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Build Me a Paradise

Eden Rasmussen

Honeymoon Hill

Have you ever been on a honeymoon by yourself? Neither have I. But I live in a place of perpetual honeymoons.

It is white with black shutters and sits secluded on a little hill at the crest of a road that winds near the river. The owners planted tulips, a cherry tree and a bush of white smelly flowers that makes me think of “Gone with the Wind” every time I pass it. Maybe those smelly flowers made them think of epic romances too, just like me, which led them to christen their sweet spot of earth “Honeymoon Hill.” There’s a little stone bench nestled next to that white bush in the side garden where I can sit and watch the clouds change shape, and there’s a back fence where I can push bits of apples and carrots through to Chester and Dave, my names for the equine residents of the back pasture. Not that I push bits of carrots and apple through to them (Who has the time?), but just that I can . . . if I really want to.

Once you get inside it’s a little cookie-cutter house with a living room, kitchen and one long, narrow hall with three bedrooms and two baths appearing at even intervals down the length of it. The second bathroom is like my dream come true—all rose-red wallpaper set against luxuriously thick white baseboards and decadent, gleaming moldings that match my new towels. It’s like a spa just waiting to pamper me when I enter it.

But by far the best part of the house is the fireplace in the front room flanked by white bookcases. A roaring fire, a good book, a chair you can hunker down in and really “suck the marrow out of life.” Except my chair is gone to the shop, getting re-covered, and when the first day of slightly cold weather hit and I tried to light the gas fire for the first time, I nearly ignited my eyebrows. So the roaring fire and cozy chair will have to wait as I settle for a sputtering fire and a blanket laid as close to the hearth as possible. But have you ever noticed that no matter how much you want to become one with the fire on an icy day that half of you will freeze while the other half roasts a bit unpleasantly? Then you spend your time in this constant dance of too close and too far from the flames, part of you charring to near perfection and the other warding off frostbite. Despite the dance, the fireplace is still the best part of the house.

Except that night when it was summer-warm and the stars had already begun twinkling as I sat on the front stoop and watched two little ones—a niece and a nephew—playing with the toy castle on the lawn. She with the chocolate-brown eyes and he with his Daddy’s pumping-fast legs fought over plastic horses and toy people until he discovered the hot-pink dragon. Then he saved her toy people from fiery death and let her make away with the all plastic horses. And I, a believer of magic, wondered, “Maybe that is what honeymoons are all about.”

Take a Trip

The green fields of Holland rushed by as the tour guide warned us with these words. “Don’t eat too many hash cakes.” Her words prodded me from my too-romantic musings on the lush countryside, and I glanced at Amy next to me. The tour guide continued, “The buzz won’t come for at least 45 minutes, so give it time.” Our buzz was just to be on this trip—our first to Europe and our last hurrah before Amy’s wedding two weeks later. Holland smelled like pot and croissants—at least at twilight as we stepped off the bus in Amsterdam’s main square and stumbled past shops selling cake.

The next morning it smelled like Van Gogh’s sunflowers as we entered the little church in De Jordaan. It was hard to imagine the Nazi occupation and a young girl’s diary telling of hidden lives lived nearby as I sat in that sun-jeweled church and heard the ancient organ strain to Amy’s manipulations.

It was harder still to remember we were best friends that night in Switzerland when feeling bloated and unsure Amy took it out on me. We were locked in a little hotel room sitting on a goose-down comforter and her soon-to-be marriage was heavy on her mind. The hormones from the birth control pills played havoc with her delicate system and her routinely sweet countenance. We still talk about that fight.

I did the flowers for Amy’s big day. Most important was the one bouquet of yellow roses and white freesia that I hoped would sweeten the experience. She smiled her I-have-a-headache-but-I’m-going-to-grit-my-teeth smile and made it through the day, and I ate too much cake and wished for a buzz. It never came.

Learning to Love

Anne suffers from disease—some call it a disease of the spirit; others say it is a disease of the head. Anne is sick. She didn’t love the boy she married on that fall day in 1998 and she hated herself for succumbing to the vortex of infatuation, dating, engagement, and marriage. She said later she didn’t love him that day they made their vows. But what is love, really? She had three babies with him, supported him through medical school, and tried to believe that it would work. Isn’t that something like love? In sickness and in health, ’til death do you part? She’s with him still and because shadows cast dark fears on her heart, they say she has “depression.” So she seeks help and solace and therapy in an effort to heal. He scoffs at efforts that are unscientific and not backed by hard data. She twines his love of cold facts with her intuition and seeks solutions. And her efforts fail and she comes home to three noisy kids and a husband who, anxiety-ridden, thinks she has ruined “the children” and they will turn out unbelievers and delinquents. All because she can’t smile when she sees him walking through the door, blood-stained.

Sagebrush Wonderland

As I crested the hill on I-84, the little valley opened up before me. The dry, flat land was pockmarked by sagebrush and ringed by low mountains that looked blue on the horizon. Cattle grazed the prickly greens that edged the conquered fields of soybeans and sugar beets. And that fine Idaho wind left every tree leaning, branches forced in a salute to the east. My mother came here as a bride at 21, a California girl used to sand clutching her flat belly. They settled on a little farm where she learned how to irrigate, drive a tractor, and chase stray bulls from the garden on a Sunday afternoon in her heels. She birthed six babies through sixteen years on that dusty acreage west of town. All because one Saturday afternoon while watching a football game and drinking root beers, a dark-haired, earnest cowboy named Ralph held her hand and she never wanted him to let go.

Rewriting History

In one year four of my friends have sprouted new breasts. Not grown them like Chia plants that you water and nurse along in a terra cotta pot in your kitchen window, but actually had them implanted in a surgery that takes about two hours and costs four thousand dollars. It was like they caught the flu bug and passed it around, only this was a very expensive illness and it came with general anesthesia.

Shelly was the first to break the silence by openly admitting her wish and squirreling away the money to pay for it. She showed the others her new results two days after surgery.

Jill did it next, indecisive to the day of surgery and scared out of her wits. Her mother thinks it’s the ultimate display of vanity, which is the great sin in her book. Jill will never tell.

Lynn I actually picked up from the clinic and helped her climb woozily into my car. I spent the next two days cleaning her house and playing with her kids and stopped her twice from dropping to the floor in a dead faint when she too cheerily asserted she could get to the bathroom by herself.

But Jan, who had twenty years on the rest of us, was the last. Not to get the surgery but to tell of it. She’d actually done it years before, after birthing her seventh child, when she moved to a different state. And she told no one except her husband for nearly two decades. Which which made her revelation all the more explosive to the rest of us, who looked at her as a mother at times. Fear of others’ judgments can strap anyone with a mighty muzzle.

Pull the Plug

He taught me quiet stealth on a green-grass evening as we followed the brown, itchy clapboards on the back of the house towards the garden and our mother. At ages four and six, “Indians” was our favorite game. “We’re on the attack,” he told me. “Shhhh!” We crept noiselessly to the rock that would be our last cover before exposure to the road at the front of the house. I kept a sharp eye out for Fluffy our black cat who, ill-tempered and gouty, would use our legs as a substitute for her favorite scratching post. My brother pushed our expedition along soundlessly, scouting the terrain ahead. We reached the rock, squatting behind its relative safety as he scoped out the situation. It was several feet of open driveway to the fence line of the garden and, my best guess now is, it was a gap he just wasn’t ready to fill. He turned to me and without announcement pushed me into full view in the center of the driveway saying, “You’re younger; you ask Mom.” Startled I stood paralyzed waiting for a car to pass and reveal my shame. For out of the bathtub we had come to find our mother to get us a towel, and my brother hung back, naked, like the first man of the Bible he was named for—Adam.