By: Melissa Lee Ramos
I open my eyes. Where am I? Is this a dream? I sit up and look around. Trying to get a grasp of where I am. Where was I before? How did I get here?
Standing, I realize I am outside, alone, with dark woods behind me and a little closed-in garden in front of me. I turn to look at the woods. They look dark and treacherous. Something from a grim fairy tale, where there are monsters lurking in the shadows. The little garden in front of me is bright and sunny. There is a perfumy aroma on the breeze, the smell of flowers in the air. Shouldn’t there be a little cottage there, I ponder, fairy tale style with a sweet little woman inside waiting to help me find my way?
Either way, I make my way towards the garden. I need to start somewhere and figure out exactly where I am and why.
As I make my way to the garden entrance, I hear a chirping sound. Strange, I think. I don’t see any birds. What a strange place this is. I walk through the little latched, iron gate to the entrance of the garden. I feel as if I’ve discovered the secret garden just like Mary did or like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole into an enchanted place only meant for books.
This garden is unlike any I’ve ever seen. Reds, pinks, yellows, purples, blues, and greens, all around. These are the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen, a variety of colors and types, everywhere, perfectly groomed. There is a brick wall surrounding the garden. It looks almost as if it were meant to be a secret. There is a rose trellis on each wall, with bright red roses climbing to the top, weaving and hanging. As I walk further into the garden, I find a little pond with pretty goldfish swimming around. There is a bench next to the pond. It is shaded by a huge apple tree. I take an apple and sit. This would be the perfect place to sit with a book, so peaceful and quiet.
As I munch on my apple and sit thinking about where I could possibly be a little cat jumps up onto the bench next to me, startling me. The pretty white cat purrs as I pet it thoughtfully. It then jumps down and starts walking down a little path I had not noticed before. I decide to follow her. She must belong to someone and maybe they can tell me where I am and how to get home. We walk quietly towards the far side of the garden, towards the back. We come to another little iron gate. The little cat squeezes through the gate and I hurriedly unlatch it to follow her through. On the other side of the gate is somewhat of a tunnel. But a tunnel made of trees that have curved, keeping out the sunlight from above. The trees are covered in green moss and the fallen leaves are scattered about. At the end of the tree-tunnel I can just make out a set of steps going up back into the sunlight. The little cat is sitting at the bottom of the stairs, patiently waiting for me. I hurry along. At the top of the stairs is yet another tunnel. This tunnel is made of flowers though and not trees. There is a white pathway leading through. The lovely red, pink, and white flowers hang down from what looks like a curved wire perhaps. They are also well-tended to. This is such a beautiful place. This tunnel goes on for a ways. Finally at the end of the little tunnel is a garden. A garden with a little cottage. Thank goodness, I think! Finally I will find someone who can help me. I make a dash for the cottage, with the little cat following behind.
I walk up to the door and knock softly.
The door opens and the sweetest looking old woman opens the door. She has long gray hair and a lovely face, which in her prime must have been beautiful. She smiles at me. It makes me feel like I am seriously in a fairy tale. Am I staring at a witch in disguise?
“Hello love, what took you so long?” she says.
“So long? I’m sorry, but you knew I was coming?” I am confused.
“Well of course I knew you were coming, silly,” she says.
“Where am I? How did I get here?”
“Well love, you are on a journey. You will be traveling through a maze to get home, if home is where you decide to go.”
“What are you talking about? A maze? You mean I need to get through a maze to get home? Why can’t I go back the way I came?”
“If you go back through the gardens to the beginning, there is nothing there but the woods. Dangerous place, the woods. You do not want to go that way. The only option is up and that is through the maze.”
“How long will it take to get through the maze and how will I find my way out?”
“That is up to you. If you really want to get out, you will find your way and if you don’t, then you won’t.”
At the astonished look on my face, she just smiles. “Take that bag and some apples from the basket so you won’t be hungry. If there is anything else you think you may need, you are free to take that as well. Good luck, my darling. You will find your way and if not, we’ll see each other again.” With that, the old women disappeared right before my eyes. Seriously!? What just happened? I pick up the little bag she mentioned and placed a few apples into it. Next to the bag and the basket of apples is a book. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. My favorite! Of course, I place that in my bag on top of the apples, feeling slightly guilty, but she did say take whatever and then she totally disappeared…so it isn’t like I’m stealing, not really. Only borrowing, right?
As I walk out the little cottage door, I see the little white cat. She is walking away from me, so I can only assume that I am meant to follow her. This is all so strange. It must be a dream. A strange fairy tale-ish dream. I guess I have to get through this maze in order to wake up.
At the end of the garden, I walk out a little iron gate. The gate opens up at the front of what I can only assume is the maze. Huge bushes, so high that you can’t glance or climb over, go on forever. This is just crazy. The little cat stares at me sweetly, but does not enter the maze. I suppose I am on my own now. I enter the maze. I walk this way and that, hoping that I am going in the right direction. I walk for what feels like forever. I am getting tired. I turn to the right and I am in a little clearing. There is a little pond and a little bench. This is odd, I think. Does this mean I am in the center of the maze? That could be a good thing, right?
I decide to take a break and eat an apple. I take out a shiny red apple and pull out the Jane Eyre book. I love this book. The mystery and the darkness in the book is what I love. I love the Gothic stories the best. I just love that Jane grows into such a confident woman. She is not a damsel in distress. She takes care of herself even through all the pain she suffers. I wish I could be more like her. My life is a mess. My job is not bad, but I definitely do not get paid enough to deal with the amount of work and stress that I deal with on a regular basis. I don’t make enough to pay all my bills. I feel completely overwhelmed and stressed all the time and my anxiety has reached an unsafe level. There is just so much pressure. It is like the four corners of a room are rapidly closing in on me, suffocating me. When I think of my life, I know I have been very fortunate compared to others. I’ve had a good education, have a wonderful husband, good friends, a family that is always there for me, a nice home, and so on and so forth. Things aren’t all that bad. If I could be more like Jane though, I would be more confident. I would take on the world with a new confidence. I would not feel as if I were a damsel in distress. I am though, I am in distress, but no one is going to save me.
As I am thinking to myself and start to read, I fall asleep. When I awake I am disoriented. I don’t remember where I am. Then of course, it all comes back to me. I sit up. It is daylight still, or maybe I slept through the night? I am not sure. I stand up to stretch and reach for my bag. Someone is holding my bag. I jump back, startled.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“You don’t know?” she says.
I look at her strangely. I don’t recognize her. She is tall, my height, with short, shoulder length, brown hair, and dark brown eyes. I don’t think I know her. I say so.
“Well, at some point, you’ll remember me. It’s ok. I am here to help you find your way.”
“Am I going the right way?” I ask.
“Well, you have only gone a short ways, but I think you are making good progress. Come, let us walk together.”
I take the bag she is holding out for me, and we walk side by side. She doesn’t really direct me along the path. As we come to the end of the clearing, we can either go to the left or to the right.
“Which way feels right?” she asks me.
I think about that. I look down the path to the left. If makes me feel cold and the vines on the bushes seem to stick out more, like they are hands just waiting to grab at me. I turn and look to the right. No hand-branches sticking out. It looks a lot brighter that way as well. I decide that is the best way.
“I think we should go to the right.”
“Excellent choice.” she says.
As we start to walk down the right path, I ask, “What is your name? I am sorry, you say I should know you, but I don’t.”
“Well, if you are not sure of my name, then I think it would be best not to tell you that. You must figure things out for yourself.”
“Of course I do. That is the story of my life.”
“Hmm, well, I think you’ll figure it out. You are off to a great start.”
“What does that even mean? I am off to a great start? How? So far I am lost in a huge maze, have no idea where I am or how I got here, an old lady disappeared in front of my eyes, and now you speak in riddles and can’t even tell me your name? What kind of messed up dream is this? Can you just pinch me already so that I can wake up?”
“Calm down. You are not in a dream, not really. You are just on a bit of a journey, but one you must go on by yourself. It is important. But you have friends along the way. Just remember there are people who love you and at the end of the maze, you’ll be with them. But first you have to find your way. Only then, will you be home.”
“Ok, so again with your riddles.”
We walk on in silence. She doesn’t respond to me or tell me more. We keep going for a bit, with her still making me decide which way to turn. I guess the best part is I am not alone now. I don’t know who I am walking with, her name, or why she is here. But I am not alone. I feel safe walking with her. I wish I knew who she was and why no one will give me a clear answer about anything. I start thinking about my life again. I take out the book and hold it. For some reason, books make me feel safe. It is weird. I could be having a horrible day, but just taking out my book and holding on to it gives me that little bit of comfort that I need. I have always been a reader. I would not be who I am without all the stories I’ve read. One day, whenever my job and real world give me the time, I am going to be a writer and I’m going to write novels and short stories and that will be how I make my living. That is my dream. Not that it will ever come true, but one can always hope and wish right? The real world is too hard and I am too tired usually to even put in any time to my own writing. How can anyone be a true writer if they don’t ever write?
We come to a little clearing again. It looks just like the last one. Little pond, little fish, and a little bench. This dream keeps getting stranger and stranger. My silent friends smiles at me and sits down on the bench. I sit next to her.
“You know, I knew that you were always special. You were always my friend, even after I left. You must know that I appreciate the fact that you never stopped thinking of me during all that time. How sad you were. You are a true friend and you must know that. People don’t tell you that enough. A lot of people are not always there for you when you feel that you need them, but they do think of you from time to time and you do have true friends even if you don’t always think you do. There are many people who love you. ‘If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.’ That is from your favorite book that you hold in your bag. No matter what you think in that head of yours, and no matter the choices you make with your life, you will always have friends. You may not realize it, but you do.” With that she disappeared. What the heck is going on here? Why do people keep disappearing on me and how is that even possible? What was she talking about? How was I her friend when I don’t even know who she is? I must be going crazy. I take the book out and start to read. Reading is the only way to keep my sanity, in the real world and apparently in this dream world as well. I eventually fall asleep.
As I awake, I look around, once again lost. How did I get here? I sit up and take in my surroundings. Oh! The maze. I remember, but where is the lady? I am alone in the little clearing. All alone. I feel so tired. Did I feel this way before? I reach for my bag and take out an apple. I take my book and start to read as I eat. A little bit later, as I pull myself out of my story, I stand up, deciding it is time to get out of here and back to my life. I’ve got this nagging feeling that I’ve been here too long. I need to get out. I am clearly not ok in the head if I’m still stuck wondering about in this dream maze. It makes me feel just a little bit crazy. I walk to the end of the clearing and peer into the maze. Left or right? What did that lady say? Which way feels right. I think about this. They are both dark. I can’t see down either of them. I could be stepping into some unseen nightmare. I am scared. I take out the book and hold it to my chest. Why must I be alone for this part of the maze? I close my eyes. Which way, which way? All of a sudden, I hear a voice, a whisper on the breeze. It calls my name. Lily. Which way did it come from? There it is again. Lily. A voice so sad. Strange. It is familiar, but how? Who is that? Again and again, almost as if the person is sobbing for me. It is a kind voice. One that makes me feel safe. It is coming from the right. I turn and blindly step that way into the maze. I start to run. I am running and running. A deep fear makes me go faster. I feel like something is chasing me, something dark, something evil! I must get to the end. Quickly! As I stagger about in the pitch black, I begin to hear a rustling sound. It gets louder. I feel the bushes now as I run. There is a strong wind moving the branches about, as if they are trying to grab at me. Panicked, I run faster and I trip over something. As I pick myself up, I see an arm. Then I see many arms, no not arms, but the branches of the maze walls reaching for me, grabbing at me, trying to pull me back. What is this place?! I am going to die here, I think. I hear my name again. I pull myself up and start to run. Please let there be someone nice, someone I know at the end!
Finally, I dash into a bright area. Another clearing? Another pond, another bench? It is bright and the maze has settled into a quiet calm. I sit down on the bench, panting. How long was I running? What was trying to get me? Am I safe? I start to cry. I want to go home. I want to be happy and live my life. My husband is waiting for me. My family. I need to get back to them. I will start writing. I will be a writer, famous or not, I don’t even care. I am going to do what I love and be with those that love me and then everything will be fine. I know it will be fine so long as I don’t die here in this crazy dream! I lie down on the bench, clutching the book tight to my chest. I will be ok, I think to myself, trying to calm the panic rising in me. I slowly fall into a deep sleep.
“Lily. Lily, please wake up.”
I open my eyes. My body hurts. The room is bright. Am I still in the maze?
“She’s awake! Someone get a doctor!” I hear.
What? Get a doctor. What now? As my eyes begin to focus, I see a face hovering over mine. It is my husband. He is crying. “Oh Lily,” he whispers softly. It was his voice I heard through the maze!
“You saved me,” I say. “Because of you, I went the right way in the maze and I got here, to you. You helped me get home.”
“What?” He has a concerned look on his face. The doctor comes in and looks into my eyes with a little light, checks the machines, writes something down. I went from a maze to a hospital room?
“We will need to run some tests.” He says. “But welcome back Lily.”
My husband sits next to me on the bed, holding my hands. “Lily, you were in a car accident. You’ve been in a coma for four days. No one knew if you were going to wake up.”
“In a coma? No, I was in a maze,” I hear myself say softly. I think about what happened before the maze. How is this even possible? I do remember being in a car. I don’t remember where I was going or what happened during the drive. But I do remember the maze. I begin to tell him about it. He won’t think I’m crazy, right? Then I say, “‘all my heart is yours, is: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence forever.’ Jane Eyre says it best. I love you and because you loved me, you brought me back through that horrible maze.”
“Maybe the maze was your brains way of helping you come back to me,” he said. “That lady in the cottage could have been your grandmother. Didn’t you say she always had the longest hair and you wished yours could be as pretty as hers?”
“She would always read to me and Jane Eyre was one of her favorites too. I wonder if it was her. She said if I didn’t get through the maze, I would see her again. She meant if I didn’t make it, if I died, she would see me again, didn’t she? Oh my god! It was her, wasn’t it?” I start to cry. My strange fairy tale wasn’t really a dream at all. I almost died. Those branch-like arms were trying to pull me back so that I wouldn’t live!
Later that evening, I am lying alone in my hospital room. My husband has left to get some decent food for us. They are releasing me in the morning from the hospital. I look over and notice that my purse is sitting on the little chair next to the bed. I slowly get up, trying to keep all the tubes in their place as I reach for the purse. Inside I find a book, as I knew I would. I always carry one with me. Jane Eyre is what I pull out. I open to the title page. There is a special message there. It says, ‘To Lily, with love on your birthday. From your best friend, Jenny.’ Jenny. My friend Jenny died when we were in college. She bought me this years ago and it has been a very treasured possession since. Jenny! That was the girl in my dream. I begin to cry again. The people that you lose are never really gone then are they? Clearly, they are always there watching over you. Two people in my life that I’ve loved and lost were there for me, helping me get through my own subconscious so that I could rejoin the land of the living. My husband walks back into the room, followed by my parents and a few of our closest friends. They see me crying and think it is because I am thinking about the fact that I almost died. They all take turns hugging me. I am really crying because of what I’ve learned. I am loved. I am never truly alone. I will achieve the things that I want to achieve because I am alive and fully capable of achieving them. I will pick myself up and do the things I want to do. I will write. I will get through life. And I will be happy.
There is a light at the end of every tunnel. Sometimes you may need a little guidance to get there, but there is always someone there, even when you don’t realize it. You can and will get through any maze, just keep looking. ‘I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.’ I will follow Jane’s advice and will keep looking up. The light at the end of my tunnel is there. I found mine and you’ll find yours too.