Thursday was a busy day for me. The day started with a school meeting to review my eldest’s progress over the past year, (he’s doing great.) Then, since I grew up around my mom’s cigarette smoke, I went and had a CT scan as a diagnostic screen for lung cancer.
The guy running the machine was super-smiley and chatty so I was happy the scan was quick and didn’t have to linger. The clinic was near the hardware store so I popped in to get an electrical junction box for the shop light I was installing in the garage.
The weather was gorgeous so when I arrived home the last thing I wanted to do was be in the garage attic pulling wire so instead I spent some time listening to the birds while I planned my garden. There’s a large-ish lawn in front of my house and I hate mowing since I have grass allergies. When I moved in four years ago transition and divorce coupled with uncertainty if I could keep the house got in the way of any landscaping.
While I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to afford the house a few years out, sprucing up the curb appeal feels like a good investment. A bonus will be enjoying the yard without sneezing. After considering my desire to have a pond and the shape of the landscape, I’ve decided to install a Japanese Zen garden-inspired space loosely modeled after a garden of my grandfather’s.
He lived in South Seattle in a neighborhood called Rainer Valley and when he and my grandmother moved there in the 1950’s, it was an un-landscaped blue-collar urban tract home neighborhood made up of Boeing riveters and ditch-diggers like him. By the 1980’s the area was ravaged by drugs and next door was a crack house stripped down to studs since everything, including the plumbing, had been ripped out and sold for drug money.
One day he was walking back up the hill to his house after a visit to the local bar and the neighbor’s pit bull charged out of the yard and attacked him. While defending his throat the dog sank its teeth into his upper arm. The owner and neighbors couldn’t get it off of him and when the cops arrived they had to shoot it off his arm.
Visiting him was always a juxtaposition as once you entered his property thorough an arching hedge, you couldn’t see and hardly heard the urban blight surrounding him. There were irregular pathways of stones meandering through narrowed, living corridors of mature rhododendrons of every blooming color and multiple species of heather. A flagstone patio with overhead trellis entwined with flowering wisteria was the site of my father’s third wedding. The crowning jewel was a mountain of rock towering seven meters on a side towering five meters high.
He collected all the rocks himself from numerous hikes in the Cascades and brought back rocks from Nepal when he visited Katmandu. At customs the agent purportedly struggled to lift his suitcase and asked jokingly if there were rocks inside.
The only lawn he had was was hardly bigger than the footprint of a large bathtub and was fringed by heather. His garden philosophy was, ‘I don’t want to have to work on the garden when the weather is nice. It leaves more time for drinking. I just let it grow and do some trimming in the fall and raking in the winter.’
I am 100% behind this philosophy, even though I’m not as much of an alcoholic as he was.
To that end, I set the literal cornerstone for the garden by weeding out and trimming some heather and setting some granite behind it. My ex planted it in one of her rare gestures of support as a present not long after I told her my name.
Proving the estrogen has done its work, moving the rocks around was much more effort than I expected. The large, round rock in the background used to sit in the back yard and in the past I would have picked it up and carried it in one go. That was out of the question so I rolled/drug/pushed it into place with many breaks.
As a transition point between the human lines of the house and sidewalk, it will connect a planned pond and Zen granite gravel feature. Complementing it is moss with deer fern I sliced out from one of the most shady parts of the lawn. Misting heads tapped into the container irrigation line will provide the moisture and humidity the moss needs to thrive.
After spending some time considering if I should shift and curve the gravel driveway (yes) it was time to install that light. While I’ve made much progress on cleaning out the garage of clutter, there were some larger things that needed to go—an old chair I remember my mom buying from an unfinished furniture store when I was a kid, car booster seats, three outgrown kid bicycles, a tricycle, and other random kid stuff and toys.
All of it was underneath where I needed to put the ladder to cut a hole in the ceiling and that was all the impetus I needed to put it all out on the street for free.
I had a twinge putting the smallest bike with training wheels out since it was the first bike for both of my kids. A Hispanic gardener took it for his 1 year-old grandkid and he was so happy to get a free bike it made me cry since it was going to a good home.
The chair disappeared first, which surprised me. It was almost 50 years old, creaky, and the shape of it is ugly as sin. It was the last chair of the set I had, the rest being broken or similarly freezoned. I celebrated many birthdays in that chair while growing up. We only borrow things for a while and I like to think some other kid will sit in that chair for their birthdays.
Installing the light and switch went smoothly. I’ve pulled and terminated miles and miles of network cable in my life and electrical wire is just bigger with easier terminals to connect. The light is super-bright and perfect for illuminating the table saw at night.
Other than putting up insulation, drywall, and shelving, which can wait, the garage is now ready to take on just about any home project. I’m ready to keep busy with stacked up remodeling tasks on the days I don’t want to be in the garden.
The last task of the evening was to move the 55 gallon acrylic fish tank its iron stand to the porch by the front door. I’ve had the tank since 1987 when its glass predecessor popped a seam in the middle of the night and leaked saltwater, threatening the well-being of a pair of mated maroon clownfish, their very large anemone home, various corals, and my sanity.
I sold the whole rig, (converted to freshwater years before,) to a friend in 2002 when I was doing my best to avoid ending up homeless under crushing debt. He gave it back to me about five years later when he moved to Oregon. It was empty and dirty and it’s stayed that way since in storage lockers and garages.
Now it’s on my porch and it’ll hold the nine goldfish my eldest saved from being eaten by Yoshi the turtle. I knew they didn’t like the idea of feeding Yoshi live food but I took a chance earlier in the week when I was close to the pet store.
Long story short, there were tears, a mad scramble for a bucket and net, them spending an hour fishing then out, and repeated pleas to save them. So now I have a fish tank on my porch.
That was a very long ramble. The method to my madness is comparing it to my life of three years ago. My life is completely different now, in a much, much, _much_ better way.
I’m living my life instead of wishing for the one I want. If you’re living a life you don’t want, my heart goes out to you. Know that there is a life post-transition and while it may not end up being the life you dreamt of having, it is _your life_, not the one other people want you to live.
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2016: Poems from a Year of Change
Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition