I like to think of myself as this one-with-the-earth hippie type that lives for the outdoors, content only when wrist-deep in the soil of my garden. In reality, I’m a Jewish girl from Jersey. I prefer air conditioning and clean fingernails, and avoid manual labor at all costs. (Exhibit A: while all three of my siblings had summer jobs as landscapers, I got a cushy gig at Blockbuster.)
My husband is the “earthy” one, seeding veggies as early as March and setting them in perfect rows in our front room, where there’s the best sun. He waters them daily, offering words of encouragement. Once or twice, I’ve heard him sing to them. At the first sign of sprouting, he’s as giddy as a child, and spends joyful hours tilling our plot in the backyard, filling it with fertilizer, and planting his little seedlings with just the right amount of space to stretch out. There’s no doubt, watching him, that gardening is his thing.
I, meanwhile, have no patience for it. Gardening is too slow-moving. Last year, Hubby bought me two hydrangea bushes for our front bed which I promptly killed because I couldn’t be bothered to plant or water them properly. There is, however, one aspect of gardening that I absolutely love: weeding. Most gardeners consider it tedious, but I get a deep soul satisfaction from ripping weeds out of the ground. I don’t know what it is: a bent for destruction, maybe? Or, conversely, the need to make order out of chaos? Either way, I get my instant gratification (and a tan!), relieve my aggression, and our yard looks the better for it. Win-win. Thus, Hubby and I have divided the garden workload: I do the weeding, he does everything else.
The thing is, I have to weed, like, regularly if our deal is going to work. Not a problem – if I didn’t have 800 other things to do. With three bulldozer boys destroying my house daily, ever-growing piles of laundry, carpools to drive, and, oh yeah, at least 1000 words a day to write, weeding typically gets shunted to the side until I’m called in for emergency cleanup. My slackage drives my husband up the wall, but he thinks I’m cute and usually forgives me.
This year, though, I let things go too far. Hubby got the plants in the ground in early June, which everyone knows is the most insane month of the year, with all the end-of-school events, graduations, barbecues, and last-minute scrambling to sign your kids up for camp (which you should have done in March, but, whatever). Weeding was at the bottom of my priority list. My husband kept reminding me to do it, and each time, I’d respond with a halfhearted “Yeah, yeah…” then presently forget about it. This went on for about a month with no improvement, followed by a two-week vacation to the Cape House. By the time we got home, our garden looked like Jumanji.
Hubby’s beloved cukes and tomatoes and peppers and basil were suffocating, as the lush weeds growing were siphoning off their sun and water supply. Which meant, if they were going to live, I had to act fast. Out I went to the garden, turned Heart’s “Barracuda” up high, and with the first rip of roots from the ground, that familiar warm, contented feeling washed over me. Why ever did I wait so long to do this?
After about two hours, however, my back was seizing, my feet were in agony, and the same question circled in my mind, only with a much nastier edge: Why in the hell did I wait so long to do this? There’s a reason that seasoned gardeners stick to the adage, “Weed for an hour in March or five in May,” and I was living proof. It reminded me of the time the inspection sticker on my car expired and I just didn’t get around to renewing it – despite knowing I was driving a ticking time bomb. Lo and behold, about six months later, my car was towed. If I’d just spared the 30 minutes to take care of the damn thing, I wouldn’t have lost the better part of a day (and over $300!) paying the fees at the local police station, getting the release papers, and picking up the car from a towing company that I’m positive is a front for black market organ donation.
I confess that these kinds of choices are pretty regular for me. There are countless administrative, grown-up things I leave unattended until it’s almost too late: library books weeks (okay, months) overdue, ignored bills, unsubmitted paperwork. I tell myself to let it slide because I’m busy and my time is precious, but I suspect it’s something deeper, like fear, which is usually at the root of procrastination. But what’s to be afraid of? Getting shit done?
For years, I was trapped by inertia, both struggling against and luxuriating in the muck that kept me fixed in place. It was a torture that worked for me, because by staying stuck, I didn’t have to find out what happened next – good or bad – or take responsibility for anything. I could just hide out. But life kept moving forward, no matter how hard I tried to dig in my heels, which meant I was bound for a collision sooner or later. Little crises grew up around me like weeds, but instead of pulling them out by the root, I ignored them. And so they grew. I became comfortable with a perpetual state of crisis. And, both luckily and unluckily for me, someone else cleaned up the mess after things fell apart.
So maybe that’s it. Perhaps I still think that, if I wait long enough, someone else will appear to clean up the mess, and shield me from the consequences of my own decisions. The person who used to do this for me is no longer living, and if she was still here she would tell me, verbatim: “Get a life, Re. You’re a big girl now.” My husband is just another human whose assignment on this planet does not include saving me from myself. So I guess that means I’m left with me.
But kind of empowering, too.
From what I gather, I’m not the only one with weeds. Most of us have them – if not the administrative ones, then the day-to-day fears, resentments, griefs, and anxieties we let grow by not tending to them, until they overtake everything. It’s the reason most major religions, philosophies, hell, even the twelve steps, encourage a daily accounting: so that we can pull the weeds as they come in, instead of waiting until we’re suffocating from lack of sunlight.
By the time I was done weeding the garden, Heart had bowed out for Paul Simon, who made way for the Indigo Girls. The sun was low in the sky, and a breeze softened the afternoon heat. Dirt had wedged into the folds of my fingers, my hair swam in sweat under my headband, and my body was waving the white flag. And yet, I was pleased by the sight of our (imperfectly) cleared garden, and relieved that the job was now behind me, instead of looming over me. I sat back on my heels, brushed off my hands, and prayed that maybe next time, I wouldn’t wait so long.