Annie Christmas Goes to The Farm
“If you could be any flower, what kind of flower would you be?”
Annie Christmas felt she was set up to fail in life. To the objective observer, her deduction seems fair enough. Annie was raised in an environment where she was scrutinized and othered and pressured by the majority for most of her upbringing. This occurred because she was the only black girl in her rural, all white, bayou town.
If it weren’t for her best friend Joe, the only black boy in town, that “most” of the time would’ve been an “all” of the time. Legend has it the KKK “ran” all of the people of color out of that bayou town in the 1930s, and then again in the 1960s.
Annie’s dad, James Christmas (a.k.a. Pop), liked saying they moved there to create a new legend. However, Annie knew they really moved there because properties were cheap, and he was a single father who never paid full price for anything. He was a practical man. A man obsessed with legends, folklore, mythos from the American past, but practical all the same.
That’s how she got her name, from Pop’s grounded obsession with the things that could be, might have been - from the mythos of the universe he created within and found without...
Annie Christmas is an actual legend of American folklore (especially in the eye’s of our Annie’s father). The legend is known by a variety of sobriquets: Flatboat Annie, daughter of the Mississippi Delta, Defender of Victims of Bullies, and is considered in certain circles to be one of the New Orleans Vodou Loa. An American legend infamous for being “stronger than any man and a hero to every woman.” The legend known for doing what she wanted, with swagger and force, as she stood up to oppressive establishments and people. She was physically a sight to be seen, almost seven feet tall, an alluringly stacked ebony brick house, shining with the love and spirit of the Motherland. She defied gender norms, working as a flatboat captain during the day, and in the evenings wearing a red gown, a string of pearls, her hair up - with a peacock feather, and a hat with turkey feathers - one for each of the bullies she beat. To the objective observer, James Christmas’ devotion to this legend and desire for his daughter to embody such energy is certainly a noble aspiration. It was an expectation he made from a place of love...
However, for our Annie, it became the yoke of her existence. She struggled in life finding identity - because she had to exist in a society of systemic, racist oppression - because the eponym created a subconscious pressure to embody a legendary life force. Annie desperately wanted to be the defender, healer, rebel, and so on. She tried to figure out ways to develop those things in herself, but couldn’t manage to muster the traits Pop knew she had.
Annie grew up and took the first ticket out of that overtly racist cesspool, via the full ride scholarship she earned. But, she still felt uncomfortable wearing something other than beige, going against the status quo, being the legend she knows - somewhere in her conscience - she is.
Annie and her dear friend Joe both broke free from the bayou bondage and attended college at Duke. They remained support systems for each other. Annie knew she could call on Joe for that fuel injection to her fire - the one needed to deal with the more subverted racism of this academic bayou. After graduation, they both decided to stay in Durham. They moved into apartments down the hall from one another while they “figured out their next moves.”
Shortly after moving into their adult spaces, Annie’s dad died from cancer. It was in his prostate, it happened unexpectedly and managed to take down the greatest man in the universe - before she could understand what that statement really means. Her mom ran out on them when she was a baby. It - life - was always Pop and Annie. Even when she left for college, she started her day with a “Pop Quiz” from him. He called, every morning, to wake her up with questions reminding her of the legend she is named after, of the legend she is.
She didn’t want to accept the reality that the magnanimous James “Pop” Christmas no longer existed. He was her one-man-step-team, the one who evoked her namesake, the one who gave her the only fragments of identity she’d ever known. He died not getting to see her true self, her legendary self. She refused to repeat that refrain.
Joe was her only lifeline for the first three years after Pop’s death. One especially balmy Sunday afternoon, Annie walked over to Joe’s apartment to do her usual 3:00 p.m. rant session. She knocked on the door, more out of respect than formality. He didn’t answer. She felt that moment of immediate worried panic, bust into his place (using her key), expecting to find a Dateline episode in his living room, only to find nothing.
Nothing and no Joe. Everything looked normal. She waited around for a while - two hours of complete dread on her part. Nothing, no Joe. She can’t call his parents because he doesn’t have any, and she can’t call his siblings because he doesn’t have any, and she can’t call his friends because she has no clue who they are outside of her, so she goes back home.
Annie spent the next three days nervously watching out her window: chewing her nails with fervor, agony, anticipation as she systematically called every hospital, jail, and shelter in the state. Nothing, no Joe. On the fourth day, she heard a familiar whistle in the breezeway.
“JOE!!! Where the hell have you been?!?!” She knocked the whistle right out of him as she bombarded him with questions and arm punches and hugs in haphazard patterns. He fumbled with his house keys, overwhelmed by her energy. “Where the hell have you been?!?!” Annie uses her key to unlock his door for him, looks for his bags so she can help him, but he has nothing. She follows him in.
“Where the hell have you been?!?!” Annie notices a change in her friend. He’s got a different look to him, a glow. She can’t put her finger on it, but something is different. “Where the hell have you been?!?!” Joe smiles at her and says he “went to a shaman.”
“You went to a what?” He repeats himself. Annie has no clue what that is or what’s going on, but she wants her best friend around, and she’s glad he’s back. “What are you really talking about? Where the hell have you been?!?!”
Again, Joe repeats, “I went to a shaman.” Annie became flat-out annoyed at this juncture: gone for four days, no text, no call, got her all worried and absolutely sick because he was at a shaman?!? Not okay. “Well, fine then, I want to go to this shaman. I want to disappear and come back all peaceful and shit.”
Joe let out his sweet giggle and steered the conversation away from Annie’s request in a manner so artfully linguistic she didn’t notice. Joe knew Annie wasn’t ready. Her request to see the shaman was coming from a need for validation, someone to tell her what her identity is. Several months later, this event repeated. Joe disappears, comes back, and is different, even more peaceful. The second time he returns and she hears the familiar whistle, Annie launches at him in the breezeway with her pleas to meet this shaman. No hugs or happy to see yous, just a demand: “I want to meet this shaman.” Yet again, Joe artfully dodges her. She hasn’t, yet, reached the mind-frame needed to find her answer.
Two years go by in the interim between Joe’s first disappearance and his third one. During that period his ability to be removed from the worries and stressors of the everyday that most people, including Annie, find so difficult became noticeably effortless. Annie objectively observed, took notes, asked questions, did her own research, and work.
After his return from the third disappearance, Annie didn’t rush out when she heard the familiar melody of wind and jingle of key bells. She waited in her apartment, listened patiently to the sounds of Joe’s arrival through the not-so-soundproof-walls. Eventually she heard his front door open, close, a few easy footsteps, and then... a familiar knock on her door. This time, they were both different. Joe seemed whole, complete in his peace. Annie was standing strong in her desire to remember her identity.
They both stared at each other, unflinchingly, lovingly. Joe smiled at Annie, “Go ahead, ask me.” Annie took a deep breath and smiled back: “I want to meet the shaman. I want a teacher to help me evolve my peace and connection. I’ve done all I can on my own.” Joe leans in close to Annie, a chill runs across her supple charcoal flesh, he whispers, “Find The Farm.”
That was it; he got up and left after that without a word. It took six months and a lot of surrender, but in the spring of that second year, as the earth began her waking ritual, Annie came to the gate of a garden paradise, The Farm.
Lush vegetation poured over the garden walls and at the threshold of The Farm entrance was a sign reading: “Leave all your belongings in the basket. Put on the headset. Press play. Follow the tour.” Annie did as the sign requested. She came across fields of flora and fauna. Peonies, hydrangeas, lilacs, daisies, birds of paradise, tulips, bleeding hearts, cherry blossoms, dandelions, coneflowers, poppies, bluebonnets - a veritable rainbow of blossoms.
Annie sees a table in a clearing, walks to its edge, and the recording asks her, “If you could be any flower, what kind of flower would you be?” Annie is flooded with ideas of what she would be if she could be…
She thinks of her life, her father, her namesake, Joe, and the world she lives in as the tour guide’s voice playing in the headset waits patiently, silently. Then a pitcher, a cup, a saucer, and a vase of marigolds appear on the table. The tour guide declares gently in her ears, “Drink the tea.” Annie did as the voice requested. She becomes overwhelmed with lethargy, feels her body drop to the ground and watches her eyelids lose the battle and close...
Annie opens her eyes. Fields of southwest landscape stretch further than she can see. Mounds, mountains of cacti. All she can think is, “It’s beautiful” - desolate yet alive, barren yet full. She has a feeling inside, one she’s never experienced before, an ultimate warmth - a depth. It’s a knowing she’s never known.
She looks down to a trail leading out from her position - lining both sides of the cobblestone path, leading away from where she sits - to a stream of people, waiting to come to her voice. Gifts of the ancestors who came before these create the stone trail fence - from them to her. Their eyes follow the path up to her feet, to her eyes, and surround her as she sits in lotus position.
Her hands are rough, knotted from arthritis, but they don’t hurt, that’s just how they look. She wears a loose dress made of muslin. Its flowing, gauzy material is meticulously embroidered with colors, flowers, symbols she recognizes from images she’s seen of Dia de los Muertos celebrations.
The eyes she looks out of are not hers, but they are. She knows that. She knows she’s in Mexico. She has no clue what year it is - doesn’t matter. She looks to the horizon, down the lined path and sees an elderly woman coming toward her. The woman is hunched and frail, barely able to step and holds a bouquet of marigolds in her hand.
Annie wants to help the woman walk. The urge courses through her body as she watches the woman moving slowly, feebly. Annie thinks to herself. “I could easily carry the woman to the altar where I sit,” but the knowing stops her. Annie stays still like the cacti mountains in her periphery, making up the horizon - surrounding the scene she sits in.
She hears a voice. It's mature, feminine. The tone is deep, raspy, but not scratchy. It says, “Quiet your mind, and know. Listen and know.” So Annie does. She quiets her mind - her thoughts about this delicate woman coming to her. She hears the voice saying, “This woman is coming to you. She is prostrating with her movements. You do not need to help her. This is her offering. This is what she finds sacred. Just receive it. Enjoy it. Be blessed by it and bless her back.”
Annie breaks concentration, exasperated by the voice’s suggestion, while having the thought: “I don’t know how to bless anybody! What am I supposed to do?!?” The velvet voice again brings her a sense of warm calm, “Quiet your mind, and know. Listen and know. You have this wisdom. You can do this. You are this. Breathe. Quiet your mind, and know. Listen and know.” Annie breathes, quiets her mind, listens.
The old woman makes her way to Annie’s feet where she lays the bouquet of marigolds. Annie looks down at the marigolds. Her gaze follows the woman as she climbs back up the rungs of her osteoporosis. Annie peers into the pupils of this soul and she sees diamonds of the Motherland nestled amidst the wrinkles of her skin. The wrinkles show her age, her life of crinkled leather from toiling in the sun. Annie can feel the woman: her being, her essence, her soul. She receives this energy from her as they stare at one another. The woman begins to weep.
Annie remains still, unmoved like the cacti mountains in her periphery, making up the horizon - surrounding the scene she sits in. Annie knows her steadiness is part of the blessing, her healing, they’re healing. The woman finishes weeping, bends down and kisses Annie’s bunioned, calloused feet, repeating over and over like a meditative OM, “gracias, gracias, gracias.” Annie bows her head to the woman as she shuffles away and closes her eyes to take a breath and smile. She wakes up - looking out at a different unknown, known.
Annie rises in a field of marigolds. Wearing a red velvet dress, her hair is up, peacock feathers adorn her messy chignon, a wide brimmed hat with turkey feathers lays on the ground next to her. She intuitively picks it up, puts it on and starts walking, no questions asked. She crests the marigold hill and in the distance sees what she thinks is the shaman - standing with his back to her.
But she’s wrong, it’s Joe. He turns to her, leans in close, a chill runs across her supple charcoal flesh, and whispers, “If you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be?”