Natalie Heinitz, 131 YinD
It’s so easy to get lost in nostalgia when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
Playing with dirt reminds me of crisp autumn nights at the little league fields, long sleeves under oversized jerseys and stiff fingers on aluminum bats. Like bright stadium lights and the smell of cheese fries, moms and dads shifting their weight from foot to foot.
Picking up wet dirt in the dugout, pinching it into perfect cubes, only to crush them with my front cleat, beginning again.
Nicking at roots, I feel the Thai sun sinking, a surprising chill creeping up my spine. It feels like autumn fall ball but it’s actually “winter.” Thai winter that is, a cool 70 degrees.
I keep playing in the dirt. My “garden,” I tell people with a smirk, because all I’ve been able to grow are the weeds that were already there, some kale, and a lone, but beautiful, tomato plant.
The breeze whips a sharp scent to my forefront. I’m on my hands and knees, but I am not here. I am somewhere else.
It’s the tomato plant. Tomato plants have a smell?
Let me tell you what tomatoes smell like.
They smell like sunshine and chlorine, shucking corn and laundry detergent.
I am in my Grandpa’s backyard, the happiest place of my childhood, I realize exactly in that moment, and now I am not here, but I am somewhere in between.
Is it possible to live both in and outside of yourself?
The one floor red farmhouse. The quiet street without sidewalks. The airy living room with the front door open, the screen door closed, the sliding backdoor inviting everyone to know sunlight.
The soft grass in the front lawn and the zealous greenery in the back. The small, cool pool, always shocking when you jumped in, kinder from the steps.
But mostly, tomatoes smell like what surrounded that blue pool looked like, which is to say that tomatoes smell like magic.
Reaching towards the sun from every direction, keeping watch over splashing cousins, were the gardenias and the sunflowers, the lilacs and the daffodils, the purple petunias, the peonies, the radishes, the squash, the weeds, the whatever else my grandpa let flourish into a canopied adventure path all around the water, and yes, the tomatoes.
Tomatoes smell like my grandpa’s aftershave in a tight hug or a firm, “Make sure you get the whole root, dear.”
They smell the way warm, fuzzy, fluffy towels feel and the carpet beneath your toes. The sound of cousin laughter and adult conversation through the window when you go inside to pee.
The clinking of ice cubes and Snapple. His whooping laughter and his waddle.
I wonder if the tomato plants still smell the same there, if they even grow at all, the way they do here, in Thailand.
Is it possible to do something so mundane but so transcendent? Is it possible that tomato plants are the portal back to myself?
Or is it the dirt, the cool, wet dirt, my 6 by 8 patch of dirty dirt and weeds, the earth bringing me back down from my stress in the sky, pushing me up, up, up.
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