1970 Poplar Drive. 3 Bedroom, 2 bath, fenced back yard.
My childhood home was available for rent. As soon as I saw the listing, I immediately fell in love with the idea of moving in. It was just the kind of quirky thing you’d see in a Netflix original series (starring Zooey Deschanel, of course). I could already see myself painting the walls that I scribbled on with crayon over 20 years earlier. I would be able to climb the same steps up to the roof to watch fireworks, and now I wouldn’t need to wait for Mom or Dad to supervise my ascent. I thought of the marathon showers I took listening to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me” on Repeat. Each cupboard that I stuffed myself into playing hide-and-seek with my brother and sister. The front window with the reflective glass that birds would fly into and die…just like so many of my own hopes and dreams as I waited for familiar cars to appear on the road heading toward our driveway…
Bittersweet. But as my husband and I (drunkenly) agreed just a few nights ago, melancholy doesn’t have to be sad experience. There’s awe and wonder in even the darkest parts of our lives, and I felt it all as I read and reread 1970 Poplar Drive. Nineteen Seventy Poplar Drive. It has a nice cadence to it that my mom would chant rhythmically so as small children we knew our address like a song.
That was it. I simply HAD to call and schedule a walk through. I didn’t even discuss it with aformentioned husband first. Hell, we hadn’t talked about moving with any kind of seriousness either. You see, I’m always looking at ads for things, measuring the possibilities — mostly just daydreaming. But I couldn’t let this pass me by. It seemed like a sign. Providence. Divine Intervention. Something bigger than me that I had to trust and follow through. I’ve felt this way before, and I would venture to guess that we all have.
I also remember the first time I ever felt it…at 1970 Poplar Drive.
Now, I’m not the kind of person who can perfectly recall a memory and write a detailed, accurate memoir. I tend to remember feelings more vividly than the circumstances surrounding them. So unfortunately I can’t tell you how old I was, what I was wearing, or what I had done that day…but I do know that it was dusk. I know it because I loved that time of day: a sky full of color, cool air and long, interesting shadows to explore. I spent a lot of time outside by myself at whatever age this was, revelling in the magic all around me. I loved running on the funny green rocks we had. You don’t find too many lawns in this part of Arizona, only landscapes with rocks of specific sizes and coordinating colors…but our painted green rocks were unusual. They were also glued down or something (don’t ask me, I really couldn’t explain), so they felt more like a paved path than a yard full of gravel. I liked that. It was my own yellow brick road but my favorite color instead, and it led wherever I wanted it to go…
Most fascinating of all was the tree. Google tells me that it was probably an Acacia tree, but this was in early 1990-somethings, so there was no Google at that time to give me the first clue about it. Then again, I didn’t much care about it’s name or where it came from. To me it was one of a kind; and the weird, fuzzy, yellow balls that it grew and shed were the greatest toys (and friends) I could have ever asked for. I gathered them, rolled them around in my fingers and smelled their fresh perfume until that delicate yellow fur wilted…then I’d squish them and rub the debris into my skin like lotion. Sometimes I tore the ball off of the little cherry-like stem and played with them like marbles, or put on real-life Pacman reenactments. Other times I would just toss them around the yard like Johnny Appleseed or something. They didn’t last long, being so light and delicate. And often they weren’t around at all because the fickle, prickly tree wouldn’t bloom on anyone’s schedule but it’s own. When they were out though, it was either the wind or little Coleymojo devouring them.
Those strange flowers were my favorite fucking thing in the whole wide world. I can still feel love for them inside of me as I write this.
Well, it was on this nonspecific day that I chose to gather quite the load of perfect yellow flowers. It took a lot of discipline not to pop off the stems or squish the balls to get to the pulp inside, harder even than not eating all of my Halloween candy in one sitting. But I did it, because for once there was no wind in our perpetually windy town and I thought it might be exciting to see such a big pile of my little friends all in one place. And it was! I built the most glorious pyramid right in the middle of our driveway, right up until the moment that my mom decided it was getting too dark for me to stay outside…
Then I panicked. What the heck was I supposed to do with them now? Today I guess a kid would snap a picture with their phone and call it good, but I had no such opportunity. I couldn’t bring them inside with me because my parents wouldn’t appreciate it, and they were no fun after they dried up anyway… All I could think was that I couldn’t just abandon them there because my dad might run them over on his way to work the next morning. For whatever reason that thought devastated me. (Nevermind that I myself squashed them to smithereens with immense satisfaction on a regular basis…)
I suddenly decided to give them to God. I want to tell you that the idea came from some deeply loving, charitable place inside of me that was awakened after a Sunday School lesson. But no, I haven’t any clue where I came up with it. And I wasn’t a particularly giving child — if my brother came out wanting those flowers I would have lost my shit on him. I do remember that it was the fatherly, white robed, long haired, smiling God that perhaps all children think of that I was talking to when I said, “God, these are for you.” And I scooped them all up and put them on top of my dad’s pickip truck. It was as close as I could get them to where I supposed that God lived: in the sky. And why not? It’s the biggest, most beautiful thing that most of us ever get to see. If I was God, that’s where I would live.
I was pretty satisfied with my solution, which is why when I got to the door I wanted to look back at my handiwork. And when I did, they were gone. Had the wind picked back up, I wondered? I ran around the truck, searching for my treasures… Nothing. I looked all over the green paths of the front yard, up and down the street and even back to the tree itself, hunting for some sign of them.
They were GONE. It was one of the most special, miraculous things that has ever happened to me. I recognize that only now, because back then I was so certain about things like God and magic and kingdoms in the sky that my only surprise was that it happened so fast. I was thinking that, like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, the exchange would occur overnight once I was sleeping. But it was so easy for me to believe that God reached out and took my gift, and that perhaps with him they would stay yellow and fluffy forever. It was such a simple, obvious thing that I didn’t tell anyone about it until much later in life, and never with as much thought and attention as I am writing now.
When my husband and I pulled up to 1970 Poplar Drive, it was understandably changed. There were no green rocks. That would be an eyesore to potential tenants. There was no tree. It probably died as fauna tends to out here in our 120 degree summers. The bathrooms were too small and dated. The dining room wall had been painted the most awful shade of red, like cheap lipstick on a pale face. And so on and so forth. I mean, I found some joy in the nostalgia and seeing all the old nooks and crannies, of course. But I think that I was looking for magic…and, just like those yellow flowers, it was gone. Maybe it left years ago when we moved out. Or maybe it was inside of ME the entire time, not the house or the yard or the tree.
I don’t know. I paid $30 for a rental application that I never turned in because I realized I didn’t want to be Zooey Deschanel and rent my childhood home. The whole impromptu adventure was just a familiar question reaching out to me in a new, interesting way. A question that I had lost the answer to…
Where did all the flowers go?
I ask it every time it gets difficult to believe in God, or magic, or love. I ask it anytime I feel lost and afraid. Mind you, I’ve scrutinized the memory with the critical mind of an adult who knows that memories are slippery, wispy things that can change and fade and disappear without any documentation, evidence, or sign that they ever existed in the first place. And so I can’t tell you or even myself where the flowers went, whether to God or a neighbor’s yard or outer space, because I can’t go back and send the FBI out to search Poplar Drive or Mariposa Drive or the whole of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the important thing is and always was that little however-old Coleymojo believed with her whole heart that a Heavenly Father accepted her gift and would keep the flowers safe. The question of where they went wasn’t created until the world taught me that I should wonder and be skeptical.
So this is the part where I give you my grand epiphany. And I’m sorry to disappoint us both, but there isn’t one. All I’ve got is this… Once upon a time there was a little girl who gave flowers to God, and to the best of her knowledge He accepted them. And I can ask a hundred people, including myself, whether or not God really has them and where else they might have went. But if I were to ask the one person who was there? The one person who I already told you knew for absolute certain?
That’s as good and complete of an answer as anyone could ever give me.