whatsthatyousaymrsrobinson

In the first month after my husband bailed on our 21 year marriage, I lay on the floor and cried. The second month I lay on the bed and cried. Then I got up, dusted myself off, selected a couple of items of clothing that still fit after all those months on the sheer misery diet, and ventured forth into the world of single.

The Friend

I lost a friend recently. She lived long and bravely and with great cheer and heart. She faced every misfortune, and there were many in her life, with a complete absence of self pity.

Extended ill health, divorce, major life changes that robbed her of a prosperous upper middle class lifestyle, nothing seemed to dent her shining commitment to extract the best from every situation, no matter how wretched it might appear on the surface.

Cancer got her in the end. She died from lung cancer. She never smoked, but, hey, cancer didn’t care. It cornered her anyway. She was diagnosed one week and the next she was gone. Leaving those who loved her, who love her still, torn between selfishly wishing for more time, just a week or three, maybe, and grateful that she is now beyond the reach of the worst kind of pain.

My last conversation with her took place on a Saturday morning. I squeezed it in between coffee and the gym. It was short, but not because I had somewhere to be. Several years ago my friend had a massive stroke that robbed her of her mobility and power of speech. It robbed her of almost everything, actually. The last seven years of her life her vocabulary was that of a two year old. She could understand what you said to her, at least I think she could, but what she said was largely a mystery.

That she survived the stroke at all was a kind of twisted turn of fate. A dedicated Christian Scientist, she did not believe in medical intervention. She didn’t go to a regular doctor, who might have been able to head off the stroke as is done these days, with drugs and what have you. Stroke was written pretty plainly in her family medical history. It would have been easy to spot. But nobody spotted it because she didn’t ask anybody to.

However, the day she had the stroke she was visiting her grandson. She collapsed. He called the ambulance. And from then on she was forced to take her fate out of the hands of the god of Christian Science and place it in the hands of medicine.  The irony was not lost on her children, and it pained them to go against her wishes, but by then there was no choice.

And so she lived the last years of her life unable to do much of anything. Not even read. She loved to read. I bought her a handbag once, years ago. A spanking smart French canvas thing that was all the rage at the time, and she said one of the reasons she especially liked it was because “there was always room for one more book”.

With reading denied to her she started drawing. With her left hand, even though she’s right handed. She would draw beautiful pen sketches of the birds that landed outside her window and of the photos of her family and friends that surrounded her in the nursing home. She would send me the drawings, and I would recognize myself, because I was one of the people whose photo was on her nightstand.

I would send things back; photos, bangles that I bought on my trips to Africa. Lavender from my garden. I wanted her to have a sensory experience.

And that was how we communicated for years. Letters and notes back and forward; snapshots of our lives. Small things but embedded in them a larger message; I love you, I’m thinking about you, even though I’m not near you.

We shared a birthday. She gave me one of the best birthday presents I have ever received. It was a couple of weeks after 9/11 and we all of us were filled with dread for the future, afraid of what was going to fall out of the sky next.

She sent me a bag of daffodils and a trowel. Wait till spring, the unspoken message was, things will be different. It feels terrible now but in time it won’t.

In November I dug holes and planted the bulbs and waited while the ground froze over and it snowed and then the ground thawed and the plants sprang to life. And things were different. As she knew they would be.

I was thinking about her this morning when I woke up and how she wasn’t that much older than me when I first met her. And the reason I met her was because her son and I were about to get married.  I would never have met her if I hadn’t married her son.

Gratitude is not one of my gifts. Sarcasm, cynicism, pessimism I have in abundance. Gratitude takes work for me. Nevertheless I have been trying to salvage pleasant memories from my married days. One or two, here and there. It’s hard, like I said. When you find out that everything you thought was true is a lie, it’s hard to excavate the goodness. The lie seems to plaster everything with crud.

But it wasn’t all crud. I learned so much from my friend. Not from anything she ever said, but by what she did. Who she was; her stubborn refusal to ever feel sorry for herself. Her dogged capacity to take whatever life offered and twist it so as to see its best, most shining facet.

I would like to be like her one day. I really would.

 

The Birthday Cake

I received an email this week. In my inbox, which is where emails usually arrive. It informed me that my chronicle-blog-whatever was one year old. And it was accompanied by a rather endearing graphic, which featured a slice of cake with a single candle in it.

Now I’m not much one for cake. Alright. I don’t like cake. Okay, I hate cake. I’m more of a salt person. But I was enchanted with the graphic. It must have reminded me of something I’d seen as a kid or something. I kept going back to it. Looking at it.

And then I started to think; one year. Anniversary. Holy crap, I should take stock!

Okay, so it’s been one year since it started trying to make sense of what happened to me. And the way that I make sense of things is that I tell stories. About me. About my friends. About the people that I meet.

So now I have to tell the story about how my writing about all this crap is one year old.

How do I do that? As usual, I have no idea. So I’m just going to plunge in.

I had to see my ex the other day. By which I mean he had to see me. As I have already mentioned, we work in the same building, and usually, when he runs into me he pretends to have a very important message on his phone. Or he crosses the street. But the other day I had to face him. In mediation. We are sorting out our separation agreement. Divorce is close. We just have to agree on the settlement and put our signatures on some papers and then the papers will be filed and will make their turgid way through the New York court system. And, at some point in the future, we will no longer be married.

And I was surprised how much hurt I could still wring out of the situation. It hurt that he couldn’t hide his eagerness to be legally shot of me. Still, after all this time, it hurts that he can’t find it in his heart to be gracious about that, to hide that impulse to inflict pain.

I thought he was a bigger man. I thought he was a kinder man. In that, as in so many things, I suppose I was wrong.

I felt like crying in the meeting, in front of the lawyer and everything. But I didn’t. I waited till I got out of the meeting, and was making my way back to work. I cried a little, not a lot. And it’s New York. Nobody notices. Or if they do they’re too practiced in the art of being New Yorkers that they don’t register it.

And it made me think I haven’t cried my last tears yet. Because he’s still that kind of man. And he still has that power.

Still, a year has passed since I began this epistle of terror and pain and friendship and joy and lust. And I would like to take stock but I don’t really know how to do that accurately.

My impressions would be snapshots. Polaroids accurate at the time of their taking, but after which they quickly begin to fade.

Take the other day, for example. I was thinking about life and was filled with an unaccountable and profound sense of gratitude to my ex for giving me no choice but to forge this wild new path.

When I thought about all this year has given me; new friends, crazy adventures, the company of kind and fun men and women that I would not have met otherwise, I should be sending my ex a bouquet.

For instance, I spent last Sunday night in a Haitian jazz club. Dancing and having a splendid time. The Trayvon Martin verdict had just been announced and it was all over the television screens, but the Haitians, because they are fully conversant with racial injustice in all its permutations, shrugged and danced.

And danced.

The stagnant waters of my marriage would not have allowed for such unalloyed frivolity. No, they would not have.

It was one of those evenings when you wake the next day and think, ‘yeah!’

And yet I still haven’t figured out how to afford to buy my apartment. Or indeed what I will do for a living on January first. Maybe there won’t be anything to do. Maybe I won’t have anywhere to live.

The Norman has re-emerged with fresh promises of employment in Europe, and he remains optimistic that he can put me in that picture. But still. Nothing is definite.

So that’s all I know is that I don’t know.

But that feeling doesn’t engender the same sense of panic that it did a year ago.

I’m learning that this feral life, without a husband, without a discernible plan, is fun for me right now.

It suits me to roll with it. To wake up on Sunday morning and have no idea that I will end the evening in a Haitian jazz club with a handsome friend who dances like the devil on day release.

At this very moment, and it is only a snapshot, I like this life.

And I’m learning to live with the banal truth that you have to embrace the lows if you want to enjoy the highs. 

The Egyptian Part Two

 

The Egyptian was right of course. The wise and kind and wonderful woman knew just what I needed. She had somebody she wanted me to meet. And she knew that when I did that everything would change. My life would turn around in the space of a few seconds.

I fell in love.

As I’ve already said, writing about love is like taking the pin out of a hand grenade and not throwing it. I don’t usually touch love. That’s why we have the romantic poets. They did all the heavy lifting, and I for one am grateful. I’m neither romantic, nor a poet.

I couldn’t have come up with the darling buds of May if my hair was on fire.

Also, most of us know what love is like. You don’t need me to tell you. Requited or unrequited it’s the same deal: you feel life’s possibilities more intensely. You feel recharged and reborn. You feel like you belong to your life and are not just a spectator.

It’s nice, that feeling. That’s why we lust after it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I talk about my new love, I want to talk about my old love; New York City. Yesterday she was trying especially hard to please. She has even recently created bike share, just because she knew that I would like it. So yesterday I arose early, claimed my rented bike and rode over the Manhattan Bridge and down to the East River waterfront where I made my way to Battery Park City to meet the Egyptian and her friends. It was a clear, hot beautiful day. The harbor was stunning. The Brooklyn Bridge was stunning. The Staten Island ferry, the Statue of Liberty, you get the picture; New York was saying ‘take that, bitches’ to anybody who cared to listen.

The Egyptian and her friends have created what they call Bee Village in Battery Park. They have six hives, which they’ve decorated in the manner or the earliest colonizers. Wee Dutch houses for the bees. With gables and shingle roofs and suchlike. They’re painted in primrose and pink. You have to trust me when I say it’s beyond adorable.

We went to the storage area and claimed our gear—bee keeping suits, smokers (to calm the bees when the hives are opened) and gloves. I asked the Egyptian about the banana ban and she said bananas confuse bees because they smell the same as the Queen bee’s pheromones.

Fair enough. Bees are clever little buggers, but they can’t know everything.

We carried out gear over to where the bees live and suited up.

Some people are afraid of bees, but I’m not. My father was obsessed with bees and used to lecture me extensively about their habits. Even as a small child I knew that bees only sting as a last resort, for the simple reason that a bee has to choose between stinging and living.

So we’re standing in the park and I’m zipping up my suit. It’s hotter than hell and sweat is pouring off me. I’m fully clothed and wearing a bee suit, hat and veil. And tight rubber gloves. And the bees are buzzing around us. Some are flying, some are toiling away in the hives and a lot are clinging to the outsides. One of the Egyptian’s bee colleagues, a calm good humored man who used to race Formula One cars, told me that the bees on the outside are fanning their wings to regulate the temperature in the hive. They keep it at about 90 degrees. They do this year round.

Awesome. Bees.  

Then the Formula One racer opened the first hive. And that’s when it happened.

I fell in love.

I just stood there, stunned. Staring at the bees. It was one of the most beautiful, compelling, magnetic things I’ve ever seen. I felt as if my life had opened up in some subtle yet profound way.

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest, Knight of the Garter, philanthropist and diplomat, used to, whenever he had to describe his occupation, say ‘beekeeper’. I used to think he was being modest.

He was being proud.

Beekeeping is some noble fucking shit. The hours that I spent with my friends and the bees were among the happiest of the past year.

I’ll shut up now about bees. Except to say get yourself to a hive and look at them and then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Oh, and as far as the man the Egyptian wanted me to meet? She was right about him too, in a way. I found out that he’s Armenian and he was raised in Lebanon. Clever, well read, well traveled, multi lingual. I liked him enormously.  I like meeting people from other cultures and finding out who their writers and historians are. I got a number of book suggestions from him and went home and downloaded them. And felt very grateful to him when I saw that he had excellent taste and the writing was thrilling.

And the next morning, energized and still euphoric from my bee encounter, I got up and went to the community garden and pottered around for an hour or so.

I wanted to make sure that if some bees were to chance by, they would have everything they needed. 

The Rogue

Let me introduce you to the rogue. I have been wanting to tell his story, or at least the part of his story as it relates to me, for some time now. But I was waiting for the moment.

The rogue has been in and out of my life for four months. When he’s around, he shines very, very brightly. He dazzles all. I cannot over emphasize this. The man can talk paint off walls. Seriously. I have lesbian friends who look a little glassy-eyed in his presence. He’s a tennis coach. He has dreadlocks half way down his back. He’s a walking anatomy lesson. He can probably bench press his own weight. I have no idea. I know that he lifts me as easily as if I was a cup of coffee.

I weigh a not inconsiderable amount.

So the rogue comes. He charms. He conquers. And them he flakes out.

This is fine. If you accept the rogue on his terms, you will not be disappointed. It’s like a meteor. It passes the place where you live every now and then and it’s sparkly and wonderful. And then it’s off on its own trajectory. Into its own rogue-like universe.

And then. Just when I think I’ve seen the last of him, he pops up again.

The rogue is back. Demanding to know why you haven’t invited him over to dinner or introduced him to your friends or asked him to your parties. (Blithely forgetting that he hasn’t returned your calls and that you have invited him to your parties and he has declined to show.)

It sounds bad, on paper. I know. And I am by no means a pushover. It’s just that I’ve developed a fondness for the rogue.

As a friend once said about a mutual colleague; “It’s easy to get angry with her. It’s hard to stay angry with her for very long.”

The rogue does not have a mean bone in his superbly put together body. In fact, I’ve stopped being angry with him. It’s just so much easier to put yourself in neutral and accept the rogue on his own terms.

So far, this is not a story. This is just me, indulging somebody whom I probably should not.

But the rogue story took an abrupt left turn this week.

He called me at eight in the morning and asked if he could come over. I said sure. I hadn’t heard from him for a while. I was wondering what was going on.

I’ve been in prison, the rogue said. He got into a fight with a guy and punched him and ended up in Riker’s Island. For a week. Before he could get bail. He couldn’t call anybody. Nobody knew where he was.

I made the rogue strong coffee and listened to his story. Prison had shaken him up—and the rogue is an Army veteran. He’s seen some stuff.

Prison shook him to the core.  Just one week. He made a joke about hitting the American institutional trifecta—Army, university, prison—but it sounded a little hollow.

I did my best for the rogue, who is clearly in shock. I know shock. I’ve lived shock for some time now. Different source, but same effect. He can’t concentrate. He forgets stuff. He got a parking ticket when he came to my house because he didn’t read the signs properly. He says he’s not in his head. That’s how he describes it. He was charged with a felony. It’s been downgraded to a misdemeanor, but still. He has to go to court. And in the meantime he can’t leave the state.

So I did the best I could for the rogue. I listened to him. I said he could call me any time and I would be there. Before he left I hugged him and he felt as frail as a child. He is by no means frail. It was just the impression I had.

Part of me wonders what he was thinking when he punched that guy. He’s black. Brooklyn born and raised. He’s clever. He knows what happens to black men when they dance with the legal system. He has a young daughter. Five years old. He has a life. He has a career.

I wanted to ask the rogue those questions. But I didn’t. They would serve no purpose. The deed is done. The other guy has been punched. By a black guy with dreads.

Best thing to do is to ride it out.

So the rogue calls me today and asks me if I will write him a character reference.  The rogue is not a writer and he attaches special importance to the fact that I am.

I gently point out that I don’t know him very well. What would I say? I met him in a bar. I picked him up in a bar, for goodness sake. Four months ago? These kinds of biographical niceties are not going to slay anybody in officialdom.

There must be somebody else, surely? I counter. Someone who knows you better. I can help them write a sterling letter. And even if I did know you well, I’m a nobody. I say.  I don’t even have a proper job. I’m paddling towards ignominy as fast as the current will take me.

The rogue remains committed to the idea.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to handle this. Part of me, the writerly part, relishes the challenge. The part of me that is a friend to the rogue wants to do whatever I can for him.

And I have a sense about the rogue. That he’s a decent guy. I’m usually not wrong about these things. I have a fairly solid bullshit detector. But still, I can’t escape the feeling that anything I would say would be largely made up. 

I would feel that it’s true. But it wouldn’t be. Not really.

I don’t know what’s the right thing to do.

The Egyptian

 

 

I have a very unique relationship with the Egyptian. I have known her for nine years and I sincerely want to be her when I grow up. She is cultured and elegant and gentle and clever. She is trilingual. She is very good at what she does, which is taking photographs. She is aging with style and confidence. I seriously covet her jewelry collection.

There is nobody I know who doesn’t adore her.

For a long time we worked in the same building. We would have conversations about movies and books and clothes and Palestine. She has very strong opinions about Palestine.

Yet we never met outside of work. Not once, not for coffee or a meal or anything.  We often talked about it. We never did it. She would tell me to go and see a movie and I would and we’d discuss it afterwards, but we never went together.

Until a couple of years ago when I got it into my head that I wanted to keep bees. So I signed up for a course, which took place over several weeks in the frigid depths of winter. It began at some unseemly hour on a Sunday morning, and the entire class would stumble in, clutching coffees like they were the last life rafts on the Titanic.

Bees are amazing in many, many ways. Not the least of which is that we wouldn’t be here without them. If the bees go, the human race is for the high jump. We will cease to exist. More people should know this. It seems kind of important.

 But I digress. The point is I told the Egyptian how great bees were and she thought they sounded pretty great too. So she came to the course. And we saw each other outside the office for the first time.

I don’t know why I didn’t follow up with the bees, I think it might have been one of those community garden issues. Bees are great in principle, but getting a hundred or so community gardeners to agree to a hive seemed like a gargantuan task, and I had quite lost my stomach for the delights of community garden politics.

So I dropped the idea of bees. The Egyptian did not. She retired and put bee-keeping quite near the top of her to-do list. And now she has hives in Battery Park City and on the Upper West Side.

The bees give her joy there is no doubt about that. And she remains inexplicably grateful to me for putting the idea in her head.

Every now and then I would get an email from her, inviting me to come and see her bees. And I would reply that it was a good idea and that I would like to do it. I didn’t do it.

About a year ago, shortly after my ex husband had left, I ran into the Egyptian and I told her the news. She didn’t offer me any sympathy. She didn’t even seem particularly surprised. She talked instead about adapting to life’s changing tides and how important it was to meet the challenge of not holding onto the past. I don’t know if she learned this the hard way. I know almost nothing about her personal circumstances, except that she has family in Cairo and she wants to live in the Hudson Valley one day.

I ran into the Egyptian last week, she was attending the party of another colleague who was retiring.

You are often in my thoughts. You must come and see my bees and I have a friend I want you to meet, she said. All in one breath.

Fine, I said. Love to. I’m starting to dig my life out from the rubble. No reason I shouldn’t visit a beehive or two.

A couple of days later, I get an email setting the time and place and mentioning that her friend will also be there. And then I get another email, bolting extra elements onto the original plan, “Please wear socks, long pants, no bananas nor perfume,” it read.

I read the email though, immediately discarding the banana-themed outfit I had picked out for the visit, and saw that she had mentioned the friend again, by name.  

It’s a foreign name, and one that I have never heard before, I can’t even pin a nationality to it, but I’m going take a wild leap into the unknown and assume that he is male. And that I’m being set up.

To say that I have mixed feelings about this to say that the Grand Canyon is a rather nice hole in the ground.

First thing’s first. The I’m-my-mother’s-daughter part of me thinks I’ve never been set up before and am not sure what the etiquette is. How is one supposed to act? What exactly is the form? What if I fail the set-up etiquette test? I hate failing tests.

The single-and-enjoying-it part of me is weeping and wailing and gnashing her teeth and whispering that I should invent an exotic illness and run as far and as fast as I can. 

I text the jazz singer for advice. “Be as picky as you like,” she shoots back. “Think of it like clothes shopping.”

Valid counsel, for sure. Still, it seems slightly, I don’t know, complicated. When there are trusted friends involved. And I do trust the Egyptian. I don’t want to do the wrong thing. I don’t know what the right thing is.

But this fretting may be for nothing. I may have it completely wrong. It’s possible. I’ve been wrong before. Wrong and me are on quite intimate terms, in fact. Maybe the man with the exotic name is her gay BFF.

Mulling it over as I rode home tonight, I decided to relax and proceed with the plan. I’ll go, banana and perfume free, and meet the bees and the man with the exotic name. Because of the way I frame things these days, there’s really no choice.

When you bolt endless curiosity onto my insatiable craving for a good story, I can’t say no.

If I sit home, if I don’t be brave, I don’t keep recovering. And I don’t have anything to write about. 

The Party Guest

This story may seem like nothing. But it’s not nothing. It’s a small thing, but it’s actually kind of important.

It’s about food.

It’s spring. Spring is my favorite time for food. Rhubarb and peas and strawberries smaller than golf balls. Salads composed of bits of green with tiny leaves.

That kind of thing.

When I was married I was a regular haunter of farmers’ markets. They were my favorite places to hang out. If I was on vacation I would make a point of going to the farmer’s market. I was always happy there. I always felt at home. My father is a gardener. My grandfather was a farmer. I felt as if I belonged.

When I was married I used to go to farmer’s markets and I used to cook.  And then suddenly I was unmarried and I stopped eating, which is the way I deal with stress. I stop eating.

So I dropped, like, 20 pounds. Because I couldn’t even force food down my throat. I don’t know why that is, it’s just what I do. When I’m under stress, I don’t eat.

All well and good. As I have already said, I’m miserable, but hey, at least I’m thin. Small consolation, but consolation nonetheless.

I’m shallow that way. 

The downside was that I began to walk around farmers’ markets like a ghost. All that lovely food, but I didn’t have anybody to cook for.  I didn’t buy any food. I would walk around, but I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t feel as if I deserved it.

I didn’t cook. I was too busy being miserable and thin.

Last weekend I spent the day at one of my favorite places on earth, a secluded part of the Hudson River. The occasion was a birthday party and it was at the weekend home of some new friends. I’ve been to the house before, because it used to be owned by some old friends. They sold it to the new friends and in the fabulous way that often happens in New York, the new and old friends got on, and have cobbled together two sets of people who meet in the same place and do the same thing of a weekend.

But the interesting thing about this party was that I got to spend time with people my own age. And I realized that this is unusual for me. Almost all of my friends are lot younger than me. I don’t know why this is, but it happens to be so.

It was salutary to hang out with people my own age.  And to talk. Because they have all been through what I’ve been through. They’re on the other side now. Re-coupled and feeling happy and grateful for that. But they’ve not forgotten what being where I am is like. And that’s why I liked them. They bear their scars with grace and they remember what it was like. They remember the pain.

And they have advice.

So I’m telling my story about not eating and having nobody to cook for. And my new friend corrects me, very gently. ‘You have somebody to cook for,” she says, “yourself.”

No, no, I demur. I can’t cook. I’ll get fat. I have to starve myself because I’m miserable and, besides, I like to be thin.

“No,” she says. “Cook healthy foods. You won’t get fat.”

No, no, I say, that’s not going to work.

“Yes it will,” she says, politely but firmly. “Cook for yourself. I did it.”

So it seems like a little thing, but it’s actually a big thing. Because after I had that conversation I went to the farmer’s market and bought fava beans.

Now, I love fava beans but they are, not to put too fine a point on it, a major pain in the backside. First, you have to take them out of their pods, and then you have to shell the little assholes. I mean, really. It takes for-fucking-ever.

My husband and I used to do it together. And it did take for-fucking-ever. But we didn’t mind. What, it’s like three weeks out of the year?

So I’m shelling fava beans on my own. And waiting for friends to come over, but that’s another story.  Here I am, on my own, shelling fava beans. For a meal I am going to eat on my own.

The point is, I made my own food. I shelled those fucking pain-in-the-backside beans and made a clever sauce with olive oil and garlic and ricotta cheese.

Alright that last part is lie. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. No, it really wasn’t. I am really not a gifted cook. The whole thing needed something that I could not provide. And I couldn’t be bothered to follow a recipe so I just made shit up.

It wasn’t great. By no means.

But that wasn’t the point.

The point was I did it. I shelled fava beans.  For myself. 

The Gardeners

I find it difficult to write about gardening.

It’s like tomatoes. Eating the fruit is fine. Lovely. Easily the most popular plant in our community garden. Everybody loves them. We harvest bushels of them every year. Eating the leaves is problematic, however, because tomatoes belong to the nightshade family.

Nice one, evolution.

Community gardening is like that. The idea of it is grand. The practice is a little more complex.

It’s complex because it involves having to deal with people whom I would normally edit out of my life. I have no time for rudeness or passive aggressive displays of temperament. I choose my friends very carefully. Yes, they have to be clever, funny and reasonably well read, but civility is the baseline.

Rudeness and passive aggressiveness are the engines that fire community gardens. It’s true. Ask any community gardener and they will tell you. Gardens are cauldrons of seething resentment, years-old petty rivalries and political shenanigans that would make Machiavelli blanch. A person wandering unsuspectingly into a community garden meeting might be forgiven for thinking that most people were there solely to rejoice in the opportunity to be unpleasant to a wider range of people.

I used to be very involved in my community garden and I was in demand for the simple reason that I know what’s a weed and what isn’t. This is important knowledge because people join community gardens for a range of reasons and knowledge of gardening, or indeed any desire to learn what’s required to maintain a garden, is low down the list.

You can see what’s happening, right? You can hear the snarkiness seeping into my tone? I can feel myself growing more and more acerbic as I recall the years of insults and slights. The shouting, the ugly emails. The public listserve shaming. All over issues that I’ve completely forgotten.

The anger I remember. The rest has slipped away.

And I stayed away from the people in the garden this past year because I had enough to deal with. My ex-husband had enumerated my faults to an exhaustive degree. I didn’t need anybody else weighing in.

But I was in the garden today and several other people were there. This was bad planning on my part. I normally choose my garden hours to avoid others. But today I had a task that needed to be done. I had to turn the compost. It could not be put off.

The cast of characters in our community garden changes every year, but there are some constants. And the people who knew me were happy to see me. And I was happy to do a little weed identification for them.

And I had had a solitary weekend. It was by my own choice, but still. Too much solitude is not good for the soul. So I was happy on Sunday morning to be back in the garden. Pointing out weeds. Pinching the suckers off tomatoes. Indulging little light watering. Getting caught up with my neighbors. Hoping that the kids who were there would catch the gardening bug from their elders as I had done from my father.

I like gardening. It’s just gardeners that I don’t like.

Oh, hang about.

Because when I started writing this down, thinking about all the anger and pettiness and just plain ridiculous behavior over the years, I started thinking too about what the garden had given me. And as usual, I have everything backwards.

The garden, in many ways, saved my life. Because of it I have lasting friendships. Those friendships were forged in very hard physical labor. We built the garden from scratch, which meant bringing in all the topsoil by hand. We didn’t have a water supply, so we had to jack a fire hydrant half a block away and fill our rain barrels that way.

Water is heavy. So is topsoil.

Back in the pioneering days, to reward ourselves for all this, we used to have parties that would only make sense if you slipped the word bacchanalian into the sentence. We would do it every week. Slap some food on the grill, turn up the music and go for it, all sunburn and aching muscles and sweat.

After 9/11 we gathered in the garden with candles and we couldn’t think of anything to say, so we just stood there. Same with Hurricane Katrina. We went to the garden because we couldn’t think what else to do.

I’ve danced at three weddings because of friends I met in the garden. I’ve knitted hats and sweaters for the children of those marriages. Gardeners helped me through this year—even though many of them have moved away, they were present with phone calls and emails and visits and offers of sanctuary. In very important ways I’m still standing because of gardeners. The mid-Westeners are my next door neighbors because we met in the garden. And I haven’t written about the South Africans but they’ve been there all along. Generous, gracious, loving. Unflagging is the word for them.

So being in the garden again today, after being away for so long, made me think about my life. About the milestones that the garden has marked. And how you can’t really tell which parts of your life will turn out to be good or which parts will turn out to be bad. All of which is useful knowledge, in a philosophical sense.

So now I’m thinking. Maybe I’ll go back to the garden. Take the good with the bad.

Maybe it’s time.

Because the good is always exponentially better than the bad.

 

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