This week has been hard.
On Thursday night, Rosie forgot to lock up her bike, and we found it missing the next morning. This is the second time this bike has been stolen— the man who took it actually wheeled it back to my yard a few weeks later, last year when it went missing. He expected we’d reward him for giving it back, but we turned him away with a stern warning. And this year, here it was gone again without a trace, and this time the bike lock with it.
On Friday night, I got into an argument with a teacher who used to give Rose some of her beloved lessons, back in the “old days” when she went to lessons four times a week, before COVID, before everything went so terribly wrong. The teacher’s facebook page is awash in conspiracy theory videos blaming Black people for the violence they suffer. On the facebook page of a mutual friend who lives in another part of this neighborhood, he kept on saying that Black Lives Matter wanted to “undermine the traditional family” and words to that effect, and the conversation wasn’t fruitful. Other neighbors jumped on– including one I didn’t know was half so courageous or calm, cooly refuting the others in a way I admire, but most of them were the racist kind. I was very discouraged. I am easily discouraged lately. Steubenville is a discouraging place.
A fellow Catholic once said to me, “Enjoy the community you have in Steubenville, because you won’t have that when you move away,” and for the life of me I don’t understand what she meant. We’ve been bereft of community since we moved here. Every time we try to do anything with other people, they turn out to be like this.
I exaggerate, of course, and I’ll be able to be stronger about all of this later. I have a lot to be thankful for, and in many ways I’m an optimistic person– annoyingly so. But as I said, I am discouraged.
Sometimes, I think my irritating and childish optimism is a coping mechanism for being so often discouraged. If I didn’t have an extra head start on hoping for the best, I’d give up completely.
Yesterday, Rosie and I went out and worked in the garden– or rather, Rosie built a playhouse on the back porch while I weeded and admired. It was comforting. Weeding always is. I guess it’s the feeling that some people get when they pluck their brows or remove a clogged pore strip from their nose. Yank-yank-yank and suddenly, Pop! Things are as they should be.
The next door neighbor who hates our garden wasn’t outside, and neither was her dog. I was relieved by that. The first year she moved in she had a vendetta against Rosie’s little friend across the street; the next year she screamed threats to stab Michael with a kitchen knife, though the knife she was waving at us was covered in a flowered plastic knife cover and didn’t look very threatening. She threw trash into our yard and vandalized my porch with the ashes from her charcoal grill– that she gladly confessed to, saying it was punishment for some imagined offense. She likes to let her German Shepherd out to do its business on our side of the property line and bark at us while we work in the garden.
This year, she’s taken to sitting on her back porch muttering disapproving things every time Rosie and I play in the wading pool. I’ve chosen to ignore her because I didn’t know what else to do. Calls to the police a few years ago merited nothing, because she’s a homeowner and we’re renters therefore everything is our fault. And I don’t really believe in calling the police anymore.
I’ve tried to develop a rapport with the neighbor’s dog. I talk to it in a friendly way and tell it how handsome it is, and lately the dog barks at me playfully instead of threateningly. My next Dungeons and Dragons character is going to be an ugly druid who developed a rapport with her ugly neighbor’s beautiful dog, and ran away with it into the woods.
Every year I have hope that we’ll be able to move away from Steubenville, and every year it falls through. This year I didn’t even bother to hope. I just hoped that things would stay quiet because COVID would make the neighbor afraid to come outside.
Tonight, the neighbor and her dog were locked away inside, making Saturday a perfect evening.
I admired the sunflower plants, that were nearly a foot high. I couldn’t wait until the sunflowers crowded in front of the compost heap and bloomed.
I fussed over the broccoli, which was up to my knees and beginning to make its crown. The broccoli is the most dramatic thing in the garden so far. Rosie loves to eat fresh broccoli right off the plant. I’ve known her to devour the broccoli crown I was going to steam for dinner on her way into the house, if I asked her to cut it for me. Fresh broccoli from the garden tastes completely different from broccoli at the store. I knew I’d need extra, not the usual four pack, so I’d been hoarding plants since March. I let them grow up in my window until the roots were almost bursting from the little plastic pots. I kept it on the porch on sunny Spring days and brought it back in during frost. I put down slug traps to keep the leaves safe, and the leaves were luxuriant and perfect.
The whole garden looked perfect. I’m usually a lazy weeder, but this year I really worked at it. I threw myself into gardening because I’ve been so depressed and worried over COVID. I was so proud of the garden, I took a video to show it off and posted it to the Steel Magnificat facebook page. Life is so much better when your garden is pretty.
I surveyed the yard and felt, for the first time that week, that everything was going to be all right. That delusional optimism again.
On the way in, I noticed that a single onion had been pulled out of the ground.
It didn’t look like an animal had done it. There were no marks. Rosie said she didn’t do it. I wondered if it had somehow blown out in the rainstorm we had Friday night.
I went inside with the onion, thinking of Dostoevsky’s story about the miserly woman who nearly escaped hell through a single good deed. I love that story. That story is a stern warning for every kind of human being, and gardeners in particular. I treat it with the same seriousness as a Gospel story. I’m going to share the fruit of my garden with everyone who needs food this summer; I’ve already got plans to bring food to the Baker Street Irregulars and the Friendship Room.I felt warm, secure, needed by the community. Gardening for others feels like belonging to a family.
I left the onion on the kitchen counter, and went to bed.
I had not realized, you see, that the onion was a warning.
This morning I slept in. We don’t have a safe ride to Sunday Mass now that the churches have opened up for careful, sparsely attended Masses; nobody’s carpooling with COVID-19, and I don’t blame them at all for that. It’s too far for us to walk two miles, there’s no bus on Sunday, and there are still COVID outbreaks happening in Steubenville besides, so I’m not sure it’s safe. The dispensation is still in place anyway. So we were going to watch Mass on a livestream again at two o’clock. Plenty of time to rest. My mother once said that if I wanted to sleep in on Sunday morning I’d have to become a pagan when I grew up, and I slept like a pagan this morning.
I woke up to find the front porch festooned with several handfuls of fresh wet dog droppings. The UPS delivery man had to leave my electrolyte medicine on the porch step instead of the porch, because the porch was impassible.
I ran around the back, expecting the worst, and sure enough, all but two of the broccoli plants were destroyed.
The broccoli grows, or grew, on the side of the garden closest to my neighbor’s house– at least six feet from her house, behind the bean trellis, nowhere near the property line or the place where she chains her dog, just the side of the garden facing her.
It had been ripped out roots and all, and thrown around the garden beds. It was left out in the morning sun to wilt, ruined, certainly not salvageable. And they’re not selling broccoli at the store anymore. They’re almost out of seedlings entirely. One bean pole was ripped out and thrown across the yard. Our backyard sunflowers were also gone, cut down to the bottom of the stem and thrown onto the compost heap.
I tried to save the destroyed broccoli. I buried the roots back in the carefully fertilized soil and I watered them, praying for a miracle, while Michael scrubbed the porch.
You see, I still believe in the Resurrection.
I don’t believe in Steubenville, but I believe in the Resurrection.
And I believe in gardens.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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