of the car stumbling, trying to walk towards me and Nolla but he couldn’t walk straight. Then the man let out a moan. He couldn’t talk straight. There was something wrong with him, maybe he was hurt. The man’s breath smelled horrid. Strong. Like those wipes used to clean things, or the fiery scent of mouthwash.
Mama, why? Why did this happen? Nolla was a good girl. You always said that if one was good one would have good things come. This isn’t any good. Why didn’t that man slow down? Why was he driving so fast in the first place? Why didn’t he go around us, no one else was on the road? Why didn’t he say sorry after? His face, stone-cold. His pupils–larger than normal like a round black button with no thought behind them.
The dusk of New Year’s Eve. I’ll never forget it.
All I Want For Christmas Is You
I never believed in magic. I liked those short videos of card tricks and Harry Potter movies, but even as a little boy I never believed in magic. That’s why I laughed when Grandma told me about the magical garden. Only those who needed it could find it, and you could only find it once in your lifetime. In a dream.
Prepare yourself before you go to bed, you never know when you could dream of the magical garden, She used to tell me almost every night before bed.
I always assumed she told me this as a joke, but she had a serious tone in her voice as if she weren’t joking.
Make sure that you share the story to someone else after you make your wish, it’s the one requirement of the garden.
My grandma became sick. Really sick. There wasn’t much the doctors could do. She passed away in her sleep, painlessly. My grandma was extremely rich so she left a long will with lists of items and heirlooms for each member of my family to inherit. She left me a rusty old key. The government guy gave me the address to where the key was to be used, an old warehouse. I opened the warehouse door with the key and found a box with a name and picture of a boy. He was a dirty looking boy with scratches and bruises everywhere. He looked familiar. The name read Grant Monty–the same last name as me.
Why have I never heard of this boy? Who is he? Is He alive? How am I related to him?
That night I dreamt of the garden. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Magic was real. The garden was real. Grandma wasn’t joking. Immediately I thought of Grandma and theorized that her wish was to become rich, which is how she got all that money. Then it hit me. The boy.
Decades later I told my son of the magical garden as I was required to. He asked what I had wished for, regarding that we’re not rich and don’t have a private jet so that wasn’t it. I told him about Grandma, and the boy she led me to in her will. I told him about Grandma’s wish, for me to help the lost boy. It turns out he was my cousin who had been neglected by my family because of how he came to be. My uncle was an irresponsible kid in high school. A bad kid. He got caught up with one of his teachers at his school and the boy was born. Nobody took care of him and he spent many years living in foster care. My wish was to make Grandma’s wish come true and give the boy a loving family.
Out of all things you could have gotten, you chose that?
Son, what I got from my wish was priceless. The gift of giving.
Every time I look into my son’s eyes, it reminds me of Grandma, and how she gave me a beautiful son as her one and only wish.