The Magic Gate
©bobbiedeleon ©writeintowings all rights reserved
It was complicated, what my life had become. The lack of time, calm, rest, or anything that resembled peace. It was hard going back to that place… The place that used to be filled with all the things and all the people I loved most in this world. It was harder seeing it empty. Watching memories play out like movies across the walls. It was as if my mind was a projector, showing me frame by frame what I was forever going to miss.
I felt like I was suffocating. I stepped outside so I could breathe and saw the gate, a gate I was very familiar with. A magic gate, that in my childhood was my escape. Looking at it now, through the eyes of adulthood I found my heart aching. I found myself longing for the innocence of those days.
The gate didn’t close anymore, and I was surprised to see it still surrounded by delicate flowers that seemed oblivious to the rust and age of the metal or the two old, splintered posts that held it in place. It looked like the entrance to any person’s yard. But to me, it was the gateway to another world.
I walked through that gate nearly every day of my childhood. It belonged to my great-grandmother Agatha. I truly disliked her, which is saying a lot for me, because I, for the most part, like everyone. She was one of the meanest people I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. She said things that were so cruel they stuck with me, not in a good way, my entire life. I’ve spent years trying to undo the damage she inflicted. The insecurities she preyed on and cemented in my mind have haunted me even into adulthood. To this day I honestly don’t know if she was just a naturally cruel person or if there was a horrible traumatic part of her story I was never told. I genuinely hope it was the latter.
When my grandmother would make me go to my great-grandmother Agatha’s house, the second I walked through that gate…I was magically transported to another world. I had no sense of time, no sense of anger, and no sense of being out of place. I started to enjoy going there, not because I would see her but because I was free to live for however long my grandmother’s visit lasted, in this other land, another realm.
Looking at the old worn gate now, I like to imagine that many children had the chance to visit the same world I lived in for so many years. I like to imagine they were able to visit the characters, and the places and experience all the wonders.
The truth is the place has been abandoned for years now, but I am happy to say that even in its current condition, as soon as I saw it, I was transported right back to all the incredible memories that lived in my head. I guess it’s no surprise that I became an author. I wanted to write so that others, who maybe have no escape or don’t know how to use their imagination to create, could in fact share mine. Writing and reading can be a means of transport from the trauma of the real world, but it can also be a way to help process it, help survive it, and help heal from it.
I took a picture of my gate so that I would never forget the magic. I was turning to walk away, for what I thought was the last time, when I heard a familiar voice from my childhood. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and turned around. I wasn’t afraid you see; I just was hesitant. What if I turned and there was no one there? What if I was finally losing my mind? When I opened my eyes, I was standing face to face with my favorite furry friend Oxeye.
“How we’ve missed you,” he cried out.
“That was a very long be right back you know. We were beginning to think you would never come back. We’ve planned a huge celebration in your honor at the castle.”
Oxeye was a furry white and yellow beast and one of the goofiest and most fun beings I had ever known or imagined. But I hadn’t seen or thought of him in years, and I most definitely hadn’t heard him speak. Being the responsible grown-up that I am, or at least that is what I keep telling myself…I thought perhaps I should go now before I get sucked into a vortex, I can’t find my way out of. But alas the child in me was still stronger, so I smiled at Oxeye and walked through the gate to him.
The wonders of the land of sunflowers were as vivid, and magical as I remembered, maybe even more so. I had missed this place far more than I had realized. Why had I waited so long to come back for a visit? Why do we feel that becoming a grown-up means leaving every part of our childhood behind us? I’ve spent years in therapy trying to recover from the trauma of my childhood, why would I not fight to hold on to the one truly beautiful and magical part of it? Why would we all not fight harder to hold on to those few precious things?
By this time the smile on my face was wide and goofy, I was dangerously close to showing my teeth. I followed Oxeye towards Castle Aster, and for the first time in as long as I could remember, nothing else existed. I had so many wonderful friends in this place, that I could hardly wait to reunite with them all. There was Buttercup the baby dragon, the cutest pink and purple love bug ever, who just happens to breathe fire. But he’s careful so it’s okay.
There was Agrimony the kind but ten-year-old wizard…or was he still ten? I guess I would find that out when I got there. There was Anemone, the healer. She specialized in healing the hearts and binding up the broken wings of the fairies. And of course, the fairies, so many I remember, had broken wings from people throwing words at them from the grown-up land of Burdock. They all recovered thankfully, but not all were the same as they once were. I guess that is the way with most traumas, they heal but scars usually remain.
As we walked further down the grassy path to Castle Aster, I recognized something from my youngest memories.
A swing set. It was surrounded by beautiful daisies and wildflowers; the sun was spotlighting the chipped paint. It was not your typical swing set. No, it had two bench swings connected, one on each side of the frame with a table in the middle, like a picnic bench. My great-grandfather, Poppy, had built it. My great-grandmother Agatha had painted it this weird mint green color which she was obsessed with…she even painted her house that color! Even though I hated that color growing up, looking back I am thankful for it. The odd uniqueness of it makes the memories stand out even more.
I started to just enjoy the memory in my mind and walk past the swing, but I’m not much taller now than I was then… so, I decided to sit down and take a breath. It was peaceful and magical. For a moment, I forgot all the worries and pain that had led me back to this place.
When I felt that life had been poured back into my being, when I felt like a kid again, I got off the swing and walked toward a small, curved dirt path lined with flowers. My secret path, I discovered at about the age of 6. I circled the side of the house following the path while my favorite furry Oxeye waited for me. I remembered that each flower could speak. They were mostly daffodils and I adored them. As I approached the first row, I felt nervous, what if they no longer had a voice for me? What if they were angry or hurt because I left? Of course, leaving wasn’t a choice, we all grow up. But maybe we shouldn’t grow up all the way.
I stepped onto the path and approached the first row of daffodils; they were exactly as I remembered. I wondered why the colors were so much more vibrant here than in the grown-up world I had become so accustomed to.
“Hello again my beautiful friends,” I said expecting no response. Then a familiar breeze began to blow, the cool sweet feeling of an invisible hand brushing my cheek. Peace, always peace here.
“Welcome back punky” the daffodils replied
The smile on my face at that moment hurt. “Punky” the affectionate nickname I had been given based on a character from an 80’s TV show. In defiance of my mother and trying to be my own person I hated wearing socks or shoes that matched, I hated wearing anything that matched, and my hair more often than not was in pigtails.
The daffodils had recognized me.
“How did you know it was me?” I asked.
“What a silly question the flowers responded. You haven’t changed a bit.”
Puzzled and a little confused by their response I looked at my feet and to my surprise I saw the mismatched tennis shoes and socks of a hyper-imaginative six-year-old. I had at some point in this magical place without even realizing it traded in my stressed-out adult form for the little girl I used to be. The little girl I kept safe deep inside my heart.
I stayed with the flowers for a long while, how long I cannot be sure, I had no sense of time in this place, nor did I care to. The daffodils were the most magnificent listeners. It was deep conversations about my childhood, coupled with all I had experienced through the rest of my life. I would have been happy to stay there forever. But I knew I could not. Maybe I would find my way back someday, or maybe I wouldn’t. Either way, I would carry them with me forever. I said my goodbyes and I walked back down the familiar dirt path to the yard still smiling.
“Did you have a good walk?” My favorite furry Oxeye asked.
“It was the most perfect walk of my life,” I replied.
“Good, then let’s go to the castle and start the grand celebration we have in your honor. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
With the smile still on my face, I decided instead of walking to skip the rest of the way to Aster. I was happy and not at all surprised that my favorite furry Oxeye skipped with me. It was so much fun. I had nearly forgotten what a moment of pure simple joy for no specific reason felt like. This, I thought to myself, was real magic.
The castle was just as I remembered. Not the dreary gray stone that you see in pictures but light and fun. The flags around the castle were the color of amethyst in honor of my birthstone with a daisy, my favorite flower in the center. The outer walls were light pink and blue. The spires at the top of each turret were all different colors, orange, green, yellow, purple, pink, and blue. It reminded me of all the crayons I used to…that I still color with.
This castle was a safe place for all the beautiful things my imagination had dreamt up in my lifetime. To be able to still access this place as an adult for any reason was truly a gift. I found myself wishing at this moment that all adults could experience what I was experiencing now, this return to innocence, to fun, to dreams, to hope. I found myself wishing that all children could also experience this.
Life is not always kind or fair and rarely ever easy for anyone, no matter your age. I had created this world to survive all the hardness of life. I had created this land of mine to survive my life which was too adult for a child and too child for an adult. It had become a place of true life and joy and love and hope. It became a safe haven I could run to when things were too much. I wondered now, when did I stop running to this place? How had I forgotten that I had a place that cost me nothing to visit? Whom did I let tell me that this place of safety was off-limits to me when I was grown? Because it was becoming very clear to me now that none of the residents of my beautiful kingdom believed that lie. If they didn’t believe it, then why should I?
I realized all this was going on in my head, on the walk to the castle. My thoughts trickled in more now than they had as a child, but I guess that is to be expected. Now I would set my thoughts aside and enjoy the moment I was in. That is what I missed about childhood, no past, no future, just this moment, right here, right now.
The drawbridge of the castle was always down, there was no need to guard against enemies here for they were never allowed to cross the magic gate. The queen, a sweet and kind fairy greeted me as I entered.
“Welcome back Punky, we are so pleased to see you.”
“I am pleased to be here,” I replied.
There was no “your majesty” necessary. Even though Dandelion was queen, she was not considered above me or anyone else in the land of Sunflowers. Everyone here worked together, laughed together, ate together, and played together. We were all vastly different of course, but those differences are what made us all special and we all needed each other.
Queen Dandelion led me to the banquet and seated me at long tables beautifully decorated with daisies, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, and an array of other wildflowers. Along each table was seated all the amazing and magical characters and creatures I had grown up with. I had not until this very moment realized the depth to which I had missed them. Yet, the fact they were all here had to mean, somewhere in the deepest parts of my heart I had never lost them.
A beautiful feast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Jell-o, chocolate pudding pies with whipped cream, banana cream pudding with real bananas, and Nilla wafers was awaiting me. This was the happiest day indeed! All my favorites and I could eat them! Who knows how long we all ate, sang, danced, laughed, and played. I felt alive, restored, and filled with hope. My magic had never left me, I had left my magic. The magic of imagination is capable of the most beautiful and gloriously happy things. And all of them can be found again if one is willing to look for them.
There is something so pure about nonsensical conversations that inspire endless laughter. These are the types of conversations you can expect to have in the land of Sunflowers. There is no requirement to be perfect, to understand the real world, and no need to argue or fight for your place. No need to hide from judgment. You will not be judged here. You will be loved, accepted, and understood. And the most beautiful thing about the land of Sunflowers and all its magnificent creations is that when you leave you have a better understanding of love and compassion for yourself.
This place had always changed my life, even when I lived in it. But how much more it was changing me now. The kindness and compassion I felt towards myself were new, and by default made me feel kinder toward others. The world had tried to break me, tried to destroy that sweet little girl who only wanted to love people and be loved back. And it had almost succeeded.
But somehow an entire community of dreamed-up creations had saved her and in turn saved me. They inspired me to take that little girl and walk through life with her by my side. For she was able to see empathy where I see pain. She sees compassion where I see anger, and she can see fear where I might see hate. She was able to understand life and emotions and triggers and traumas as a child far better than I ever could as an adult. How had I made it this far with her locked away?
It was at this time, the end of our lovely banquet, that Queen Dandelion brought out a mirror. She handed it to me and instructed me to look. I lifted the mirror and looked at myself surprised to see my childhood self, looking back with a smile.
“You’ve always been me and you always will be.” The little girl said. I realized she was right. My body might have grown and changed but when I looked in the mirror it was her eyes I saw, it was her mind I thought with. She had never fully left.
Agrimony the wizard spoke for the first time and yes, he was still ten. But I found he like most, had wisdom beyond his age. I’m sure that was because although I was still a child, I had also grown up.
“Life or rather people and powers in life, will try to get you to forget who you are because, if you forget who you are, you are easy to control and manipulate. You will cease to create, to write, to draw, to sing, to live free. You will forget that coloring inside the lines isn’t the only thing that makes you an artist, coloring outside them also does, maybe even more so. Art, creativity, and imagination speak to everyone differently and just because one person doesn’t think it looks worthy of display, doesn’t mean it won’t change the life of another person in breathtaking ways, even if that person is you.” He said.
I could feel then my visit was ending, I had experienced this familiar feeling in childhood also, when it was time to return to life.
“It is time for you to go,” said Oxeye
“This time remember, the magic gate lives in you, you are free to come and go whenever and as often as you choose to. No one can take away a place or a person you carry in your heart. And one last thing, do not give so much thought to time. It passes the same no matter what we do. Instead live in, love, enjoy, be hopeful, and breathe in each unique and magical moment. For those moments will become the memories you use as a staircase to reach each amazing place you go in life.”
I found myself smiling still. I thought it was entirely possible I had not stopped smiling since I entered the magic gate. But the smile faded slightly at the thought of returning to the real world. I couldn’t help but become a little sad. What if I couldn’t find my way back here again? What if this was my last time in this place that had saved me so many times growing up?
“Fear not little one” I heard a familiar voice.
“Yarrow!” I said with teary eyes.
It was Yarrow the mother bear who had always listened to me talk and held me when I cried. The mother bear who had covered me when I was cold and spoke softly and gently to me to calm my fears. Mother bear who had been both comfort and company to me on very lonely childhood nights, as she was to us all. I always had a sense she never belonged to only me.
“You are not leaving forever, just for now. We are always here when you need us, nothing can change that. You hold the
key to the magic gate, which is not a key anyone can steal from you. You can of course give it away or share it but even those things are not permanent. Your access to the magic gate is always yours and it is never revoked no matter how much time passes. You only need to believe to access it again.”
“Thank you for the reminder, I needed that,” I said.
“That is one of the many reasons I exist.” She replied.
Yarrow gave me one of her healing hugs that felt like warmth and peace surrounding my entire being. And then I was on my way. I looked back as they all waved at me with smiles. I smiled and waved back.
“Until next time!” I shouted with excitement.
“We will have the banana pudding ready for your return” Queen Dandelion shouted back with a laugh.
With that, I walked back through the magic gate, and I watched the land of sunflowers disappear. Although it seemed like I had been gone for years, I found only moments had passed. Beautiful and meaningful moments.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath while listening to the birds’ songs. Knowing for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I was going to be okay. The magic gate, the land of sunflowers, and all the magic within it were after all only a single thought away.