Friday, March 25, 2016

Into the Land of the Elves: Making Amends

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, traitor
August 28
5:00 PM
Making Amends

       I left the Greenwood on Monday afternoon, and I haven't been back since. I spent my last two days there avoiding everybody, including Apple Blossom, until she decided that she missed my company after her Monday lesson. I was holed up in the fairy tale room, scribbling away in my notepad. It had become my favorite room in the palace, and I suppose that's why she thought to look for me there.
       “Hey,” I said, peering over my notepad to look at her.
       “Hey.” She sat down beside me. I didn't bother to ask if she was still mad at me. We were silent for a good long while.
       “I'm leaving today,” I informed her without looking up.
       “You don't have to,” she protested. You could've knocked me down with a feather! “I don't have to?” I asked, making sure that I heard her correctly.
       “No,” she answered, “you don't have to.”
        I couldn't believe it! She wasn't angry! I had spelled out full intent to betray her and her people, and yet she still wasn't angry! She even wanted me to stick around! If anything, that made me feel even more like a jerk and even less like I deserved to stay an extra day. “Apple Blossom,” I said, trying to smile, “you are the kindest little soul I know, and I really mean that. But I've got to get home to my own world.” My own world—that's what it is, and I'm no better than any one of the other “tan-skinned beasts” that define it. I could see why the Jadeites, and the tree elves before them, hated us so. Our very nature goes against every bit of theirs, and Apple Blossom's insatiable kindness and the reluctant but unruffled tolerance of her people provided living proof of that.
       “Okay,” Apple Blossom conceded, “but I liked having you around here, Aidyn. It was just like you were my real sister. You'll come stay with me again sometime, won't you?”
I set down my notepad and gave her a big hug. But I had no answer beyond, “We'll see.” I hoped she wouldn't automatically take that as a no, the way that human children so often do.
       Before I packed up, she rounded up her band of friends and we all played together on the banks of the Bell's Rush, chasing and frolicking and tossing rocks into the water to make satisfying “plops.” At one point, Wildflower came running over to me with her fist curled around something. “What did you catch?” I asked, and was appalled to see her fingers clasped around a terrified little fairy, wailing something unintelligible as she struggled to get free. “Let her go, Wildflower!” I said sternly. “Let her go right now!” Stunned, Wildflower set the fairy down, and I did my best to help the poor thing uncurl her wings and get back on her feet. She took off as soon as she was able to leave the ground, and I turned to Wildflower. “Don't you ever do anything like that again, you hear me? You could have really hurt that poor little fairy!” I guess I'd raised my voice a little bit too much, for she recoiled like I had boxed her ears, and I softened. “What if some much bigger thing picked you up and squeezed you in its hand? You would be scared, wouldn't you?” She nodded. “Then you don't do it to anyone else,” I told her. “You don't do things to others that you wouldn't want others to do to you.” It was part of the Golden Rule, a human philosophy that so many humans neglected to follow. “If you want to show me a fairy,” I went on, “then you lead me to her. You don't pick her up and take her to me. Do you understand?”
       She nodded again, and I patted her on the head. I wasn't sure that she understood all of that, but I knew she wouldn't squeeze the life out of fairies anymore. When I returned home late that afternoon, and my phone service returned with me, I realized that I myself had been neglecting that Golden Rule. My phone was backed up with unread texts and missed calls from Katie; it was the first time she had ever been completely unable to reach me during a retreat. As I scrolled through those texts, I ruminated on just how horribly I had treated my former best friend. Yes, she had messed up and destroyed my trust in her, but even before that, I had treated her like crap. After spending the whole summer avoiding her in favor of this entire secret life I had, I'd finally let her in on the secret, as we had done with all of our secrets ever since the day we met. She had only wanted to be a part of it, and not only had I denied her that, but I made an active attempt to drive her away. Maybe she told the others because she was concerned. Maybe she told the others because she was tired of my crap.
       But still, in doing so, she had put the Jadeites in danger...or had she? If they were in any danger, they didn't seem to know it. The king himself did nothing more than turn his passive-aggressive silence on me; no sentries were posted, the gates remained open and unguarded, no preparations were made for a possible attack. And really, what had Katie done? She told two nobodies that I was telling stories about an elf in the woods. It wasn't exactly unusual for me to tell stories. Did they even believe her? They'd seemed pretty convinced that we were pulling their legs, or that I had gone out of my mind and taken Katie with me. Never once did they indicate that they would go stomping through an elven forest, destroying everything in their path, all because of a story. Why in the world would they do that, even if they did believe the story?
       They wouldn't. I had assumed that they would because of what I saw in those books, what I'd heard from Apple Blossom, and how I had been regarded by the Jadeites since day one. I hated humans—my own kind, as if I was any better!--because the Jadeites hated humans. I viewed them as ugly, beastly creatures simply because I had been told to, without ever learning the whole story behind it. In turn, I had become an ugly beastly creature; a horrible person who treated one set of friends like dirt and betrayed another one.
       I hate myself.

9:25 PM

       I've never been to the Greenwood so late in the day before. After a visit with Katie, I headed on over to see Apple Blossom. I had actually contemplated taking Katie with me, but decided that it just wasn't the right time.
      It is Katie's custom to bombard me with questions at the end of every retreat, and since this was the first one I'd returned from with no pictures or souvenirs (I hadn't thought to take any pictures), her question supply had increased tenfold. On the day of my return, I had been subjected to an hour-and-a-half-long phone call about where I had gone, and what the environment was like, and what I did there, and how deep in the woods it had to be to cut out my phone service. And it pains me to say that I lied my way through that entire phone call. Though I had decided to forgive Katie and understood that I had been a bad friend to her, I wasn't yet ready to tell her where I had really been for those four days. Today, though, I told her everything, leaving out the betrayal because she had asked about my vacation and that had nothing to do with it. I watched her eyes grow wider with every word I said (amusingly enough, she reminded me of Apple Blossom). When I finished, she had fallen into a sort of haze, and I knew that she needed a few moments to take all of it in. The first thing she said was,       “So that's why you weren't able to answer your phone.”
      “No phone service in the Greenwood,” I told her.
      “So they actually let you stay in the castle?” she asked, as if to make sure she had heard me correctly. “You're not making just that part up?”
       “I'm not making anything up,” I told her. “They let me stay there, and they want me to do it again, or at least Apple Blossom does.”
       Katie shook her head, and I wondered if this was just a little too wild for her to believe. I mentally cursed myself for not thinking to take any pictures. Finally, she said, “Aidyn, you are the most amazing person I know. At this point, if you told me that you've been to Narnia or to Atlantis or to Fairyland, I would believe you without question. If anybody could bring a world to life that we all thought was only part of a story, it would be you. All of my life, I'd never believed in things like fairies and elves. I figured they were only little stories to tell children to make the world more interesting. When you grow up, you know it's all make-believe. But now, I don't know what make-believe is anymore. A part of me still wants to believe that this is all an elaborate prank, but at the same time, I know that it can't be. I've met the elf, and she's as much an elf as an elf could be. It's as if you've managed to cross the line between reality and fantasy, so that now everything that was make-believe is real. You've done something that we've all wanted to do when we were children, but just couldn't figure out how. We just couldn't find the way, because we were all told that there was no real way to find. Aidyn, you have no idea how much I want your life!”
       She spoke with longing, her voice increasing in volume and speed with every sentence. If I had the key to Narnia, the door to Atlantis, or the gate to Fairyland, she wanted to go in with me...
       On my way to the magnolia archway, I half-expected to find my way closed off and the Greenwood soldiers' spear tips pointed right at me. But when I got there, the web was raised as if I had been expected all day. Apple Blossom was not there, which unnerved me until I reminded myself that it was very late in the day; usually, if I hadn't shown up by then, I wasn't going to. As I made my way to the Greenwood alone for the very first time, every sudden rustle of a shrub in the wind or a bird hopping through the leaf litter gave me a fright. I couldn't stop thinking of the guards and those spears...
       I finally met Apple Blossom on the other side of the bridge, stirring the surface of the Bell's Rush with a branch to make ripples. “Hey there!” I called out, and she jumped a little before turning to look at me. “Oh, it's you, Aidyn,” she said, and I was so startled by the coldness in her voice that I took a step back. I knew I had messed up then. Apple Blossom had never spoken to me like that. “I'll go if this is a bad time,” I told her meekly.
       “I just thought you were finished with me, that's all,” she said, focusing on the ripples in the water.
       “Oh dear...” I sat down beside her. “I'm not finished with you! I don't want to be finished with you, Apple Blossom. You're my best friend!” I put my arm around her, and when she didn't object I pulled her into a full hug. She returned it, wrapping her arms around mine and settling against me. I knew that I was forgiven, and I knew that meant that Apple Blossom was the best friend I or anybody else could ever have. If she could forgive me after what I had planned to do, then I could forgive Katie for her much smaller offense. We could all stand to be a little more like Apple Blossom.
       We spent the rest of the day playing out in the forest, even setting out on an impromptu hunt for the wish-granting “shekrumseh.” Apple Blossom described it as a little blue creature that looked like a fat, wingless fairy and wore a cape made from a maple leaf. Unfortunately, we didn't find it, so I didn't get to see it for myself. “If we find it, what will you wish for?” she had asked me expectantly as we were closing in on its alleged lair.
       “You aren't supposed to tell anyone what you wish for,” I told her, “or else it's not a wish anymore, and so it won't come true.”
       “Where did you hear that?” she asked with wide eyes. “I tell my wishes all the time!”
       “Maybe it's just a rule for humans,” I said. “You know, when you wished on the candles at your birthday, you did the same thing that humans do on their birthdays.”
       “I did?” If her eyes got any wider I was sure they would take up her whole face. “You did,” I said with a nod. “Wishing on birthday cake candles is a human tradition...and so is having a birthday party, and a birthday cake. It seems to me that Jadeites and humans celebrate their birthdays in the same way.”
       “Can I come to your birthday party, Aidyn?” she asked quickly. It was as if she already knew I was planning to have two parties—one for Jadeites and one for humans—for my December birthday. “My birthday is still a few months away,” I told her, “but of course you can. In fact, I already planned on inviting you.” She beamed. It still amazed me just how human she really was, in spite of total isolation from humanity. They were all human enough; they spoke a human language and took part in human traditions such as birthday parties, they display inherently human emotions and social desires, their monarchy system and the architecture of the castle both have their origins in human history and culture. Now that I really thought about it, I knew it all had to come from somewhere.
       There had been an alliance before. The striking similarities between us are the greatest evidence of that. Apple Blossom knew that—she had figured it out long before I did. Now she dreams of another one, in her own time. As her best (and only) human friend, I know I must do my part to make that dream a reality. 

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