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April 14, 2007

Changes in the yard and in me.

Since I met Mrs. Lee and now I see her and talk to her every single day, I have become a little more comfortable talking to folks in my neighborhood. A little.

When Francisco the gardener didn't show up for a whole month and the yard was shaggy and a health hazard, I called the landlord. As funny as the stories of Francisco are, I can't have knee-high weeds in the yard, it's unseemly. And it's a breeding ground for bugs and ... stuff.

"Well," said the landlord. "If you could find me the name of a new gardener I'd be happy to replace him."

As if finding someone new were so easy, and as if it were my responsibility. But the idea of Francisco murdering my new little seedlings or "trimming" a pepper plant makes me break out in a cold sweat.

So on my evening walk yesterday I decided I would ask folks on my street who their gardener was, and if they had his number (you'd be surprised how many people do not know how to contact their own gardener!) and all of this fact-finding would mean I would have to actually talk to strangers and make eye contact and while I do this sort of thing at work all day long, I have made it a policy not to be sociable and friendly and chatty to anyone near my house.

Why is this? I have no idea.

Just keeping my home insulated and private, protecting myself from anyone asking questions, maybe. Didn't want to tell people I was the sad divorcee. Didn't want people to give me that look,you know the one. Or say "Oh, you're still young, you'll find someone." As if that is the only goal, as if a woman alone is a terrible thing.

But now I'm not that sad divorcee. Now I'm just the girl with the dandelion farm in the front yard looking for a new gardener. And if talking to a neighbor leads to conversation and they ask me questions, I won't cry like I used to.

I was a little surprised. Because that was it, wasn't it?

I hadn't realized until right then, lacing my shoes, getting my house key out, zipping up my hooded sweatshirt, hadn't realized that the divorce had made me retreat from the world because I couldn't answer all their questions. I couldn't talk then about my situation. It made me feel judged and lacking and broken and I would get so upset, because I did feel judged and less-than and failed.

Now it's just details. Yeah I got divorced. No biggie.

God, I love California in the spring! Nights are always cool and the air smells like grass and orange blossoms and that white jasmine that grows on my neighbor's trellis, spilling over the gate and onto the ground perfuming the entire evening. I walked slowly down the street. At that time of night people are often out on the lawn, watering, getting home from work, collecting the mail. I stopped a few houses down from me where a man and a woman were unloading Target bags from the back of a minivan. They had a really pretty lawn.

"Um, excuse me?"

They smiled and said hi. Their cat came over and rubbed against my leg, I reached down and scratched it on the head.

"Usually she doesn't let anyone pet her, that's so strange!" said the lady, pretty and dark-haired. A little tiny version of her peeked out from around the side gate, a small girl maybe seven years old.

"I was wondering, if you don't mind my asking, who does your lawn? Because I ... well, I live here, I mean a few doors down, and the gardener stopped coming. And I kind of have to find a new one. Who hopefully doesn't like to trim trees."

"Oh, we like our guy, what is his name?" she paused and looked at her husband. They must have been married a while, they were in that comfortable place where they finished each others' sentences, trains of thought.

He couldn't remember the name either.

"Well, I'm just down the road so if you happen to remember and wouldn't mind putting it in the mailbox? I mean if it isn't too much trouble?"

"Oh, just come on in," she said. "I'm Sara, this is John." She pronounced her name Saw-rah, she had a really pretty musical accent, later she told me she was from Mexico. I liked their family immediately when she said her daughter's name was Sara, too, of course it made me smile. I'm a Laurie with a Laurie.

But I'm new to the whole neighbor thing. I spent so long locked inside myself it feels weird and scary to get out of my quiet, safe place. I'm rusty at it. For two and a half years I have been a ghost in this neighborhood, just some girl who keeps odd hours and never speaks to anyone.

So when we were sitting there -- I had been standing but she insisted I sit, would I like a glass of water? -- I tried to pretend I was a normal Southern gal back home where I know people, knew people, and this was just another day. I tried to pretend I wasn't nervous and a little uncomfortable.

She and her husband were just chatting with me, curious I'm sure and also just being friendly. "Do you have children?" That one is easy, but I was wary because often this question is followed by, "Oh, really? Why didn't you ever have kids?" and I never know how to answer it. I am constantly shocked it is being asked aloud, of me. I exhaled a little in relief when she didn't ask me, didn't pry. (You'd be surprised how many people do ask.)

"Do you have a roommate?"

"Nope," I said. "It's just me."

"Oh! Don't you get scared?" She was concerned for me, crinkled her brow up like a mom. "I would be so scared all alone."

I used to be. I used to walk the floors all night every night, listening for every noise, listening for something else to go wrong.

"Actually, I'm fine," I said. And it was true. "I was a little scared when I first moved in but after a while I started to feel more comfortable. Now it's great, I like my space."

She finally found the number and wrote it down for me on a sticky note. No more questions, so I must have sounded final when I answered her. That's good, a good sign.

She showed me their backyard, I got to pet their dog, too, and admire their huge tomato plants. We talked about cilantro, and was I the girl who had the yardsale that time?

Yes, that was me. Buy my memories for a dollar.

"Well, thank you so much for getting his name for me, I'll have the landlord call him as soon as possible," I said. "I do appreciate this and sorry again to bother you..."

"Oh, no worry, no bother," she said, "Come by any time, it's so nice to meet my neighbors." Her little girl hugged my leg on the way out.

And I went on my way and took my evening walk around my neighborhood. My neighborhood. Later I called the landlord, and the new gardener is coming on next week to see the yard and get a key to the back gate.

New gardener.
Met the neighbors.
Questions ... but not that bad, really. The answers are just adjectives. No biggie.

Posted by laurie at April 14, 2007 8:56 AM