First Death, Second Birth Returning to 'The Secret Garden'

| Personal Essay

By Angela Rodriguez

When I was nine years old, I read “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I think that was when I was born.

Something inside me bloomed open, my eyes filled with stars, and suddenly there was magic everywhere I looked. With every word I read on the crisp pages of that book, I began anew. It was a wonder to me, more impressive than a man swallowing swords or parting an ocean, the way a person can mold mere letters on a page into an entire life, coaxing endless emotion from a reader’s chest and making them believe, wholeheartedly, that the words on that page mattered. 

I fell in love with it — writing —in all its forms. I read like it was a necessity. I pored over fantasy novels, biographies, history books, dictionaries—anything I could get my hands on. My little hands reverently smoothed the pages as if they were something holy. 

I read with a flashlight under my blankets, I read on the car ride to and from school, I read all throughout birthday parties, baptisms, weddings, on plastic tables as musica de banda blared around me, I read at the dinner table (my older books bear testimony with smudged stains of chile and who-knows-what). I read as if it were a lifeline, because in some ways it was.

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Angela-reading
Angela Rodriguez

When I was 12 years old, I began to write.

Little nonsense stories, most of them imitations of my favorite books. Perry Johnson saves the world from creek gods. A little girl finds out there is magic living inside her. A pair of siblings rises from the ashes of an orphanage and become rock stars. They were messy, senseless stories, but they were mine. I loved them. 

Now I am 17 years old and I have failed two consecutive semesters of English, a subject I once adored.

It is a special sort of agony to become estranged from your life’s love. 

The pandemic twisted all our lives into unrecognizable things. For me, it meant various trips to Mexico where I became isolated in many ways. It meant taking care of my three nephews, helping one with his homework, holding another against my hip, making a sandwich for the third, all while the sound of a teacher’s voice echoed from my computer. 

My inner foundation crumbled under the weight of responsibility and loneliness, and I sank into a deep depression. I was drowning while standing on solid ground. The surface of the water was just above my head and yet I could not reach it, I could not even bring myself to try. So I sank.

For an entire year, I could not face myself. 

My phone would ring with notifications of English assignments, assignments that I would normally adore. I ignored them. I did not write. I did not read. 

Martha Graham once said, “A dancer dies twice. The day she leaves this earth is her second death. The first comes the day she no longer dances.” 

Writers dance between reality and fiction, between the future and the present, between dreaming and waking. I am a writer, and at 17 I died my first death.

I am reading “The Secret Garden” once again. 

I pour myself over the words, sigh with grief as I caress the stains of my childhood on those old pages, and in those ink letters, I greet wonder like an old friend. 

I breathe in deeply the smell of dead tree, and I let myself be born again. 

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.