I would have gone with my family to the city across the river the day it happened, but I had to stay home and weed the garden. It was the day my existence changed forever.
I once believed that life was like a book I could write myself, chapter after chapter of good fortune. I had no idea that lives, and stories, evolve on their own, at their own pace, and that their chapters are often filled with things other than good fortune. I was to learn that the future was not mine to control.
I lived with my parents and my little sister Aurora. She had pale hair, was made of laughter and moonlight and movement. She drew people to her like moths to a flame. We could not have been more different. I was tall and dark, quiet and shy, and avoided people as much as I could. They called me Green because I was good at gardening, and I stayed there with my plants and vegetables most of the time.
I would have gone with my family the day it happened, but someone had to stay home and pull weeds. I was angry, because I loved to go to the city across the river and sell the vegetables we grew in our garden. But someone had to stay. I pouted, and I refused to tell them goodbye.
I was sitting at the top of our hill when it happened. I could see the fire in the city, the smoke rising thick into the sky. I ran down the hill to the house, as ashes and burning embers swept across the river and into our home, burning my hair, landing in my eyes and burning them as well, smelling of soot and death. I crawled under the table and wished for the blue skies of yesterday. But there was no way to make the fire, the death, the emptiness go away. The world I had known and loved and taken for granted was gone forever.
Days later, looters came and destroyed our garden while I hid in the shadows, afraid of what they might do to me. After they were gone, I finally admitted that my family was gone, destroyed just as surely as the garden was. I was alone.
I wore my father’s boots and jacket, I smoked, I drank, and I hated myself. I drew tattoos on myself with a pin and black ink, and I slept. I escaped into sleep, into dreams where the sky was blue and my family was alive.
But finally my hunger grew too strong, and I had to go into the village to buy food. No one knew me at first with my cloudy eyes, rough clothes, and the vines and roses and thorns I had drawn all over my body. They were afraid of me, so while they sold me food, they left me alone. And alone is how I remained, until the day I went to gather chestnuts and saw something moving through the trees.
We can’t predict our future. We can’t change our past. It is only when we look back at what happened that we can say, “That is the day my life changed...again.”