William John Rostron
"In the Garden of Eden" - #6 Writing in the Wind blog - About Writing
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
In the Garden of Eden was first published the Visible Ink Anthology in March 2019. Of the hundreds of pieces of work submitted to this book only a dozen are chosen for a reading/performance presentation on a stage in NYC. This performance can be viewed by clicking on the "Videos" section of this website.
In the Garden of Eden
William John Rostron
I was a warrior. I was a champion. I was a hero. I was eight! At that age, I lived a fantasy existence in the lonely reaches of my attic bedroom. I vanquished evil with my imagination as the heroes of the big screen became my role models. I was Davy Crockett valiantly defending the Alamo. I swung my toy rifle to ward off the Mexican army threatening to take over my bed. I was Errol Flynn leading The Charge of the Light Brigadeinto the Valley of Death - though my valley was only eight feet long. Yes, I died many dramatic deaths while standing up for what was right.
None of it was real. When I ventured from my seclusion, evil always seemed to win. In my everyday world, violence and drugs seemed to be the norm. I dealt with bullies by avoiding them. This strategy worked well until I was thirteen and discovered the Garden of Eden.
The public schoolyard was the center of teenage social life in the Heights. In one section of that yard lay a garden whose ten-foot-high fence ringed an area of overgrown bushes that withheld view of its interior. The druggies cut openings in the fence and used this location to get high; thus it attained the ironic name of the “Garden of Eden.” Sometimes, I would get away to a hidden corner of the garden and play my guitar.
While strumming one day, I heard a commotion. The Provenzano brothers, two of the area’s meanest bullies, were beating a teenage boy unmercifully. I stood frozen and did nothing. Where were Davy Crockett and Errol Flynn when this boy needed them? Instead of rushing to his defense, I remained hiding in the bushes – a coward. The older Provenzano, known in the neighborhood as “Mad Guy,” egged on his youngerbrother who pounded the defenseless boy. Tonyseemed reluctant, acting only to impress his older sibling. Guy laughed and prodded his brother to continue the violence.
Eventually, they let the boy go, and Guy left the Garden of Eden. Tony, however, stayed behind. As I packed up my guitar, I heard sobbing. I peered through the bushes to see Tony crying. Young men never cried in the 1960s because it was a considered a sign of weakness. I realized then that Tony was as trapped in this world as I was. He was doing things he hated merely to be accepted by his brother. I quietly snuck home.
Around dusk, I heard wailing sirens and saw the flashing of what seemed like ten thousand lights. I ran to the yard in time to see EMT's loading Tony into an ambulance. The whispered voices of the crowd spread the story – Tony had been huffing glue and had gone too far. He would have died if his brother had not found him. I suspected that Tony might have wanted to die. As months passed, everyone in the neighborhood speculated about what had happened to the younger Provenzano. On a warm day the next spring, I found out
As I sat playing my guitar in the Garden of Eden, Tony found me. He walked awkwardly, with ever-present drool forming at his mouth. The confused expression on his face gave proof to the rumor that he had suffered severe brain damage. He now had the thoughts and emotions of a young child.
"You play good," he said and sat down. "Play more." From the old Tony, these words would have been a demand, but from this Tony, it was simply a request. I played for him from then until late summer. He had an ever-present smile during our time together. He was downright ecstatic when I played Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood.” Tony beamed ear-to-ear when I sang the actual "knock on wood" part and recreated the knocking sound by turning over my guitar and taping on it. One day, I rescued an old stringless ukulele from a garbage pickup and gave it to Tony.
“Your guitar,” I answered and played his favorite song. He pretended to play and knocked so enthusiastically at the right time that I thought he would shatter his instrument, but a broad grin never left his face. We “played” from then on.
That August, Tony died from a brain hemorrhage. A few days after the funeral, I went to his grave and placed the ukulele on it. I was probably the only one who realized that Tony had been happier in the final months of his life than he had ever been before. And so was I. I had learned a valuable lesson.
Heroes can come in many forms. Sometimes to vanquish an enemy, you don't have to slay him, you just have to make him smile.