I’m in the backyard, canvas of my adolescent adventures, but I know I’m a stranger now. The grass must feel unwelcome, too. Why else would it not grow back after all this time?
Even a dirt patch would be better than the mud here. Mud is far too clingy. Always tugging on loose sleeves and jean cuffs, begging for attention. All those years spent trying to forget, and here I am carrying it back inside the house, effete mounds of clay caked on old sneakers and crew socks.
In late April of 2004, only days after the last frost, we planted our first garden. Rows of seedlings tucked away in the back of the yard, guarded by apple trees and wire fences. Back then, the nook seemed almost deific, with its sodden frame and beads of green. The garden was our sanctuary, gilded by lettuce heads and cucumber flowers, a place of solace. A place where the hum of honeybees drowned out car engines and doorbells. No business calls here. No dinner getting cold on the stovetop, office hours running long again.
Every year, spring was ushered in with a Saturday excursion, our family pilgrimage to the gardening store. Aisles upon aisles of potted plants and climbing vines, bird houses, marble fountains, and chirpy workers passing out packets of sunflower seeds. Weaving our way through flowers beds and manicured hedges, past stacks of watering cans and patio chairs, siblings collecting seedlings, placing them gingerly in parents’ carts. My brother preferred the shopping, but planting was my favorite part of the ritual. The whole family kneeling in grass, miry with dew, gloves tossed aside, digging and sowing. And afterwards, the dirt still trapped under fingernails, proof of our elusive synergy, some genetic calling for symbiosis.
That’s not to say it was perfect, some ideal endeavor where effort meets equal reward. We had our fair share of mishaps. Like when the scallions waged war against the peppers, and the watermelon vines strangled the zucchini. Or the year Mom put in the cages upside-down, and the rabbits ate everything. Almost felt thankful they’d taken the tomatoes. Most years those sit on the kitchen counter, melting slowly against the granite, until that overripe smell- like salad dressing and sulfur- makes the air seem too dense to breathe. So we’d scrape and scrub the orange pulp away, only to reveal pink circles, blotted in stone, mocking our puerile palates.
Standing in this silt tract, barren and listless, it’s hard to imagine anything ever grew here. You’d think there’d at least be a few sprouts, lone stragglers, some semblance of life. But there’s nothing left- no grass buds, no rogue seeds, no stalwart perennials. Our family garden, lost to time, a victim of age and changing priorities. Another childhood gone to mud.