I cut down my lilies today.
My dear friend and neighbor, Laura said I was sobbing so hard that she could hear me over the lawn mower.
Pink, yellow, orange lilies, Asiatic and Stargazer lilies. Their empty stalks had been choked out by eager, Morning Glories and thistles long before any of them even had a chance to bloom this year. Underneath them, no mulch was to be seen, the weeds were so dense. There was simply nothing left, no remnants of all of the love I had poured into the ground.
I mowed over my once-vibrant Black Eyed Susans… more like a Black Eyed Susan… as there was only a solitary stalk left from the patch, like a soldier desperately trying to keep his flag flying.
As I worked, one of the other neighbors came out and started screaming at me over the fence.
He rides and repairs motorcycles. He’s one scary dude, and some of the neighbors are so afraid of him they won’t talk to him. I always had made it a point to talk to him anyway. Before we left, we were on very good terms and even shared special batches of foods and freshly picked produce and flowers from our gardens.
None of this seemed to come to his mind at that moment. He was livid, spit flying with every word.
I was still choking back the tears over my beloved flowers. He didn’t care. He let me have it, full force.
“Since you’ve been gone, no one has consistently kept up with the yard. The weeds in the front are as tall as my waist. I have had to call the police more times than I can count for people trespassing in your yard, and once even for a guy trying to climb into your basement window. The sidewalks are covered in ice in the winter….” he went on, in this manner, inserting some very pointed cuss words throughout.
“The trash has been piled up for a long time,” he continued. “There are animals that come to check it out on your porches and then they come into my yard…”
Finally, I clenched my fists at my side and shouted back.
He wouldn’t have heard me otherwise.
“PLEASE STOP YELLING AT ME!” I said loudly. “I just mowed down my most favorite flower garden,” I screamed back, so angry and hurt I didn’t care that I was crying in front of him. “Did you know that I dream about this garden when I’m away? And then to find it like this? I am absolutely heartbroken over this yard! This house! And you stand here, swearing at me and threatening me over the condition of my house and you’ve been throwing large BRANCHES into my yard!”
This made him even more angry.
He started to yell about the branches overhanging his house and how he’s had to cut them himself… how there was no contact information for us.
This part wasn’t true, and I stopped him. I had given his wife contact information before we left, and noted that he even acknowledged that some neighbors had mentioned they talked to me online. I called him out on this, and he said that perhaps he hadn’t pursued getting in touch with me as well as he could have.
He started to calm down a bit.
“Look, I think of you as a friend,” I said. “I had no idea that things were this bad. I haven’t been here for two years. All I know is what I’m seeing right now. I am sick over the condition of this house and it is against what I believe about stewardship for it to have gotten this way. I know that the upkeep of this house is my responsibility alone, no matter who else was living here or who was hired to keep up with things. I truly didn’t know this was going on.”
He mentioned that he was upset because he felt like it was bringing down the value of his house.
He was becoming more quiet.
“It is bringing down the value of your house, and I’m sorry,” I said. “I will be working to correct this problem. I love this neighborhood and I want it to thrive – not just be trashed with junky houses like mine!’
He said, “I’m sorry for making you cry, Sarah. Deep down, I had a feeling you didn’t know. You put so much work into making this yard lovely. You must be really sad to see it like this.”
I said, “I am. You didn’t make me cry. I was already crying when you came over. This is my fault for not keeping closer tabs on this place personally. I totally understand why you are upset, and you have every right to be. It’s not your responsibility to keep an eye on the house. You have enough on your plate as it is. Thanks for calling the police when someone was trying to break in.”
I gave him my phone number, and he gave me his. “I’d be happy to help you in any way I can, Sarah. Sorry for yelling at you. I’ve just been really fed up about this place and felt frustrated that I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I was actually going to call the police again tomorrow about it.”
“I understand you were frustrated. I’m not mad at you for feeling a need to call the police over it. You were just trying to get something done about this place,” I said, again acknowledging his position.
He said to say hello to Tom for him, and I asked if he would say hello to his wife. He said that he would. “You call me if you need anything, Sarah. I’m serious. I want to help. I wouldn’t have given you my number if I didn’t mean it.”
We said goodbyes on neighborly terms, and with the assurance he’d call me first before calling the police in the future.
In the cool of the night, and safe from the bees that buzz around the weed flowers, I culled four enormous garbage bags of prickly thistles from the English ivy on the hill.
Meanwhile, he sat on his porch nearby and smoked a cigarette.
I imagine he needed one after that.