by Jocelyn Winn
—Dandelion, from the French, dent de lion, “lion’s tooth”
Every year you destroyed and acquired me with all the glee of my yellow, rubber-like petals: lion’s teeth. In the too-hot May of the year you turned probably six, I watched your birthday party descend on my Dandelion Family. Was it worth the fleeting aesthetic—a day’s worth of arrangements—to erase me from your scene? I don’t grow back as easily as everyone thinks, my quick bud to seed belying my cheerful expression.
You held me in your maybe-six-year-old hands, posing in front of the brick steps of your childhood home. It is your birthday and you are barefoot and your purple-flowered hand-me-down dress with white lace trim looks fancy between your first crush Eric’s faded blue Polo shirt and cousin Joey’s flesh-colored Oxford. You’re only fairly certain you are six on this birthday but believe it by deduction because you look too old to be five and you very clearly remember the seven-year-old birthday photograph of your disco party. When you loved roller skating and John Travolta and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Your self-cut bangs are tucked behind a purple plastic barrette as you pose Travolta-style, right arm shooting upward, left hand on your already growing hips in an attempt at being sassy. I want to tell you now, so many years later, I also know how to shoot upward.
I seemed to spring eternal on that sloped sledding hill you remember looming large enough as if a mountain, that patch of green leading to the big white house, as you called it. It is still there although you and I are not. I saw your house all day and all night, the one-level yellow-vinyl-sided ranch. I saw all that yellow and assumed we were the same, requiring sun and yet thriving in barren, disturbed soil, ready to puncture concrete and sprout through sidewalks. You were preoccupied by me, and the massive white house occupied by just one couple. I thought you might enter their house and find an empty room to sleep. But at probably six, you weren’t yet so exhausted.
I remember the always lonely child-you finding and sacrificing me, your fingers frenzied and stained yellow, the pure ecstasy in your face, sometimes a smear of dirt across your cheek. I’d see you dancing on my hill and every so often crouching to smell still-grounded me, not the odor of store-bought flowers but the deep scent of earth, the acrid perfume of life, like the insides of a damp, hollowed-out tree bark, impossibly populated with fresh-cut limes. So when your mother suggested at your birthday party that you all go out back and pick dandelions, it sounded to you like exactly the most special, important, dazzling, impressive idea she’d ever had.
I often saw her watching you in the field, waiting at the door for your offering of plucked things that you pretended she received as if a string of diamonds. Soon she’d be calling you back inside with a Winston smoking from her fingers. The cake is ready or maybe it is time to go. We never acknowledged the anguish in the gentle snapping of roots, you and I. No teas or tinctures or tendril salvaged to cleanse a future liver or wilted lymph system, ridding all those toxins from the bloodstream. The difference between us is that when I turn old and gray and loose, that’s when I become wishable. You don’t even remember what you asked of me as you blew me into reincarnation. I would have granted you all your wishes to remain untouched.
By next year, when the seven-year-old picture emerges from its shadowed Polaroid haze, you will have lost all your shine, trying so hard as you do to pretend you’re a disco queen.
Jocelyn Winn is a New Hampshire–based freelance writer and founder of The Eleventh Letter editorial services. She is a nonfiction reader for the Maine Review and Hunger Mountain and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her most recent work can be found in the online journals Eratio and Past Ten.