Yesterday I planted for the first time in the raised bed planter that was last April’s birthday gift. I meant to plant then, but we were heading out of town for three weeks, and then it was summer, which is unspeakably hot around here and lingers until the middle of October, and then it was winter, and this winter has been wet and windy with surprising cold snaps, and so today in full but feeble sunshine, I finally did the planting.
It was only when the seedlings someone else had started were in the trunk of my car that I realized I have never planted anything before—not really. I transplanted a jade from my father-in-law, and I’ve assisted Will in replacing things that died in our 115+ heat wave last September, and I wrote the check years ago when a nursery came in and planted the trees in our backyard after considerable manipulation of our basically-clay soil. I’m the planner, but not the planter in the family.
And so, as I gently removed plant after plant, making a well in the topsoil, and tamping soil firmly back into place while the neighbor’s German Shepherd whined on the other side of the fence, it occurred to me that this entire effort might be a colossal failure. It was suddenly clear that I bought far too many plants for the space, and a whole pack of Swiss chard and three jalapenos won’t be going in. The strawberries are too close together due to a basic math error, I ended up with a squash that is probably perfectly lovely but is not the squash that I thought I was buying, and already I am fighting the urge to overwater everything. On the YouTube videos I watched, too impatient to do anything other than skip ahead to the good parts, people have vibrant gardens, lush and leafy and natural and (seemingly) effortless. These growers seem calm and happy, and probably garden only after half an hour each of yoga and meditation each day. I know I will tend my plants haphazardly, distractedly, my body a ball of stress, the mere existence of my endless to-do list producing great anxiety.
I have started a thing.
It’s a very small act of bravery, a very small act of creation, a very small sign that after this long winter there is hope, and maybe even a vegetable or two, on the horizon.
[I used to do "morning pages" on the regular, but I've gotten out of the habit. It's a way to get all my thoughts out so my mind can just focus on fiction. But lately I've been dabbling in creative nonfiction, too, so I've decided to start posting some of these entries. Here goes nothing.]
The barista calls me “hon” twice while filling my order for an English Breakfast tea. She is probably twenty years younger than me, which means I have possibly reached the age where age is a liability, where age makes me grandmotherly, where age means I have to be talked to loudly and slowly, in a patient customer service voice.
I pay the $3.45, which is basically just for the tea bag. The manager compliments my shoes, which are green, and asks if I wore them just for today. It’s not until I’m sitting down with my laptop open that I realize it’s St. Patrick’s Day and for possibly the first time in my life I have unconsciously dressed appropriately for the situation.
“We’re all out, I’m sorry,” the barista says to someone picking up a mobile order. The man looks annoyed, takes his drink in disgust, and leaves through the double doors, which flap shut behind him.
Someone taps me on the shoulder and I jump. I’ve been thinking about nouns and verbs, and when I think I imagine I’m invisible. “Is there a code for the bathroom?” the woman wants to know. She is old enough to be my grandmother, although really I’m referring to the age my grandmother was when I was younger, because if alive, both of my dead grandmothers would be well into their 100s. It’s only because I’m startled by the touch that I don’t help her. I know the code. I’ve heard the baristas sing it out to every other person who enters. “You can ask for the code at the counter,” I tell her, and go back to thinking.
Out the window, cats slink by, dash under the outdoor furniture, scuttle around the corner and disappear into the bushes by the drive-thru. Why doesn’t someone adopt one of these cats? Why don’t I adopt one of these cats?
That’s crazy, I can’t have a cat.
The Usual Couple come in. I see them here often and wonder how they can afford treinte iced teas and grande mochas every day, since they are clearly retired and drive a car that has had a sizeable dent as long as I’ve been aware of them. He has had an injury of some kind and walks deliberately now, one foot forward and the other forward exactly to the place where the first foot stops, and repeat. I wonder why the wife who can clearly afford Starbucks on the daily doesn’t spring for a haircut; she would look so much better. But even as I think it, I know that’s rude of me. Once I heard the husband refer to Michelle Obama as a man, and so by default I don’t like them. But also once I saw him pay for a homeless man’s coffee and sandwich, and sometimes people are more complex than they seem at first sight. Not all good, not all bad, not always wrong, not always right.
The weather is lovely and so we aren’t talking about it. People enter in shorts, exit to linger under the green umbrellas to smoke and chat with friends. Four women have been talking at a table on the other side of the restaurant for a couple of hours now, ever since I entered with the big plans for what I was going to write, how I was going to revive my flagging writing career, how I was absolutely not going to go online and look for a new dress for an occasion that hasn’t yet presented itself to me. One of the women is the one who tapped me on the shoulder. I decide to forgive her for this, since anyway she doesn’t know there is anything to forgive, and the burden is all mine. The women look happy. The women are glad to have each other in their lives.
A young couple comes in. Young is relative, like old, or older. They are each wearing hoodies and joggers and carrying books. Maybe they are coming right from campus, which is just over the freeway. Maybe they have met to study. Maybe they meet here every day before class because they can’t imagine a day where they don’t see each other.
A man smiles at me as he enters, and I wonder if he thinks I’m someone else. It takes a beat before I remember how to engage my facial muscles, and I smile back.
Paula Treick DeBoard