I’m traveling back in time, ten years ago.
We lived in a sea of houses, little boxes that all looked just the same, as the song goes. It was actually a big box, our house, the largest we’d ever owned in all our years of moving about. And I was miserable in it.
There were problems in my world that I could not fix. And I am fixer. Patch. Paint. Weed. Polish. Nurture. Build. I tackled the issues as firmly as I wielded a hammer. My efforts produced little evidence of success to the public at large, realized no new bullets on my resume, flung me far from the respect of of others in successful careers and lives full of meaning.
If your child fell in a well, you wouldn’t say, Stay afloat down there! See you at suppertime! Instead, you’d put everything else aside, don your old work clothes and lean over the stone edge of the well, dangling a rope and shouting out encouragement.
And I did.
That was my job. Getting a kid out of the well when many thought removal was impossible. Experts doubted it could be done. Best we could do was create life within a damp, dark well.
And I worked to haul that kid out. Maybe others were right, I despaired. Perhaps this job was impossible.
I felt like a failure. The desire to make things right was colliding with immovable reality.
A hilly patch of sandy soil, 15 by 60 feet to be exact, was the only outlet for that yearning to my efforts to bear fruit. A garden, an ordinary, suburban backyard with no view save the backside of a dozen or so homes identical to ours. And yet it was the place that saved me, a clean sheet of paper, an untouched canvas where the results of hard work could be visibly measured.
Soil amendments. Mulch. Carloads of generic pavers to create a path and I was absorbed by task. Let the answering machine take the rants from the school, allowing my stomach to rest for a few hours, for I was planting.
Iris. Old garden roses. Sage, lovage, mint and sedum starts donated by a loving aunt. Chives. Current and gooseberry bushes whose fall color buoyed me when I became sad over the coming winter. Grapevines. Bags of daffodil and crocus bulbs were buried. Glory of the snow erupted in February, a point of pride with me that I now had proof that my growing season was stretched out just that much further.
I could stand on the damp mulch on a sunny, windy, chilly spring day among the sweet scented apple blossoms on the dwarf apple trees, trying to decide if the scent was better than the hyacinths or revived old childhood memories as well as the lilac blooms did. Later in the season, sages (“May night” and Russian) provided blues and purples among the weedy, pink cosmos that I had grown from saved seed.
It was a wonderful garden and it was the one thing I could not pack and move with us to Arizona. For years I dreamed about sneaking back into the house while the new owner was away and pruning, watering and fertilizing.
I have plants here, different ones. A few roses and iris, to be sure. Chocolate flower and a Texas ranger that has the most delicious aroma of grape soda when the shrub is covered in purple flowers. But it is a struggle- the intense heat, the harsh overnight frosts in January, the harsh sun sucking the moisture out of pots in July, the rodents eager to devour tender rose leaves and juicy stems of young loquat trees.
Before we moved, I felt I had pulled the child out of the hypothetical well and all was good. That I didn’t need the garden quite a much.
We never stop being parents. A phone call, an email- the familiar “gotcha!” that what seemed to be fixed might not be. That someone might always be prone to tripping and falling in wells.