It hasn’t been the best of weeks.
Jimmy still didn’t have time to get to Serendipity, as he’s working on his mother-in-Law’s car before mine, so I’m driving the borrowed geriatric Chevy. Or I was: on Saturday night, some joyrider in LaBelle hit and run while it was parked across the street. The owners of the car were very gracious about this and said such accidents are common. I think I can get the mirror back into place with duct tape. We’ll be able to run errands and get Adrienne to her lessons. But it’s not a good enough car to go in the freeway, so I’m stuck within city limits. I’ve I missed Peak Bloom for wildflower season at Raccoon Creek, and our Carnegie museum pass expired. I keep telling myself this is a temporary imprisonment and it’s drawing to a close, but sometimes I don’t listen to me. Sometimes I panic that we’ll miss swimming this summer and we’ll never go to Columbus to visit our dear friends again.
The plans for the beautiful improvements to the community garden got postponed unexpectedly– they decided to just maintain the beds up front and not plant anything new until fall. My grand schemes for a fruit tree and a raspberry bramble are put off. So now I have no great project for a few months.
I went outside to sulk.
In the yard, my strawberries looked particularly luxuriant.
In 2020 I planted 6 strawberry plants, of which my stalking neighbor destroyed one early one morning. She also tore up the broccoli plants that day, threw one of the bean poles like a javelin, beheaded the sunflower, and smeared dog droppings all over the porch. Every time I came out to water what was left of my garden, she would burst out the door to taunt me that she was going to do it again. In 2021, she was so severely manic and violent that I couldn’t go in my own backyard at all, and our entire lives were upended. In 2022, she was still alive but fading, and I had panic attacks if I went in the yard at all. Jimmy did us a favor and kept it mowed, but he accidentally mowed over the strawberry plants, so we didn’t get any fruit. Now, the strawberries have sent out so many runners that they’ve completely covered a four by three foot patch. The plants are dotted with white flowers. I’m going to get a good crop.
I had a small patch dug for vegetables already, next to the strawberries, just for the fun of it. I decided to expand the garden. If I couldn’t do something drastic with the back of the community garden, I would be drastic here. I stabbed my shovel into the messy grass again and again and again, turning over the soil, scaring up worms and pillbugs as I did. I dug and I dug and I dug until the garden was almost as big as the one I planted in 2020 under the neighbor’s disapproving gaze. I turned over the compost, which didn’t need it yet. I yanked weeds at the corners of the walkway.
As I gardened, I grumbled and cussed, and then my anger evaporated, and then I started to pray. This always happens when I garden. The rage dissipates. My mind opens up. I talk to God.
I told him how frustrated I was and how I was beginning to lose hope.
I can’t say whether it was God or just my mind that started casting up hopeful images: the reminder that I was closer to fixing the car. The thought of how far we’ve come. Noticing the violets and clover dotting my messy grass.
I remembered an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood that used to be Adrienne’s favorite, when she stimmed by watching them over and over again on Amazon Prime. It’s the one where King Friday has rashly banned play and recreation in the Neighborhood because he doesn’t want anyone to get injured, so Lady Elaine teleports her entire museum to a playground in Pittsburgh to start a new life. The children are traumatized by the new ordinance and by the departure of their brash and silly aunt. Eventually, Friday repents and changes his rule. He sends a message to Lady Elaine that it’s safe to come back. She tells his messenger that it seems too good to be true. And the king replies, “Tell her that the good can be true.” The messenger goes back and gives Lady Elaine the message: “the good can be true.”
I started repeating that again and again as a mantra. “The good can be true. The good can be true. The good can be true.”
The terrible can also be true. I’ve seen the terrible come true too many times to count. But the good can also be true.
I recalled that I hadn’t planted potatoes yet. They were still sprouting on the dining room windowsill.
And then, I remembered that I didn’t have a stalker anymore. I can plant potatoes here at my house.
I took my red wheelbarrow a block and a half to the community garden. Last year I snuck the barrow down the alley half the time, out of fear that the neighbor would realize I was gardening somewhere and commit some more vandalism. This time, I pushed it noisily right past her silent front porch.
I brought back two half-whiskey-barrels and the peat compost that was in them– those were my property, which I’d stored next to my raised garden bed last year. I had to squash all my plants together at the community garden because it wasn’t safe to garden at home. Now I could just garden in the box, and do anything I liked at home.
I balanced the whiskey barrel planters on bricks so the hole would be free to drain into the ground. I covered the bottoms of the planters with gravel, then the seed potatoes, then a layer of the peat. The rest of the peat went on my freshly dug garden patch.
I stepped back to survey my work, which is when I saw the old empty bird feeder dangling from our lilac tree. I don’t think there has been birdseed in that feeder in three years.
I went back into the house and looked. Yes, we had some birdseed. Adrienne picked it up with her father on a whim in March. I took the bag around back and poured some in the feeder. Some of it flowed noisily out of the feeder’s holes to my feet: a tiny hailstorm of shelled peanuts and jet-black sunflower seeds.
I sprinkled a generous spray of birdseed on the back porch, resolving to buy more feeders.
I realized that I wasn’t afraid. I was standing in my backyard, and I wasn’t about to have a panic attack.
And I realized, rather than resolved, that I was going to plant sunflowers in my own yard this year. Some in the community garden and some in my own yard, where I am safe. Some for the neighborhood to enjoy, and some for me here, as a reminder that the good can be true.
I looked over at the stalking neighbor’s precious yard, the yard she fussed over constantly, the yard she used to mow twice a week at the apex of her mania. The grass was overgrown. Someone had thrown a glass bottle into it near the curb. There were a few weeds in the planter almost up to my knee.
I let myself believe that she was really, actually gone.
Kimballyn Smith is truly gone.
I think we’ll be okay now.
I think that troubles can still happen, but so can miracles and rescues and things working out for the better.
I am ready to believe that the good can be true.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.