It started as an ailment to curiosity.
I was walking home from school one spring day when I saw a statue of a little bearded man standing happily in Mrs. Crenshaw's garden. I ventured into her yard for a closer look and he stood there in an unmoving, unflinching happy pose. Wondering how it would feel, I slid gracefully into the garden and stood beside him, doing my best to mimic his contentedness with a version of my own.
It was a five-minute jaunt. No more. Harmless, as far as I could tell.
When I stepped out of the garden I felt a rush unlike any feeling I'd ever felt. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed me. To my knowledge, no one had.
Taking my path again, I made my way home, quickening my pace so as not to arouse any suspicions from my mother regarding my tardiness. When nothing came of my indiscretion I felt relieved. A full week commenced before I got up the nerve to try it again.
The rain felt as good as the sunshine. Mrs. Crenshaw was not one of those 1950s women who stayed home and kept house. She was more like the women who left the house alone during the day showing themselves every bit as capable of joyful employment as the men they love. With no one home, I managed to take advantage of the opportunity.
As I stepped into Mrs. Crenshaw's garden the second time, I felt the soft ground sink beneath my overly shod feet. It had rained for most of the day. The drizzle at that moment made the adventure all the more exciting. The little man seemed as happy in the rain as he had been in the sun.
I was at first apprehensive about the weather, but upon assuming the most trance-like pose I could imagine I realized that I was living the best ten minutes of my life. The rain blasting my face made me a new boy. My life had new meaning.
I soon found myself in Mrs. Crenshaw's garden every day. Sometimes it was for a quick two-minute fix. Other times I lingered for a full half hour. But I always managed to make it home in time for dinner. If my dalliances aroused Mother's suspicions she never voiced any concerns.
It wasn't long before my short daily stints as Mrs. Crenshaw's garden gnome weren't enough. I had to have more. I snuck out of the house one night impelled by an urge I could not control.
I waited until my parents went to bed at quarter after midnight. Then I quietly pulled myself from the bed, traded my pajamas for day clothes and crept my way to Mrs. Crenshaw's house in the dark. It was the most mood-enhancing three hours of my existence.
It then became my nightly mission to be the best garden gnome in the city. Mrs. Crenshaw's garden wasn't enough. I found myself taking different paths home from school every day to scout the locations of other gardens. At night after my parents retired to sleep in their cozy sheets, I would make my way to a different garden and personify myself as the resident garden gnome. I eventually did so without divesting myself of my pajamas.
At Old Man Johnson's house, I got jealous. The permanent garden gnome didn't seem to like me being there. I removed him and set him on the front porch with his back toward me. It was the greatest pleasure I'd ever known. A whole garden all to myself for five straight hours.
I liked full moon nights best. The rays of hope upon my face made me the happiest garden gnome in any garden on any night. But I always enjoyed the garden under any unchangeable conditions.
It mattered not what plants, what fruit, what vegetables, what flora may have been occupying a garden, or whose house, church, school, business, or government building hosted it. My life as a garden gnome was the most fulfilling it could have been. I was happiest when standing without movement under the moon and stars. But soon, standing under the moon became a monotonous chore. I looked for ways to make it more interesting, to bring back that waning exhilaration that once made my life complete.
I removed my pajamas, standing naked in whatever natural or unnatural light, if any, might be present. I posed with cigarettes in my mouth, which had to be lifted from my parents' nightstand while they slept. I stood with one leg raised. I sampled various poses – the sailor pose, the schoolboy pose, the hard worker pose, and poses which had no name. My life as a garden gnome took on a whole new level of satisfaction. But even then I would eventually grow weary again, seeking new challenges.
My grades began to slide. Sharply. I fell asleep in class. Miss Pataki once threw a book at me to stop me from snoring. My parents had a conference with the school principal. They grounded me. I was even suspended from school for one week due to a lunchtime lack of judgment that found me in the school's Japanese garden behind the automotive shop. Another student caught me sneaking in, taking off my clothes, and inserting one of Mr. Brondshell's cigars into my mouth before taking up a pose as a merchant marine. My secret was out.
Eventually, I turned to a life of crime. It was the only recourse I had. No one understood the pleasure I derived from standing in gardens. I couldn't get anyone's permission to be their unpaid garden gnome. Garden owners didn't understand what beauty I found standing motionless and without purpose in their well-kept gardens. I was forced to slink into gardens when no one could detect me. I became a hapless cur. It became a never ending passion and I soon found myself standing in gardens every minute of the day. Even at the local police precinct.
The chief wasn't happy. He cuffed me. He took me inside, booked me, put me behind bars. And thus was the beginning of my career as a criminal garden gnome. Today I am in prison. Minimum security. Nonetheless, I am a prisoner of my own addiction. I am blessed that the prison staff let me stand in the warden's oft-neglected garden unabated by guilt or their attempts to rehabilitate me.