CHAPTER XXIX

June 12th, in the glimmering grasses of a golden Green Gables

Dear Ria,

So how do you find it here in Eden? My own perfect, pellucid paradise. How quickly my prose becomes empurpled! What would Dr Kent say? Do you know Ria, I don't even care. With one year till I am a fully-fledged B.A. I feel I can let my standards slip ~ for the summer at least.

Oh, blowsy, billowy, blustery bliss! Did you see that Professor Deacon? Tautologous alliteration! Take note of my appearance, Dean of Women, I am not personifying decorum and restraint, neither am I dressed modestly. My feet are bare, my stockings are off. I am at one with the ferns and grasses tickling between my toes.

Bliss bliss bliss!

Oh, darling Eve! To be forced to leave your garden, to wear leaves and shame all for the sake of knowledge. Would you do it again, I wonder? If the apple were offered to you once more, would you take it? Would you sink your teeth into crisp and succulent flesh? Is it better to leave, better to live in a world of Edison and Newton? Or stay forever a child amongst Faery and Dream?

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away my childish things.

When I was a child I had no childish things to put away. Rising at the same time, eating the same meal, wearing the same overall, taking the same seat, walking the same line, washing in the same grey water. No talking, no singing, no laughing, no looking anywhere except your boots. The same boots year after year with your toes curled tight when they got too small. Watching everyone around me curl up tight. No one to touch me, no one to hold, nothing that was mine except what I dreamed and my reflection in the window.

Now I see through a glass, darkly: but then face to face.

Now I know in part: but then shall I know, even as I am known.

To be known! To stand before another without any artifice, any coverings, any shame and be known. Matthew was the first person to accept me. But Diana was the first person to love me. The first person I have a memory of loving me. I have those letters from Mother and Father but paper cannot wrap its arms around me, words can't lean on my shoulder and whisper comforts in my ear.

Diana was my soft place. No surprise that I began these diaries when I was about to leave her. Now she is leaving me. I find myself on the outside again, wanting with all that I am for her to know all the happiness, the joy, the love that is rightfully hers. Yet all I can think of is what I have to lose.

I know I am supposed to look for it in my very own Adam. But Adam isn't what I thought he would be, Ria. Adam throws away my friendship, Adam wants to keep me in a golden frame. Adam marries my bosom friend and takes her away to make house at The Pines with calico dishes and doilies on the piano.

Oh Ria, now I am picturing Fred Wright wearing nothing but a fig leaf! Gilbert Blythe certainly suits his bit of green. Strange that I can't seem to picture Roy so sparely dressed. Do you know,when I think about standing in front of him waiting to be known, I spend most of my time imagining what clothes he is wearing. Not whether he will slowly slide his cape from his shoulders or fling it hotly into the room, but if it is spun from blackest obsidian or purest ivory? And the lining ~ blood-red or cobalt blue? I should also mention that by the time Royal has loosened the first button of his embroidered waistcoat, Gilbert is standing there in nothing at all wondering why the fellow is taking so long!

It isn't right to think of them so. Let me conjure up my other fair suitors, Billy and Charlie. Ooh, it cannot be unseen! Let me say it features turkey red long-johns and turkey red faces and leave it at that. What would the Dean of Women say? What would Jimsie say? What would Marilla say! I blame that book. No, I didn't secret a copy of Guide to the Gentleman onto the Island for dear Diana (I don't think she realised it was about how to catch a man, not what to do with him once he is caught.) I ordered what she would call a much more Anne-ish book, but just as scandalous. In Avonlea at least. At Mount Holly it could comfortably be left out with the philodendrons and playing cards. Leaves of Grass by Mr. Walter Whitman.

This then is the female form,

A divine nimbus exhales it from head to foot,

It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,

I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor,

Books, art, religion, time, the solid earth, and what is expected of heaven or feared of hell, are now consumed,

Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots, play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,

Hair, bosom, hips, bends of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too are diffused,

Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,

Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,

Undulating into the willing and yielding day,

Lost in the cleave and clasping of the sweet-fleshed day!

The exclamation mark is mine, Ria ~ though Mr. Whitman has a liking for them too. Last night Diana and I lay together in her goose-down bed for the last time and read each other excerpts until Mrs. Barry begged us to keep quiet. We hadn't giggled and swooned so much since Story Club days. How I want to go back to them, to the days when if a man was causing difficulty we merely killed him off. I never could best Diana's body count.

Bodies. Bodies. Bodies. I feel so alive in my body. Pulsing and perfect and pensive. So much to feel, to anticipate, to enjoy. Dr Kent is right ~ I do have a habit of grouping things in threes. Three like me and Matthew and Marilla. Like me and Diana and Fred. Like me and Roy and ~

There is no point my pretending I don't want to put Gilbert's name there. I know why. It's because I cannot be on the Island and not think of him. This very birch tree is where we planned out our graduation. Down the road is the Hall that we accidentally painted blue. The bridge he found me clinging to. The path where we hatched the A.V.I.S. The barrens where we thought up those teasers for the paper. The gate.

Matthew accepted me first, Diana loved me first, and Gilbert? Gilbert was the first person who didn't see an orphan who needed improving, or a girl who needed adoring, but his match. No wonder I've felt so out of balance since he took himself away. So halved. He can't have understood what that meant to me. Gilbert Blythe has any number of equals in his life, as well as someone to adore.

Christine.

Christine!

When I think of all the times he told me how lovely I looked. Especially in that gown, that iris-like gown. I can't wear it now. Did you know that, Ria? Every time I go through my closet wondering which Anne goes with which dress, the words tumble out without thought: Sunshine satin, midnight silk, lilac brocade, Gilbert's dress... And even though I boxed away his starry card and my green scarf, I still have to stare up at my ceiling every night. Reminders, absences everywhere, and he loves Christine Stuart! Violet eyed, raven haired, musical, refined, wealthy, lady-like Christine Stuart. While I am about it, let me add long nosed, soft chinned, thick waisted, heavy footed and dull, dull, dull! Everything about her makes a comment on what I am not, and diminishes that which I have. And yet he loves her! Or is crazy about her, which in Kingsport amounts to the same thing.

"I am mad for you, Miss Shirley," Roy tells me. "I dwell in a nonsensical fever day after day, night after night, never wanting nor hoping for a cure."

It sounds so passionate at the time. I revel and flutter and flush with the fact that this beautiful man finds beauty in me. Yet I can't ignore the still, small voice that wonders when I hear him tell me my "starry eyes have burst forth tiny meteors to adorn my dear face with a constellation of freckles" if he is attempting to find me more beautiful than I really am.

Of course, I'll always have my nose. And my figure is well enough if you are drawn to the willowy, long limbed type ~ others seem to have always had a secret hankering for flaring hips and a velvety bosom! My hair isn't worth mentioning ~ I've spent too many pages decrying my hair. And my eyes... How did Phil describe them? I have eyes that go right into you. Interesting enough, but is it beautiful? Roy is certainly beautiful, but is he...

But, of course he is. So generous and open of heart. I have never known such a whirl of concerts, recitals, flowers, chocolates, dinner parties. And poetry. Never known a man so devoted to its mystery. I wonder what he might make of this ~

The male is not less the soul, nor more,

He too is all the qualities, he is action and power,

The flush of the known universe is in him,

Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance,

The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost,

Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always,

He brings everything to the test of himself

I want to write this out for him now, right at this very moment. I want to run it down in the most slippery and liberal of hands and plunge it into the postbox. No heart shaped cards, no careful penmanship. To send it off without thought or care.

Only I'm afraid I will address it to the wrong man.

June 14th Allwinds, Avonlea

Oh God, I love her.

I love her. I love her. I love her. Help me God, I love her.

Love her for the way she took my hand at the top of the stairs, as though we had seen each other yesterday instead of months ago. Love her for the way she walked so joyfully by my side even though everyone in that room knew she considered me unworthy of her.

So I am. What do I know of myself in the year Anne has been out of my life? How easily I gave into self-pity. How little I know of true suffering. How weak I am, how lacking in imagination.

When I stood before Anne in the days after Ruby died. Telling her that "one would rather write masterpieces" while never comprehending what it meant to have that hunger to send something good into the world. Until I attempted to write a meaningful piece for the paper myself, and had to watch as it was cut down and rewritten into something I didn't recognise yet still bore my name.

Anne became theirs when she wrote that story. They welcome her back to Avonlea as though she was a beloved daughter from some rare old family. Then they look at me, at their prize buck Gilbert Blythe, and all I feel is their disappointment.

He never comes back to the Island now. Sold his own horse, had his folks sell the orchard. That's the end of Allwinds then, the end of the Blythes. Even Anne turned her nose up. Even Anne.

I can't stand another minute of their scrutiny. Yet Anne withstood their gossip, their ill-will and judgment, year after year. Never giving into the smallness in herself, or the smallness of others. Defiantly truthful and always good.

I saw that asylum she lived in. Went down to fact check a story some reporter had filed. I couldn't believe what the fellow had written. It couldn't be true, not in 1886, not somewhere so wealthy and developed as Nova Scotia. It was a monstrous, rotting building and I pictured Anne the first time I saw her. So pale and thin the biggest thing about her was her eyes. Her tiny wrists poking out of her sleeves – even after a summer being fattened up by the Cuthberts. Her ankles should have snapped like twigs, yet she could out climb any of us. And out work, and out dream. All at once here was someone who was bigger than life and better at living than any soul fortunate enough to have been born on the Island.

Now I have this chance to become a doctor, not because of what I have made of myself, but because of what my folks have given me. At the first sign I might fall they were ready to catch me, and all I can think is who was there for Anne? When she had nothing but what she imagined, nothing to hold onto but dreams. No wonder she believed them so fervently. If I'd lived a life like that I would never let them go.

I can't let go. Please God, help me, I love her. I can't walk on this Island without feeling her beside me. In the trees, the Hall, the bridge. The gate. Her laugh in every stretch of water, her hair within the red of the roads. I knew the moment she agreed to take a walk to our old haunts I was visiting them for the last time.

I chose the destination carefully. Not the lake, not the apple tree, but a place for lovers. I would ask Anne to walk down Lover's Lane, and if she looked away or blushed or made excuses then I had reason to hold out hope. But if she agreed without the smallest show of concern, then there would be no doubt (and there is no doubt) that she only sees me as a boy she used to know.

Turns out I didn't even need to make deals with myself, Anne's own talk told me enough. She said she wished we could return to the old days. Those days when we were friends and the only thing I wanted was to be worthy of her. How did this happen? How have I passed all those years thinking only of how Anne would want me to live, yet still falling short of the man she could love?

No wonder she wants to marry Gardner. I may not like him but even I can see the only thing he cares about is what he can give her. Showering her with every pleasure that can be imagined. I only made her laugh. I don't even do that anymore. Now I just make her sad.

That look in Anne's eyes when we said goodbye. For all the joy of the wedding, and the agony of the walk after, I can only recall the way she looked at me. To stay on the Island is to live in yesterday. I'm never going back.

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