My thanks to Linda, whose story was better than mine and to Cath for telling me to post it.
The Characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of others. I just dream about them.
To my first born, on the day of her birth.
Your mother has somehow found an interval in which to sleep, and I have found a pen to write this letter to you. You should know, that even as I write these words, I am holding her hand as we both wait for you to arrive. I have no fears that you will be born safely. Your mother is a very determined person, (as you may now know,) and since she has resolved that you will be healthy and strong, I have no doubt she will once again accomplish what she has set out to do.
You would be amazed at how complicated it was for me to get into what they call the birthing rooms at this hospital. Apparently, our doctors had assumed that our decision not to be separated was some sort of whim. We corrected this impression. With relish.
We are not the poster parents for this Eisenhower generation, I am afraid. Your mother, the pilot, the holder of twin black belts; your father, involved in the unmanly business of composing music; our equal partnership, these things are all considered exotic in this age.
But I do worry that our being different might make life difficult for you, and that is why I am writing this letter. I only wish that these were tones and notes. I ask you to have patience, for I am not working in my first language.
At this moment, your parents are both successful, as were most of your ancestors. It is a very old family. You come from a mixed line of professionals. Artists and soldiers. Judges and entertainers. Each driven to excellence; that can be a burden, I know. I felt it as a child.
I also felt different.
I never told anyone of my dreams at night when I was young. Of the snippets of conversation overheard while I slept. Even pieced together over the years, they were still too commonplace to have any significance, I thought. Where were the warnings of impending death, or the paranoid ramblings of pre-adolescence?
The path goes has to go this way!
Gabri-ELLE. Your lookout is over there. THIS is the most direct route to get to it.
Listen, warrior. We are not planning a march. This is a garden. You use the natural contours of the land to decide how the path goes.
Then why did you have me dig a trench here?
Because the trees will ring this hill, and we need a gap. Xena! Youre planting them in a straight line again. Follow the rise. Theyll spread better and it will look more natural...
Natural? Then why are we pulling out all these big leafy things, if you want it so @#$% natural!
Because theyre taking over. We want variety, Xe. Itll give other plants a chance to seed and spread. When we come back, well see whats taken their place, and well decide again.
Youre enjoying playing at being a God, arent you, Gabrielle?
Hey! Dont pull that out!
It looks interesting.
You had me pull out ones just like it, over there!
Theyre not the same. And this ones an oak, Xena.
Heh. Pretty small oak.
It wont be, not for Eve, Xena. Not for her children...
The warrior and the bard, That much I knew. I never told anyone about these conversations. Which was a mistake because my mother and my grandfather were waiting for me to speak.
I never went with my parents on their yearly vacations. I resented their closeness, and their secrets. I knew that they traveled each year to Greece to a place that had been painted and sketched by a dozen generations of kindred. This eccentric tradition of making a kind of pilgrimage was just another ritual which drove me further inward. I never made the connection between their trips and my dreams.
When my father died, my mother could not bring herself to continue these visits, and her health deteriorated rapidly afterwards. I was 18 when I was told that I had an obligation to take her place and continue the family tradition. I fought being sent on this ludicrous mission, but I gave in, as I always did then. Partly because the nonsensical discourses at night had became even more frequent.
Damn! Its only been a few months, and already the path is grown over.
But look! Look at all the wild flowers! We HAVE to keep them! And look at these blue ones. They seem to like the north light, if we give them a hand, maybe they could cover the ravine, after we clear the brush...
You clear that brush. Those bushes have teeth, I swear.
Such a wimp <kiss>
I cant see the..."
Dont step there!
The nectarine tree.
Gabrielle. That is not a tree.
It will be. And there are two more on the edge of the cypress grove. We just keep clearing around them every year, and therell be fruit. Maybe not for us, but someday.
Gabrielle. Im still not used to thinking in terms of...
I know, love. Thats what this is about. Thats why were here.
Then, I guess Im really asking, whats next?
So I was 18 when I first left my home. To what the world has called at times Thrace, or Bulgaria, or Greece or Macedonia. Made by force of arms a part of every empire, from the Roman to the Ottoman. I was 18, and just as haunted by heritage and conflicting illusions as this land, when I first stood on that road. A road that had been traveled by Huns going one way and Goths the other. Ransackers, and pillagers, retreats and attacks. Persians and Greeks. I had no respect for that dusty path, or for myself. I had only a hand-made map from my great-grandfather, and a belly filled with resentment. I had booked a room nearby. A room I intended to return to that night, despite my promise to my sick mother to sleep in the tent I carried. Assuming I ever found this mythical garden, this reputed bedrock of permanence hidden in this most impermanent of places.
The map led me to a cleft in a rock and then to a cavern, its entrance hidden and long overgrown by foliage. Only the promise to my mother and the recurrent dreams made me go in and kept me from turning back a dozen times in that darkness. When I finally emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, I can only say I was disappointed.
So this was the fabled hidden valley. About an acre of flat land, entirely surrounded by sheer, unforgiving cliffs. The sea could be smelt if not heard; I guessed that it was on the other side of the rock. There was a pathetic spout of fresh water seeping through a break in the sheer wall to my side. None of it bore any resemblance to the paintings I had seen in my Grandfathers home. It was desolate and abandoned, and the only sounds were the insects that flit about my face and hands. Only the darkness of the cave and the nearness the sunset kept me there for that night. I set up the tent, and ate one of the sandwiches that I had packed. I would leave in the morning, I was certain.
This is the worst one yet, Gabrielle.
No, Xe, he hasnt seen anything yet. It took you several years before you ever believed.
But I had you to believe for me....
Hell see, Xena, we just have to show him.
That morning when I woke, it was with memories, either mine or someone elses, of a path. When I threw open the flaps of the tent, I also noticed that there were several flowering trees struggling to survive in a clump of their own suckers. As I trudged through the weeds, soaking my shoes in dew, I recognized what must have been the oak that centred the massive oil that dominated one of my ancestors most famous paintings. It was then that I knew, that somewhere amongst all this undergrowth, that fantastical place actually existed.
Using the great oak to oriented myself, I stared at the water spout. In all of the paintings and sketches, that had been a water fall, and I was ready to assume that this had been simply artists license, when I discerned the crush of stone that blocked it. As if guided by unseen hands, I felt myself pushed towards it. It was only a climb of twenty feet, and not difficult to reach, but I wondered at the pointlessness of it even as I scrambled up. Once there, I examined the scree and began to remove it, stone by stone. Soon the trickle began to increase, as did my enthusiasm. Soon, soaked with water, and my hands covered with a dozen minor cuts, I had recreated that waterfall. The sunlight lit the spray and it glowed with rainbows I had released. I looked down on the field, and could see for the first time the depressions, the basic plan. I rinsed my hands in the cold fresh water, and slid down the revine, and drew out my spade from my pack. The path was first, I remembered. Always, we start with the path.
He got the path all wrong!
Hes allowed to change things, Gabrielle...
But the path has to curve for the spring.
Ill talk to him while were clearing the suckers from the trees, love.
The second day I corrected the path. She was right, what I had mistaken for a brackish puddle was in reality a small spring, and I felt the approval as I diverted and cleared about it. It was while cutting the final suckers from the fruit trees that I discovered the smaller series of pools which descended from water fall, and by the evening, there was a flow of water from one end to the other, and the larger trees now stood clear and alone.
Now you work upwards from the path.
The third day I was comfortable enough to leave to go and get some supplies. This time the trip back was made with eagerness. The concrete accomplishment, the experience of seeing my hands shape this place was addictive. An epiphany of sorts. I cannot explain how the advice was first communicated to me. The first real contact was a shouted, but still silent No! that startled me when I was yanking out a small tree. I looked ahead and saw what she was showing me. That the little twig I was removing could be perfect to fill the gap in the wind break. Not now, but in the years to come. And with that came an understanding of my role. That this was not a project for this week or even next summer. It was a gradual commitment of my lifetime, my families and theirs. That understanding brought to me knowledge that I have kept with me since then. That I was part of a chain that stretched out not only behind me, but ahead, and would continue with my children, and grandchildren. For an 18 year old boy, it was a discovery of amazing depth. And it brought a sense of belonging, of responsibility, that nothing else could have.
Soon I was accepting their help. I worked with them at my side, as I swung the ancient scythe, and acknowledges that they were my family, this ancient warrior, and her partner, the bard. This had been a stopping place for them so very long ago, between adventures. An experiment in planning for the future. I heard their stories, their exploits. I would come to know them and their love. Come to believe that there would be a love for me. A belief that would sustain me in my years alone. I was never allowed to ask questions, but they told me what I needed to know and more than I knew I was receiving at the time.
On the fourth night I clambered to the top of one of the cliffs, and stared down at our little kingdom and the sea on the other side. Caught between the two worlds, I heard my music clearly for the first time. A moment I will hold with me for however long I live. I will remember scrambling for that pen in my pack, and then, on a piece of a torn bag, writing my first composition.
When I returned to the world, I found that I would still wake at first light, and that there was a desire to finish at least one task before breakfast. I listened to the music in my dreams, and I credited what I heard.
****Your mother just woke, or I should say you woke her. I read to her what Ive written, and it put her back to sleep! Perhaps I should speed this up? And have I mentioned how strong your mother is? And Im not just referring to the bruised hand I have after the last contraction.****
I was telling you about moments I will hold with me forever. You will have heard this story before, I hope. How many seasons later, I was sitting in a pub in London at the beginning of the war. Due to pre-opening jitters I had purchased a book on landscaping to calm myself. In my mind I was planning the next decade of growth, when I was interrupted by a low, silky voice. "Are you a gardener?" it asked.
I was about to retort: No! I am a Composer, and tonight my work is about to premiere with the London Symphonic. But before I could get those words off of my tongue, I looked up and found myself staring into eyes of perfect crystal blue.
Are you a gardener?
"Yes," I said to her. "Yes, I am."
Your mother claims that she is not a romantic. She maintains that this was not Destiny. That it was a pick-up in a bar by a flygirl caught between ferrying missions. And yet...
Weeks later, your great-grandfathers house was bombed, and I stood in the blackened wreckage staring at a thousand years of unrecoverable legacies that had finally begun to mean something to me. Stood watching as singed pages, that were all that was left of the great library, blew away in the drizzling rain. This supposedly unromantic woman that I had known for only a few weeks, sat down in that charred wreckage. And told me that when we went to visit the garden, that she would need a space for her daily workouts, and that shed been trying to think of a spot. To my stunned surprise she began to describe a portion of the garden she was planning for herself, and even smirked that maybe a certain invincible warrior might get a surprise when she showed up. She squatted there in front of me, gravely describing a place she had never been to, so perfectly, with such assurance that it would be hers to use, that my state changed from one of despair to enchantment.
We were not a typical couple during the war either. I composed scores for the Office of War Information, and the propaganda films we worked on received several awards, (though almost no pay), and I was made an officer. But mostly I waited like so many others for my warrior to return. For the war to end. After an unbearable separation of six months, your mother discovered that the flying service was to be decommissioned, and that the promises that had been made to herself and the other women were not even on paper. I sold everything I had, cashed in every bond I had bought. We made our arrangements by telegrams that are now in our scrapbook, and we were married the day she returned to me. And after the reception, we embarked for Greece. We have never been separated since that day.
The war was not officially over, so it was not a time for officers or civilians to attempt European travel. We found out how well we worked as a team; that there was seldom any official that could withstand both intelligent words and a strong arm.
We successfully fought through a thousand permit requirements and border restrictions. Journeyed past scenes of heart rending destruction and poverty, and with each step my doubts grew. But somehow your mother kept my faith; that the garden would have survived. And as we made our way through the cavern, we did not know who was doing the leading. When we finally reached the entrance, I could smell the scents of the wildflowers, and I pulled her by the hand with new confidence.
And I was not disappointed this time. It was beautiful. Vibrant with the suns heat under the bluest sky. The summer blooming had just begun and yet the flowering trees had not dropped their last blossoms. The scents and sounds were exactly as I had last known. My old friends, the cypresses were taller than I had remembered and the olive grove beckoned to me.
I was turning to her in delight when my heart dropped. I saw two figures in broad brimmed hats moving through the brush hand in hand. Working through the worst of the brambles. Of course, the garden had found another guardian after my long absence. How else could it have looked as it did?
I do not know what I was going to do next, when a voice called "Johann!"
I had answered to John for such a long time, that I wondered who they were calling to. It took a moment to recognize the voice. The straw hats were removed, revealing the sunbleached red hair, so much like my own. I had to look to your mother to know that I was not hallucinating. She swallowed once and whispered "your parents?"
I dont know if you understand yet what a loss it is when your closest friends or family die. A part of you is gone, but the pain returns whenever you unthinkingly go to inform them of some new piece of news, and then remember they arent there to tell anymore. And the most important news one could ever bestow, is that you have finally found the person with whom you will share the rest of your life. I had lived for many years with the knowledge I would never be able to do this. So how can describe my feelings as I presented my lifes love to my parents?
Such simple words. "This is my wife."
I laughed through my tears when your grandmother took your mothers arm, and with the condescension used only by parents to a child she said to me, "of course, she is."
Of course, she is.
So Im sorry. Your parents are very mad. Your mother spends all winter practicing martial arts moves because she believes that this is the year she will win a match with a 2000 year old warrior, and each year she has the cuts and bruises to show for the attempts. I have watched my great-grandfather paint while listening to a bard tell tales of ancient Gods and heroes. We have both played with small Andre, my uncle, even though we have also left flowers by the grave marking his death in 1918 from influenza at age 7. Sometimes the garden is very crowded with these spirits, other times it is ours alone. There seems to be certain locations that are specific to each soul, and your mother has selected her own place. I have built a reflecting pool on the perimeter, where I spend my time marveling at her and making my musical notations. It is a secluded spot, and not to embarrass you, it is where you were conceived.
Such wonderful madness, that if the vessel I am in has cracked, it is only because it has been overfilled by so much joy. But now your mother is indicating rather strenuously, that it is indeed showtime, and I must end this, because it is finally time that we will meet.
So, my child. That is the burden, the insanity, the obligation we pass on to you. Like the baby that we are waiting on to be born, the garden is a necessary expenditure of time and money, because it is part of being involved in life. Committing yourself to the madness of conviction and confidence in the future.
Your loving father
Return to Main Page