Weeding the Garden Makes Me Angry
by Megan Reilley
My children are Snapchatting me from the road. My teenager sends a Snap of herself with AirPods in, rolling her eyes toward the sunroof, rain puddles pooling on the glass above her. She Snaps another of her sister in the backseat. And another of the floor of her dad’s car. She is, in her way, painting a picture. I want to paint one, too, so I Snap back a picture of myself, sweating, disheveled, in our vegetable garden. I apply a filter to make the image black and white, caption it, “Weeding. Woot woot.” The girls helped me plant this garden, and I want them to know I am taking care of it while they are away.
This is how we stay in touch, sending silly pictures of ourselves doing whatever we are doing in the moment. The kids are on their way to Florida. They’re in the middle of a two-week stay with their father in his new place far away from our home. Through my children’s Snaps, I have seen that my ex’s condo is a state-of-the art nod to single living, boasting polished cement floors and floor-to-ceiling windows, a rooftop pool, and an indoor basketball court, all within walking distance to the restaurants and bars of a bustling downtown. It has always been important to my ex that he be able to stumble home, though in our time together it was usually from a neighbor’s house long after our four children were tucked in. When he moved across town, he left most of his possessions behind. When he moved out of state, he bought everything new.
A clean slate.
A fresh start.
Another Snap comes in from my teenager. Out her car window, the clouds sit heavy and full above a rain-slicked road.
Meanwhile, I am weeding the garden.
I Snap my view: our dogs wrestling just on the other side of the garden fence, in front of the shed. Beyond the shed is another area that used to also be a garden, before my ex tried to grow corn there. Weeds that look like corn grow there now, the remainder of something that once had promise. The corn never produced a single ear. It turns out that corn is a wild grass, domesticated as maize from its original form teosinte, mutating and thriving for almost 9,000 years. The wild grass has crept into the vegetable beds that wrap around the shed, the ones I attempt to keep functional by weeding. I pull and pull. I use a weed whacker. I spray chemicals. Last summer, I paid two young men to lay down a barrier, spread rock, so I would never have to weed again. Yet the weeds grow, rising from any crevice touched by the sun. Weeds with names that wound—Dock, Horsenettle, Pokeweed, Thistle, and that choking vine, Kudzu.
Weeding the garden makes me angry.
I read on the internet that women, in general, are angry. I also read on the internet that women aren’t entitled to their anger. Women on the internet tell other women on the internet about the danger of their anger. Women say to other women that we shouldn’t let this anger consume us, that we must tamp it down, the way we tamped down pieces of ourselves in marriages that didn’t serve us. We must do this to keep everyone comfortable.
It’s true, I tame this anger when my children are home, because it’s not their fault their mother is angry. I tuck my anger into forgotten corners of the family home, under dusty furniture and in the drawers of the abandoned tool chest. I slip it into crevices behind the mirrors in every room. Mirrors and rooms where I once saw something bigger than myself—a happy, comfortable future in this house we built together. I want my children to be comfortable. Isn’t that why I stayed long after I knew I needed to go?
I pull the blades of corn grass, or whatever it has become, along with some other intruder taking over my beans and peppers. The leaves on one tomato plant are yellow from stress. The Kudzu is twisting and climbing up the tomato’s stalk, choking it. I bend over the vegetable bed, plunge my fingers into the cool earth, and pull the vine before it kills its host.
I want order restored. I want neat rows and measurable progress— a bud here, a blossom there. I am waiting for something succulent and nourishing to come from the seeds I so painstakingly nestled into their beds.
One of my dogs, a guarding breed, circles the shed on his prowl for rabbits. He will poke his head into their burrow on the far side and, seeing their fuzzy silhouettes but unable to reach them, he will retreat and circle the shed again. He returns there each time I let him out, ever hopeful that this time a bunny will emerge and his diligence will be rewarded.
I pull and pull and the sweat soaks my head and drips in my face and I’m using my tank top to wipe it and I am wondering what the neighbors think when they see me, as they must, lifting my shirt and using it as a towel. They see everything. They see me inflating the tires and replacing the spark plugs on the barely functional rider mower. They see the parade of push mowers I procure to replace it. Over the fence, they surely see the weeds masquerading as grass in my yard.
I’m snapping weeds, too frustrated now to Snap my kids. I groan loudly, mutter, “Fucking weeds,” every time one breaks off without its root. I’ll never get ahead. They will always be growing back.
My youngest daughter’s strawberry plant grows in the shade of the tomatoes. It produced a single soft, red berry when the plant was tiny and new, and then nothing. I see its bushy pink stems and familiar greenery standing tall and robust among the weeds, and among the green, a surprising pop of red. I lift the tender leaves and am rewarded by a dozen plump, red strawberries glistening in a patch of sunlight pushing through the shade. Something sweet can thrive here after all.
The next morning, I rise early. Our community, the one where I’ve lived for nineteen years—five since the divorce—is having its annual yard sale. I hadn’t planned to participate. On a whim, I drag the vestiges of my former life—two upholstered chairs, a loveseat, a complete set of entertaining glassware and china, eight screwdrivers, two push lawnmowers, and a rider mower—out to the driveway. I hand write the sign: “Make me an offer.” It’s as fresh a start as I can manage.