29 April, 2008

The Landscaped Yard

Hesitsantly, I knocked on the front door. There was a doorbell present, but somehow using it would have taken too much away from the occasion, and I really didn't want to kill the mood. After all, I'd been planning this for over a month now.

When she answered the door, I couldn't help but to think that she wasn't what I was expecting, even though for the life of me I cannot imagine what it was that I was expecting. She looked to be in her early sixties, in a floral print dress that has long been out of style. Her (assumedly) graying hair was wrapped in a towel, almost as though she was coming from the shower, but she showed no sign of it otherwise, so perhaps it was just a cultural thing.

"Hello, my name's Eric, though I don't know why I'm telling you that; we don't know one another, and since I'm just passing by, it won't do you any good to know my name." I was already screwing it up. She gave me a strange look, and I thought for sure she'd shut the door on me if I didn't get straight to the point. "I'm not selling anything, if that's what you're thinking. And I'm not here to spread the word of God or some other notion I may have. I just..." Pausing, I glanced inside her home. It was clean, perhaps too clean, with flowers everywhere.

"I walk past your home nearly every day on the way to the library, or the metro, or for nearly anything else for that matter. And I just wanted to say: every time I pass by your yard, I cannot help but to smile. Your garden is absolutely beautiful."

She blushes, thanking me in a midwestern accent. She's clearly not from here. "I don't know if it your doing, or your husband's, or just your gardener's, but the beauty you have in your front yard is simply too much for me to not have stopped by to thank you for it. I cannot relate to you how many times I have passed by in a foul mood and been jerked back to happy thoughts by your azaleas. And that tree--forgive me for not knowing its species--its blossoms bowl me over no matter how heavy a load of books I am carrying back home."

She responds kindly, in her own way, and in the background I can see that a tall man has come to stand nearby, just out of sight. I see this because he does not notice his shadow falling within my field of vision.

"No, I couldn't possibly intrude on you this evening", I reply to her hesitant invitation; then, nodding toward my backp-ack of groceries, I explain: "I am on my way home now, and cannot really take the time to stay for much longer than I already have. Besides, I don't really want to get to know you." Her look of puzzlement is plain, and I find myself wondering what look is on the face of the tall man just behind the corner. But I continue my (somewhat rehearsed) speech nonetheless. "I am not a particularly social person. I don't relate well to very many people. It's just..." I seem to struggle to get out the words, even though I know in advance what I will basically say. I've thought of nothing else these past few days. "Most people speak of inconsequential things to people who do not deserve to be spoken to: they gossip with coworkers or pass along confidentialities to second cousins. But I prefer to say what is deserved to the deserver, regardless of whether or not they happen to work where I do or share my same bloodline. You garden is why I've chosen to stop by here today, and it is why I'm saying this to you. But if I get to know you, it will be different. It will degrade this conversation, and when I write of this moment in my journal later tonight, the memory will be marred by the fact that you and I differ strongly on politics, or religion, or perhaps psychology. If I get to know you, then this memory will be of you; I would rather it be of the gardener behind this yard. If I shared a cup of tea with you, I may end up hating the experience, and every time I pass your yard on the way to the metro, I will think of you, when I really just want to appreciate the beauty of your garden. So no, I will not come inside. I wished to only give a compliment and leave; and that is what I will do."

So I left.

There was so much I didn't say that I had planned on. I wanted to tell her about how I was not the only one who enjoyed her garden. I wanted to tell her of the many car-goers who passed too quickly by in admiration, and I wanted to tell her of the pedestrians who did not stop because they would think it too silly to stop for, or because they needed to get to the bus stop in a hurry so they could get to their minimum wage job, or maybe because they did not know any English at all. I wanted to tell her that I was their spokesperson. That though I was the one to knock on her door to give this compliment, it was a compliment shared by countless passers-by, who all had brightened days due only to the beauty of her landscaped front yard. But I said none of this.

In fact, I said none of this at all. I planned to. I even stopped in front of her house, and willed myself to walk to her front door. But it was too late. I was tired. There were groceries in my backpack. It was dinnertime, and I didn't want to be a nuisance. All these and more objections came to my head, and so I walked home without saying anything at all. And as I walked home, I imagined the sixty-ish floral clad figure with a towel wrapped around her head. I imagined the shadow of her companion, and the cleanliness of her home. And I know that I will not be saying any of this to her, nor to whomever may actually live there. Because, as uplifting as it may be to that mystery resident, it would just be too mean from my point of view. After all, her garden is despicable.

Oh, it is landscaped and well-groomed. With red flowers surrounded by stones and a row of bushes cut as though they were meant to a enjoy a fully right-angled existence. But seeing it every day makes me sick. Others look at with smiles on their faces--yes, I see these others taking enjoyment from that yard--but it is all too very fake to me. The lawn is cut, the weeds are all pulled, and the sterility makes me long for the sparse woodlands of my youth, path-ridden though they may have been.

No, I won't ever knock on her door, though I fantasize complimening her on making a yard that is somehow even more devoid of nature than those who have nothing but grass cut to its shortest extent. If I did speak to her, I would be kindly in words, giving a rehearsed speech on behalf of the idiots who actually like the beauty of her yard, but it would all be a lie, because I HATE her yard, and I don't wish to lie to this complete stranger just so I can fulfill this relentless fantasy of speaking to whomever it is that has such a backwards heart to care enough of plants to bother with gardening so thoroughly yet cares so little to take those same plants and keep them in a sterile, fake, zoo-like environment. (I abhor zoos.)

No, I will instead just write up what I imagine the encounter may have been like, and then start on my new library books. I'm looking forward to Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones--the movie was so good, I can't imagine not enjoying the book. And I wonder how much Miyazaki changed when writing the screenplay.

I will be very disappointed if the book turns out worse than the film. That hasn't happened to me since Bridges of Madison County, and I fear the day when I meet another book that pales in comparison to the film vesion.

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