by Avery Caswell
Lately I’ve been feeling sorry for Eve. She’s always gotten the raw end of the deal when it comes to Eden. The blame is laid squarely at her feet for getting man tossed from the garden. If it hadn’t been for her, we’d all still be living happily ever after.
Eve upset the apple cart — except it was more likely the pomegranate cart as there were no Red Delicious in paradise. Chalk up this misnomer to a faulty translation. Actually, a lot of bad translations have mucked up our mythical landscape. Take Cinderella’s slippers, or from the French, her pantoufles de verge, glass slippers. In the original telling they were pantoufles de vair, fur slippers. If we were to correct the translation now, the imagery wrapped around that fairy tale would – poof! – disappear. Likewise, swapping apples for pomegranates at this late date would render centuries of fine art null and void so we keep our mouths shut and let some things slide.
I have my own theory. Eve didn’t get evicted; she escaped. I think Eve was bored out of her skull. She had no job. No children. She wasn’t gardening, or doing laundry, or even shopping. But how life changed when she stepped beyond the garden gate and discovered the flattering effects of a few well-placed fig leaves.
In my early 20s, I landed in Davidson, NC, a well-meaning, liberal-leaning college town, a place some liken to Eden, others to Camelot. Truly, the climate is much like King Arthur boasted to Guinevere in the Joshua Logan film.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
“And yes, m’lady,” adds the king to his future queen, “The autumn leaves, why they– pfft–blow away completely.”
In Davidson, everyone knows everyone. We make you dinner when you’re ailing, we rescue your dog when it slips the fence, and we share the bounty of our lush gardens – from heirloom tomatoes to bouquets of camellias, roses and hydrangeas.
How lucky were my husband and I to stumble upon a wooded lot, one block from campus? So lucky we couldn’t breathe a word for a month until we quietly closed on the property. Had it gone on the market, the price would have immediately tripled.
We built a French country stucco beside a stately row of willow oaks. And fyi, King Arthur’s boast does not hold true for this version of Camelot. The leaves do not “pfft, blow away completely.” They require three straight months of dogged pursuit.
Here we raised three children with the help, Hillary would be happy to know, of the entire village. For many years, the school bus dropped my children on Main Street, across the street from my office. When my son crossed against the light and not in the designated crosswalk one day, two people, also with offices fronting Main Street, called to let me know. Despite my lecture about pedestrian safety, he grew up to be a risk-taker of the highest order. He’s learned lessons the hard way and the entire village knows it.
Late last fall, I pulled the border of impatiens I always plant along the narrow strip between the house and drive and replaced them with pansies just as my neighbors were doing with their spent summer annuals. As I wrapped burlap around the fountain in the front yard and made a stab at corralling the never-ending cascade of willow oak droppings, I totaled the number of years I’d performed these exact tasks. Too many. I looked ahead to how many more years I could look forward to the same. Way too many.
I found myself wondering if this were it. And suddenly I knew I didn’t want to die here, buried in oak leaves.
I had a life many envied. A strong marriage to a smart, handsome man with a great sense of humor — a man who can fix anything from an ’85 Honda Prelude to a blue mood. We lived in a beautiful house in a seemingly perfect town. I was well-regarded in the region as a publisher, editor and writer.
And I was bored out of my skull. But it wasn’t only boredom. It was a restlessness born of despair. I had accomplished nearly every goal I’d set for myself and saw no new challenge ahead. Worse, I had no confidence my accomplishments amounted to much more than the rotting mulch I’d accumulated after years of composting oak leaves.
The urge to escape grew with every leaf and acorn that fell. I decided to run away in the most civilized way possible and began applying to PhD and other advanced degree programs.
Unbeknownst to me, my youngest child aided and abetted my plan. Named one of the top students in the state, my daughter was no longer feeling challenged at the school she’d attended since Jr. Kindergarten. On her own one night, she researched top U.S. high schools and shared her findings with her dad. She eliminated New England schools (too cold); he nixed the one in Arizona saying she had to stay in the same time zone. That left several to choose from, namely one near Miami, ranked #1, and several around the D.C./Baltimore area. I aligned my applications with hers. We visited Florida, Virginia and Maryland in the spring and eventually chose Baltimore, MD as our destination.
Maybe the utopian myth is really about the naturally occurring need for children to make their own way in the greater world. Perhaps Eve believed there was more to life than perfection. Or, the lure of the unknown beyond the garden walls simply proved too strong to resist. God, like any parent, outraged that his darling daughter found fault with all he’d provided, did not make life easy for her after she left.
In Maryland, seven hours away from my husband, I’ve dealt with a flooded condo, an insane landlord, and people who don’t know me from Adam and furthermore, don’t care. My days are no longer predictable; a few have brought me to tears. I’m cold up here. (I wouldn’t say no to a nice pair of fur slippers.) No one’s cooking me dinner, but no one knows my business either. Also on the plus side, I didn’t rake a single leaf last fall.
It would be nice to correct a bad translation and get Cinderella out of those uncomfortable glass shoes; or to debunk a myth and cast Eve in a better light. Poof! No more blaming a woman for all the ills in the world. But that will never fly; some stories are too deeply embedded in our psyches. What we’re really doing, my daughter and I, is answering the challenge of what lies beyond Eden, a garden despite all its beauty was not really perfect after all.