In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there’s a man who sees the world differently than he used to. All the things that scared him when he was a boy don’t scare him quite the same. Instead replaced by new fears that came with the passing years. All of his dreams scattered like stars in the sky where he understood, life is not anything like he’d imagined.
It was complicated and filled with things hard to understand. There was a certain look to the sky, not quite like lights but instead like dreams he’d used to hold and thought he’d given up on. As the world passed around him, years advanced beyond and he realized in the end the stars were part of him, hanging lights above to illuminate his path.
He discovered himself, this season, while the garden grew. In the tide of vegetation he became something new. Watered by tears and longing, lodged within from years of fear and pain and wonder. Everything he’d locked away: the monsters and the phantoms buried deep beneath a fine red sand, hidden behind his eyes came back and left him. Instead replaced with new threats materialized.
New hauntings, in new places.
The garden he’d tended for decades became something new, beneath the flower petals and the heavy leaves he found thorns choking those delicate things he loved. So began the long work of pruning himself to grow into something beautiful once again.
My dad believed he’d not live to see thirty. Due to his life experiences and a suite of other factors, he grew up thinking that he was on a timer. As if God was satisfied to pull him from the earth in the midnight hour. I felt the same way, perhaps less intentionally and more dramatically, but I assumed my life would be over in essence by today.
What’s funny about life is how little we understand it. If it were a garden, beneath each leaf we’d find a spanning network of memories trapped in veins all woven together to make out something far more grand than what we see beneath the single bough of our shadowy circumstance.
When my father was thirty-two, he wasn’t dead. In fact, his life began all over again on March 31st, 1993. Those fears he’d held about dying before thirty were gone and immediately replaced with a new host, bundled up around me. He worries still, for my future, my health and safety, my growth and my success. He hopes, as a good father should, that my life will be easier than his, and it has. From that day he wasn’t worried about his death as much as he was concerned with bending his life to the whim of his son, that I might be able to live a loving, capable, successful life.
The older I get, the more I feel like my father felt. With each blossoming leaf signaling the approach of summer I draw closer to starting a family of my own. I’ve long been afraid of turning thirty, not because I would physically die and be absent from the world. I feared a death more abstract, the death of my dreams and my passions, my love of life and the world around me. I feared the death of my self in that, I would not be the same man on the other side of adulthood.
I feared the death of my will to create, to love and to be a light for other people. When I was twenty eight, I started to realize that death in real time.
The dew of a springtime shimmer came with a sadness I couldn’t define, and I still can’t. Though the spring has faded into summer in my heart I can still see the glistening droplets on petals in my garden. I can still feel the cold rolling of the dew down my tired muscles.
Bit it isn’t springtime anymore.
A friend once told me something that’s stuck with me ever since. “When we turn thirty, we are who we will be for the rest of our lives.” A notion which clung to me like shade beneath a mushroom cap, I worried that if I did not reconstruct myself en masse every few months I would not be the man I wanted to be when I hit the cutoff age. He said it was something about the way our minds store our behaviors, as if we hit thirty and were suddenly unable to think or grow or learn again.
This notion worried me, and I devoted so much of my young energy to making myself the perfect version of me. In the event that I turned thirty, I would be the exact version of myself I always wanted to be, a peaceful, caring and loving person. Calm and disarming but with a gravity about me to display my hurts and fears in a way that was honest, but still loving.
Instead, the man turning thirty soon is a man I don’t entirely recognize anymore, but am coming to love. He is uncertain and afraid, but comfortable in that fear of the unknown. Unlike in so many ways, the boy who began publishing his thoughts and feelings on this same site a decade ago. In that previous life, he would be shaken to admit how much he didn’t know, and how little he could predict what would come of his life, but I am not. All of the stars and the leaves surrounding me are signs of my memories and my future.
I used to draw a connection between the human experience and the stars. We are made up of all the same things as galaxies, after all. Carbon and Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen, we are made up of dead stars. We are each our own little supernova, and how is it that we so easily forget what we come from? We are all our own tiny little explosions of memories and words and knowledge and infatuations. Pieces of a celestial puzzle being put together one piece at a time.
I used to be scared of getting older. It meant the reduction of the parts of me I loved most, but what was really restricting me was not my age, or the hours in the day. It was myself. I was afraid I’d hit this wall and, like my friend suggested years ago, I’d remain this sad, angry kid hiding his true feelings behind a wall of plastic happiness but that isn’t how life works.
It never has been.
I started this short series to accent the beauty in all the little things, and in thirty years I couldn’t tell you how much beauty that’s been brought into my life. I started this decade feeling like my father, watching the paint peel off of the walls around me and doing things with my friends I was sure would live on in the halls of memory forever. In some ways, I don’t feel like him at all anymore.
In lots of ways, I still do. A debt to my wife in which I can never repay, a passion for my hobbies and a sense of humor that sometimes is overlooked. A fear that I am not enough, quelled by the reminder of those I love that it is not my duty to be enough. It is my job to simply be. — The rest will come with time.
Maybe when I’m thirty-two, I might have a kid on the way. Maybe I’ll come back here and talk about all the things I learned, about how wonderful life has been. Maybe life is much simpler than we’ve all made it out to be. Maybe it isn’t always up or always down, maybe it isn’t me versus anything. Maybe it’s just me, here, experiencing the world and navigating it as best as I can.
There’s a stark beauty in that. It might be a little sad, that I don’t see myself anymore as a beacon of light or hope. But it isn’t sad that I don’t find myself so important anymore. Maybe there is space in between all the stuff we do and the stuff that happens to us for us to live our lives, and breathe between fits of fear or joy. We are all just elements bundled up experiencing this thing together.
All I really know now, in thirty years of living, is that the middle is my favorite part. I used to think the browning of the leaves on my tree meant I was winding down, that I would have to give up the things I love for the things I need. I worried about the brittle, crispy leaves of the coming season and how I might see the stars better from beneath them, but they could no longer support me to stand and reach them. I worried, like my father worries, that I would not be enough for the world. I worried with every falling leaf that I would eventually be left without that which I’ve always held dearest.
Maybe that’s true.
The thing is, I don’t know. I can’t. For the first time in my life I’m comfortable with the un-knowing. Maybe right here, in the middle of joy and turmoil is the place I’m supposed to be. My garden is full, despite all of the pruning it still needs. There is, as much as it’s hard to be dramatic about, life after the summer. God is a wonderful gardener, and I am still learning how to handle the shears.
My only hope, is that in two years or ten years, or however long I get to live on this little marble I get to be here. In this garden with my wife and my dogs and my friends. When all the leaves eventually fall off and I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, I only hope I’ll know myself better. Passions, sorrows and joys all bundled up and watching the things I did turn brown with age and pop from the branches with all the things I didn’t, and I can find peace in that, finally.
Autumn has always been my favorite season of the year. It will be my favorite season of life, too. If you’re facing down the turning of your dreams, or your passions, or your self, I hope you remember.
Stars had to die so you could exist. What’s the death of a leaf or two?
If you ask me, that’s awfully beautiful.
That’s all for Lifeis+ 2023: Resilience.
It’s been so much fun writing all of this for you this month. I don’t even know where to begin. I got to write some things I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and some things I didn’t think I would be writing any time soon. After everything this month, I’m so grateful for all of the new folks who stopped by to check out the Grimoire & I can’t wait for what comes next.
Tomorrow I’ll be releasing the First “Cave Etchings” post of 2023 and cover my plans for the next couple of months, as well as give an update on future writings. When it goes live, there will be a link below!
Thank you for participating once more in the Lifeis+ celebration. I’ve got a lot to celebrate this time around so you’ll be hearing from me often. If you’d like to read more, you can check out me current fiction project Sisters of Westwinter & The Heart, Felt Series below!
If you’d like to support what I’m doing here, you can click either of the links below to be taken to ways you can help you (if you feel so inclined!)
I’ve recently started a Ko-fi Shop online where, if you would like to help support me as I continue to work on my various writing projects here and over on Vocal, I would be so, so appreciative.
As of the publication of this post, it’s a little barebones but I’m working on getting it spruced up! I’ll be linking it at the end of each of my posts going forward if you are interested in helping me keep my eyes open at all. Anything offered through Ko-fi will go directly back into the blog, or toward other projects I can’t afford at the time.
Regardless of your decision, thank you for being here. 🔺
A.T. Baines Ko-Fi
Mental Health Support
Consider donating to a charity with the intention of aiding those struggling with thoughts of Suicide, Self Harm or Depression.
Below I’ve listed a few charities and non-profit organizations you can donate to. if you’d like to support groups trying to make the world a little bit less sad.
If you don’t see your preferred charity here, pick one! Or go give someone’s dog a treat. Anything kind will work. ❤️
More From Me:
Creativity is sometimes like a spark. Once it lights, it can set fire to every soft thing within you until you are left with a smoldering pile of ash and jewelry made of earth & glass.
Creativity is sometimes like a vine. Once it has rooted it will grow forward, wrapped around whatever provides it stability. Occasionally, should it put its hopes upon a frail dowel or worn stretch of shiplap it may crumble and its course my veer.
[SOW] Interlude Three: The Seafarer’s Secret
To do what was required of her meant in most cases she needed to silence the part of herself that called out with the cries of the sinking crews. On her last run, as soon as she and her crew boarded the vessel and began tearing apart their commodities, she realized immediately it was not…