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  • Writer's pictureDalla Bocca Del Lupo

"Growing Up and Letting Go": Microfiction from Prof. Geoghegan's "Creative Writing: Rome" Course

Story written by Reggie Davenport

For the Roman Microfiction [course assignment], I decided to go in a new direction and draw upon my childhood experiences. The visit to the Orto Botanico [in Trastevere] provided the inspiration since that was my first time visiting any type of botanical garden. My mother and a few other important people from my childhood and young adulthood were very skilled with plants and I [...] pulled a few things from their personalities. I wanted to get inside the mind of an anonymous character as he revisits his childhood, comes to terms with his mother’s death, and decides that he will live in the present moment and enjoy his life. This would be a new challenge for me.

After wandering aimlessly in Trastevere, he looked up to see the tall gates near the entrance of the Orto Botanico. He had never visited a botanical garden before, and since he had no other plans, he thought about going inside. He stopped walking and took everything in. The sun beamed down on him and there was not a single cloud in the sky. A gentle five-mile-per –hour breeze tapped his face and shoulders and the only noises he heard were birds chirping and a faint sound of children at play, presumably from inside the garden. Hearing the sound of children jogged his childhood memory of seeing his mother talk to the plants whenever she watered them.

“That’s right…she always said that plants like it when you talk to them,” he said.

He decided to go inside. He paid the entry fee and glanced to his right. While instinctively grabbing a map he heard a female voice in his head telling him that he was always fascinated with maps. The voice was as clear as that of the woman behind the ticket counter. This did not scare him, but he thought it was weird. He walked slowly as he made his way to the dinosaur displays. He glanced at the group of children who were huddled around their teacher as she handed out index cards to them. He thought about how fortunate the children were to have adult supervision and how teachers sometimes became parental figures. He remembered that his mother was a member of the Parent-Teacher Association when he was in elementary school. She had an excellent relationship with the teachers. When he was nine years old, he lived in a three-bedroom apartment building on the south side of Chicago with his mother and grandmother. His special skill was the ability to rattle off every single CTA bus and train route. He became the unofficial information guide in the neighborhood. Over the years, his love of maps evolved and he became equally fascinated by bus travel and train travel. Today was the first day of his two-week vacation in Rome, and he immediately explored the public transportation system by taking the Number 23 ATAC bus into the neighborhood of Trastevere. The next thing on his agenda was to make his way to a Metro station so that he could ride on the subway on the way back to the hotel. Today when he heard his mother’s voice reminding him of his love of maps, it was another weird moment. A few months ago, he had dreams involving his mother, but the voices went away and the dreams ended once he woke up in the mornings. After he got himself out of bed and ready for the day, he would vaguely remember the substance of the dreams. Today was different because he was not dreaming, and the voice came to him at 11:30 AM.

He walked around the dinosaur exhibits. He had a generous amount of space to himself and started to feel like a child going to the zoo for the first time. The children had gone to another area of the garden, and their chatter was very faint. He approached a sign that read “Tito”, which was the dinosaur’s name. This amused him, and he thought it was cute to name the dinosaurs. He took a selfie with Tito and two others, and then proceeded to the Corsini Greenhouse.

He stepped inside the greenhouse and immediately felt a sense of serenity. It was as if the plants made him forget that he was in a foreign city in a foreign country. The variety of cactus plants was amazing. They came in every size and shape imaginable. For an instant, he thought about how awesome it would be to see a Venus flytrap somewhere in the gardens. He smiled as another childhood memory came to him. At one time he wanted a Venus flytrap because his godmother had one and he would always watch it devour insects whenever he saw her on his weekend visits. She also had a cactus. The amazing thing about these two plants was that they hardly required any water. She had other plants in the house but he always gravitated to the Venus flytrap and the cactus first. When he started high school and developed an interest in girls, sports, and music, he changed his mind about wanting plants. He still loved to visit his godmother each weekend, but his activities now included playing handheld video games like Plane and Tank and buying the latest break-dance records and playing them on her stereo system. One day after school, however, he got some shocking news that closed the door on his desire to have any plants of his own. His mother sat him down and told him that his godmother had passed away. He cried for hours the rest of the night and lost his appetite for the entire week.

While he slowly walked down the aisle in the greenhouse, his flashbacks lingered on. The thoughts of his godmother made him a bit somber and a tear formed in his eye. He stopped and looked at the tall cactus in front of him. His godmother had one that was the same size. Seeing this made him get a little more emotional, now with a lump in his throat.

“Why did you have to die? I didn’t even know you were sick!”

He heard his mother’s voice again, saying that nobody knew that his godmother was sick. He then remembered something that he heard years ago. Sometimes when an older person knows that they are nearing death they will do everything in their power to prevent their loved ones from knowing. If they are sick, they will hide their sickness for as long as possible. To them this acts as a shield against prolonged agony because the worst thing that can happen for people is to witness prolonged suffering of their loved ones. He cried for a minute. Then, wiping away the tears from his chin, he was more accepting of his godmother’s death. He had a moment of clarity in a room full of plants and it was very cathartic. His energy slowly returned to him and he decided to wander around some more to see what he would find next.

He went over to the Garden of Simples and found it comparable to the Garden of Eden because it had a massive amount of plants. They were medical plants, which meant that the garden was really a pharmaceutical laboratory. His flashbacks returned as he once again thought about his nine-year-old self and something silly that he did. On a whim, he bit into the leaf of the plant that was located in the living room. It was the bitterest sensation his tongue had ever felt, and it went numb. He was lucky for two reasons. Firstly, he took a very small bite so the numbness wore off quickly. Secondly, his mother never noticed the bite marks on the leaf. It was closer to the pot and the other leaves covered it, providing camouflage. He started to giggle when thinking about that episode but then he spotted a plant that made him choke up: Aloe Vera. That was his mother’s favorite plant and she always talked to it whenever she watered it. Once again, her voice came to him, and this time with more assertiveness.

“I know it’s hard to let go, but you must.”

“It’s really hard to do that because it’s YOU, Ma. I understood Momma Dee’s explanation, but you were getting better. We had plans. You were not supposed to die. It’s not fair!”

“Baby, don’t you remember anything I ever told you? Life ain’t fair, but it’s still good. Remember how I always told you to travel while you’re young so that when you got older you would have no regrets?”

“I remember.”

“Well, I told you that because that was that advice your Granny gave me. And you did just that. Don’t you realize that seeing you travel and enjoy your life was my greatest joy as your mother? My job was to prepare you for life in this world. I think I did my best.”

“Yes, Ma. You did a real good job.”

“Son, it’s okay to remember the past and the wonderful times we shared. But you have got to do one thing for me.”

“What’s that, Ma?”

“Continue to live your life. Why do you think I guided you here to the botanical garden?”

“What? Are you saying that I was destined to be here today? In this garden? In Rome?”

“Honey, nothing happens by accident. The good Lord saw you taking too long to grieve so he let me nudge you a little bit. Sometimes a person needs a reminder to grow up and let go.”

He knew that she was right. His mother was at his high school and college graduations. She saw him get a good job with excellent benefits. She was happy and loved her son. That was all that mattered to her. He was 27 years old with the world in front of him to continue to discover.

“You’re right, Ma.”

He turned away from the Aloe Vera plant and walked to the next series of plants, making plans for the next month.

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