Saturday, May 23, 2009

Darwin's Garden

Satchmo and I walked up to Starbucks this morning. We shared a Chonga bagel with cream cheese and a glass of ice water. We sat outside and enjoyed the treat before heading back down the hill. There were six Washington State Patrol officers out on the deck as well, enjoying coffee. Some man came up to them and said “seeing as how you are all here, can I go do one-hundred down I-90?” They all laughed. I secretly wished I had driven there in the Mini because if I had, I would have left right there and done just that. I really want to tear loose in Buttercup.

As I was sitting there I watched a group of about seven women, around my age, rendezvousing. They were laughing and finishing each other’s sentences and behaving with great fond familiarity. A very profound sense came over me as I thought about the gathering of my very good friends that will take place on my deck this evening.

Five years ago, when I was at the near lowest of my low, when I was starting my life over and not having much energy to do so, I would force myself to walk to Tully’s. Fighting overwhelming anxiety about being in public without knowing my new identity, I tried to stay there as long as I could so that I could get used to being in public. One day, as I sat in a chair, pretending to read, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, my attention was drawn to a group of women around a big table. They, like the group I saw this morning, were laughing, and chatting and also behaving with great fond familiarity. My heart ached. I wondered if I’d ever have that again. I so wanted to be around that table, or have one similar of my own. But it didn’t seem like it would ever be possible. And now, four years later, I am blessed with good friends. Friends who know me and like me anyway. Friends who can finish my sentences, and I theirs. My heart refilled.

This is something I wrote from that time.

Darwin’s Garden

I set out on my walk trying to convince myself that I won’t care if anybody looks disdainfully at me with my blue nylon sweats too snug across my thighs. “Fuck ‘em if I’m not beautiful enough.” I may not be the fittest, but at least I’m doing something. Let’s see, have my cell phone tucked into my pocket, on the off chance anybody will call to check in. MP 3 player all charged up, set to go. Ear pieces tucked in under my red USA Rowing baseball cap. Maybe they will think I am an old retired USA rower. Ha. Got my Tully’s card, just in case I am feeling confident enough to duck into the coffee shop at the end of my walk to reward myself for my sprint of self care.

I head out past my north neighbor. The other single mother in my neighborhood of beautiful families. I don’t know her well. Just enough to know she is single, has grown daughters in college and a friendly golden lab named Toby. Toby greets me happily from the window, fogging up the otherwise clean glass in front of him. It is cold this morning. Not raining for the moment, but the smell of worms predominant. Worms and wet bark on the well kept beds of my neighbors’ lawns. Turning left at the end of my block, the sound of the freeway, just out of sight reminds me to turn on the MP3 player. This I tell myself will make this a tolerable adventure. I randomly scroll through the play list, through Mingus, YES, Jackson Brown, U2 until an R.E.M. tune catches me. Everybody Hurts will do for the moment. I am feeling mournful in my pain and it seems to resonate some kind of mantra that powers me forward….”hold on, hold on, hold on.”

I look at the empty school grounds and almost hear the ghost laughter of children chasing each other and assault of teasing that surely took place there earlier in the week. I little blip in me wishes to be back on a school yard at seven when my biggest concern was would I be able to hold my own in the crowd of jump ropers so much more coordinated and pretty than I. Suddenly I am at the top of the hill, unaware of the leg after leg after leg motion it took to propel me up here. My heart rate is up, but my breath still comes easily. OK, I am not in as bad shape as I easily believe.

Left, down the ridge road that separates the waterfront dwelling billionaires from the lowly estate millionaires on the other side of the road. I still am a little surprised that I live amongst these beautiful people, in my adequate but dated 1950’s rental tear down. I wonder if those who drive by in their Mercedes, Beemer SUVs and Lexuses have a clue how out of place this frumpy once upon a time housewife is on this street. In the distance, coming ever closer are two young women, mothers and wives with a different series of worries and complaints, approach, engrossed in conversation. They are laughing, enjoying the fresh air and time out with a girlfriend. I am enjoying “Black Water” in my ears, and acting brave and nonchalant as we near, then pass, each other, Exchange a friendly hello as we pass. “…..take my hand, hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama, dance with your Daddy all night long.” I used to walk with my neighbor, Andrea, in the old neighborhood. I had my wonderful black lab on a leash, and I miss her terribly. My ex got the dog. I got our son. I fought hard for that exchange. But my son won’t go out for a walk with me, he is seventeen. And so I miss my dog. Nobody got Andrea.

I walk past a lawn where a woman is focused on her driveway bed, planting what appear to be pansies, winter pansies, around her mailbox post. Though lost in her chore she looks up just in time to see me and greets me with a friendly hello. I shyly return the exchange. I had beautiful gardens at the old house. Twenty years of clearing and weeding and planting. Perennials were my favorite. Hardy plants that would re-arrive every spring, bigger and stronger than the year before. Kelly across the street, also had a weakness for perennials. And Mrs. Harris across the street, from England, obvious by her accent, and her beautiful “English Garden.” Kelly and Mrs. Harris and I. We would divide up our plants and share. It was wonderful to be able to give. And receive. I called my experimental garden next to the back side fence the “Darwin Garden.” Survival of the fittest. That’s where the special purchases from Wells Medina nursery went. Plants with names like calendula, agapanthus, alstromeria, sedum autumn joy, and digitalis. I like saying these names as much as the flowers themselves. I grew up in a climate and place where geraniums and petunias (and very hearty vegetables) were about all that people grew. Here, in western Washington, the moisture allows such beautiful plants to thrive. The last time I went by my old house where my ex now resides, my newest perennial bed, in the front yard, looked like a war zone. Weeds more prominent than the spider’s wart (such a beautiful flower for such an ugly name) and star gazer lilies that I had so lovingly tended to. The English lilac bush flourishing with its neglect, spilling out over the parking strip in front. My gardens once were every bit as beautiful as the ones I now pass. I tell myself, when I get home I will weed the front bed at my rental and reward myself with a trip to Wells Medina Nursery. But my heart is not in it. Even while telling myself this is what I will do I know it is not.

At the far side of the golf course I turn left and propel myself down the hill to the sound of Diana Krall “I can’t give you anything but love.” The dog park is off to my right and there are a handful of bundled up people tossing tennis balls for their enthusiastic companions. There are some men there and I think if I had a dog this would be a good place to meet men. If I were so inclined. I have the thought: “I like life without a man. Life is much less complicated.” But I would like a dog. A dog would be a perfect companion. Something happy to see me as I walk through the door (I am always happy to see my son at home, but his greeting of “what’s for dinner and when will we eat?” does not compare to the greeting of a loyal lab.) A dog is so blatant in his or her guilt, that there is no second guessing if he or she has been up to no good.

On the final stretch, now along a busier road, more of a mix of cars and people than the pretentious neighborhood I have been through, and in which I now live. I am no longer self conscientious. The fresh air, the music, the knowledge that I am not just sitting at home on the couch on my ass with the computer, has boosted my spirits. I must make a decision about the coffee shop or home. What the hell. Coffee shop. A warm drink will taste good. And I will see my friends the baristas who know me and are always happy to see me. Nearly like coming home to a loving dog. In fact, as I approach the shop, there is a beautiful golden lab out front, tied to the dog bar by the window, a stainless steel bowl of water placed out front for the dogs of the coffee shop. He turns his head away from supervision of his mothermaster inside to respond to my greeting. Tail thumping, faint whine of happiness, I pat him on the head and tell him how beautiful he is. Then into the shop. It is busy on this weekend morning. A few loners sitting in the comfortable chairs by the fire. Reading the paper, doing a crossword. But most of the tables are filled with groups of two to five. Friends laughing, sharing. A group of about seven women, all well kept and dressed, lean into each other and talk and laugh, several conversations at once. I tell myself “they are not laughing at me.”. I long to be at that table with them. With friends to share laughter with. But I think much of their conversation is about things I can no longer relate to. About vacation plans and irritation with their spouses.

When I get to the counter Stacia smiles and asks how I am and if I’ve been for a walk. My replies: “Good”. “”Yes”. “The usual?” she asks. “You got it.” It’s nice to be known, even if the only thing she knows about me is my coffee drink. We can’t visit long as there is a line behind me. So I wait against the wall where the drinks come out. Not wishing to take up space here this morning, I take my drink and head towards the door, back to home. I cross by a table where the man who once accused me of having an “engaging life” is sitting. He asks me to laugh for him before I go. By reflex I do and say something like “I guess you got it.” [Here in the same coffee shop, one morning, a weekday morning, I was engrossed in writing on my laptop. Out of the corner of my eye this older gentleman came by and stopped. He said “excuse me. I just want to tell you that you have an engaging life.” I look at him perplexed. Not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. He says “I was in here the other day and you were with some friends and I heard this beautiful laugh. It was you. You have an engaging life.” You see he had a bit of a southern drawl. It’s funny. In the midst of my self consciousness, acutely aware of my aloneness, he reminded me that I did have friends. (The week before I had run into two good friends from a different life who happened to have been in my neighborhood coffee shop. We must have laughed and shared things.) I had forgotten that when I was absorbed in my loneliness at the end of my walk].

So I leave the coffee shop, coffee in one hand, head pat to the loyal, still waiting, dog, and power on towards home. Don McLean’s Starry Night is playing [yes I am embarrassed to type that. Someone on web chat was talking about his Starry Night and I needed to buy it to take me back to memories of a mournful small town teenager. At Barnes and Noble I accepted the offer of a gift receipt to give the illusion that I was buying this sappy music for a friend. The clerk even took the price tag off for me.] “Now I understand. What you tried to say to me…. For they could not love you But still your love was true. And when no hope was left inside On that starry, starry night You took your life as lovers often do But I could have told you Vincent This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you….How I suffered for my sanity…” .And heading home with my coffee, a thought of an engaging life, I realize that I have found it. It is my sanity. I suffered for it. It may not be pretty, not beautiful. But it’s an engaging laugh. It’s the friendship in the baristas. It’s the real life of living with a seventeen year old boy and a garden that I can tend to. Or not. It is not a Darwin’s garden but a Darwin’s life. Survival of the fittest. And I have survived.

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