Editor’s Note: Much of this essay’s power is in the narrator’s and reader’s mutual incremental revelations. Those revelations also have the potential to trigger post-traumatic stress. Please read and share responsibly.
You’re 19 and having a difficult time. You stopped eating for 6 months and you don’t know why. You spent 2 weeks in the hospital trying to get back to normal. You left school and moved back home. Amidst it all, your beloved grandfather died. Your parents are distracted. Grieving. You’re trying hard to get back on track, but you’re aimless and insecure. You apply for a job at a plant nursery because it sounds healthy and peaceful.
When you arrive for the interview, you are welcomed by an older man with a white beard. He’s friendly, but serious. He tells you right off the bat that he’s a healer and that he’s been expecting you. You don’t think about it then, but surely he sees the sadness in your eyes. It’s written all over you, and in the ill-fitting clothing you wear. The clothes are your grandfather’s. You took them just so you could smell him again.
The owner of the nursery knows about your grandfather’s death. The whole town knows, tiny as it is. He says, “Your grandfather gave me a message for you.” Then he tells you that your grandfather speaks to him from that other place, and how you too can talk to him. You were meant to show up at the nursery today. You are here to heal.
It’s a lot to take in. It feels like just what you need. Maybe it’s even just what you were looking for, without even knowing you were looking. You’re open to this. You go home in high spirits. Your parents are happy to see you happy, even for an evening. A spark of progress.
At your first day of work your new boss teaches you how to repot plants. The greenhouse is warm and so alive. You feel quickly at ease there. It does feel healing, giving new life and a healthy home to little green things. After a few days of greenhouse work, you are tasked with planting peppers out in the farm fields behind the shop. It’s absolutely gorgeous. At the edge of the field, the land rises up into two sky-piercing ledges. There are beehives buzzing with activity. All afternoon you plant peppers. The sun gets low in the sky, but you work into the evening to get the job done. Your fingers are caked with soil; your back aches and you’re tired. But this kind of exhaustion is a good feeling, one you haven’t felt in a long time. For the first time in nearly a year, you’re really hungry. Your boss brings you a deli sandwich and tells you to go ahead and eat it. No big deal.
You eat the whole fucking thing and you think, this guy’s a genius. All you needed was to reconnect with the earth, the strength of your own body, and there you are eating. You drive home late that night, worn but euphoric.
Over the next week or so, you are given more planting and caretaking tasks. While you work, your boss starts to ask you questions about your family, your friends, your reasons for not being in school. He builds you up at every step, telling you how intuitive you are. How you have always been that way, but you didn’t have anyone who could see it in you and bring it to light. He teaches you to feel misunderstood, but it’s reassuring because he tells you that you’re special. Of course people don’t understand. Only he does.
He tells you to stand in front of the mirror and say, “I’m a good person.” You feel ridiculous, but somehow you’re already a little kid in his presence and you do it anyway. He tells you to say things like, “I’m strong,” or, “I’m a survivor.” Sometimes you cry, but he doesn’t make you feel badly for it. Instead he points out the short-comings in your family and in your old friends. How you do things too often for their sake. How little they know about your true spiritual purpose. Those days you go home confused, but you develop a feeling for the gravity of your healing process and that helps. Sometimes you stand for a long time in the yard of your parents’ home, watching the sun going down, trying to make sense of it all.
Mostly you realize how far you really have to go. Sometimes, during the mirror sessions, he puts his hands on your shoulder and offers Reiki while you talk. He says he can see where the energy is held up and he gently strokes the air around you to help it release. With his guidance you picture the negative energy leaving your body, and a ray of warm, clear light coming in to take it’s place. You learn to be grateful.
One afternoon your boss tells you he needs you to accompany him on a landscaping job. There are some decades-old rose bushes that need tending in a family cemetery on a big estate far out of town. It’s a 40-minute drive and he decides to leave late in the afternoon. You agree to go along after he tells you that he thinks you’ve learned enough now to be able to help with these bushes. They’re really quite special. Not just anyone can do it.
It’s no big deal. You’re used to working late sometimes, for the sake of the plants. You wonder what this rose bush will have to teach you. You climb into the car with him, even though it’s almost the end of the day. You are at work and there is work yet to be done. And after all, he is your boss.
He drives the 40 minutes to a sparsely settled town. The estate is down a long road, with few other houses. When you get there, he doesn’t pull up to the house, but drives around, down another long empty dirt road, to the family cemetery. He parks in a little copse and tells you more about the family and their plantings.
As casually as the light outside your window changes from bright day to darkening evening, he leans toward you and says he sees something in your energetic field. He goes toward your shoulder, searching with an open palm. He finds it on your breast. Instead of hovering in the air around it, he goes right to your nipple. “There it is,” he says and asks you to tell him what it is you feel there. “There’s something ready to be released.”
Your body wants you to pull away. Very far away. But you’re frozen. Your brain is trying hard to take over, and he is urging you to put your mind somewhere else. His continued talking prevents you from questioning his methods. You try hard to find something to offer, something that might be stuck there. You mention an old boyfriend and what a hard time you had speaking your mind in that relationship. Your boss says, “That’s good. Keep going with it.”
Petting your breast, he tells you that energy is leaving you. It’s no longer useful. Light is coming in to take its place. “Picture it,” he says, “filling you all the way down to where your feet touch the ground.” Your stomach churns sickly and you have to work hard to imagine the light.
When’s he’s done he takes his hand away. It’s dusk now, too dark to see the rose bushes. He says, “See, that wasn’t so bad. We trust each other. You’ve got amazing energy.” Then he starts in on how you can’t really talk to other people about this, like your family or friends. They are not like you and he are. You have something special that they wouldn’t understand.
He restarts the engine and drives you back to the nursery where your own car is waiting. That night when you get home, you eat a late dinner and go directly to bed. You say nothing of it to your parents, just as you were told.
Things are mellow and predictable at work for the next few days. Your boss makes sure to build you up more often, a tactic you won’t fully understand for another decade. But, the following week he insists you kiss him. He says you have incorrectly associated kissing with your sexuality. He says it should be, instead, a sign of trust and friendship between you and him.
At first you refuse. You cry in the greenhouse for two whole hours. Its close greenness feels like a humid trap. He comes in and out in between assisting customers, and chides you for being too loud, too vocal in your resistance.
For both of those crying hours, you tell him no. You don’t understand why a kiss is necessary. He remains patient with you, his tone of voice unchanging. Your tears are a temporary annoyance, but he voice reveals how certain he is you will come around. And you do.
You give in and let him kiss you. After that, you are done resisting. During those two hours, every bit of self-preservation was worn thin enough to be blown fully apart by that disgusting kiss. You didn’t want to do it, but you did, and now he has full access.
A few days later he goes for your breast again, and in the weeks that follow, the rest of you.
You stop talking to your family anymore about anything serious. You spend more and more time away. Friendships that might interfere are belittled by your boss, and you leave them untended until they fade. He needs so much from you, there isn’t time for anything else. And anyway, you stopped trying to have a say that day in the greenhouse. You’re his work now and he is yours.
The line between life and work has been irredeemably muddied. Even when you are not physically there, he is present in your mind, your feelings, your fears. You are at work all the time now.
After all, he is your boss.
Heidi Davidson-Drexel has been writing seriously for 5 years and meets regularly with a small group of writers who critique each other’s work. She teaches elementary school math and spends time with her 2 young children in Portland, Maine. This is her first published piece. Read her blog post for Longridge Review here, where she talks about developing her narrator’s voice addressing her younger self.