We’d had a bad day, he and I.
Not together mind you, but each in our separate lanes, navigating the daily demons that divert us all from enjoying the precious days we are granted on this Earth. Broken water lines, missed deadlines and a pointless conversation with a computerized banker featured heavily in that day for me; for him, it was a day of answering emails and bureaucrats – neither satisfactorily – and of being faced with a Prufrock reflection or two upon the drive home.
We started with the niceties, inquiring politely as to the other’s day while fighting desperately against our shared baser nature to best the other in some silly tit for tat. The possibility of transference loomed ominously, as it does in any relationship that has grown comfortable and familiar with time: both of us exquisitely aware that a single word said in a certain tone would end the evening much in keeping with the day – both of us almost incapable of avoiding the collision.
The children were not helping. Far from standing obedient and happy – ready to please and anxious to assist with dinner (in the manner that I had imagined during long hours in the trenches of toddlerdom), they were teasing each other and us – noise levels growing well past the comfortable limits of middle-age.
Before long, the dog was involved. There was barking. Last nerves were being plucked with long jagged nails. The three cats were inexplicably and suddenly present. A shaft of light caught a thousand particles of dust and pet hair dancing furiously in the commotion, and I was unhappily reminded that the day’s injustices had also prevented me from switching on the vacuum at some point.
The situation seemed hopeless and destined to end in scrambled eggs for dinner, closed doors and television opiates.
And then someone opened the back door.
Whether an instinctual move to lighten the atmosphere, or just a reaction against a cat scratching to go out, it triggered a change in the evening’s fortunes. Neither one of us had spent much time outside that day, and the breath of cool evening air came as a bit of a surprise. With the humidity relatively low and the light just beginning to set into pale shades of pink and blue, options began to present themselves.
The teenagers were firmly ushered outside with the dog and the rest of his feline harem. The shrieking continued, but now it bounced harmlessly off the surrounding trees instead of four walls.
A bottle was opened and glasses were found in answer. He remembered a steak I’d thrown in the fridge to marinate the night before. I remembered a long-forgotten plan for sautéed kale and baby potatoes to accompany it.
We both set off toward the vegetable beds. Once I had filled my basket with the potatoes, I stuffed a bag with kale leaves, and in the spirit of an evening already made healthier, cut some lettuce and arugula for a salad while he inspected the fence posts he had set a few days previously.
And the bureaucrats disappeared. As did the bankers and the water lines, the emails and the deadlines. All vanquished with a bit of fresh soil, a few deep breaths, and a recovered memory of our basic connection to soil and sky.
Though it must be admitted that, for the children, the evening ended a bit differently.
The noise level continued throughout dinner, followed by teenage arrogance and eye-rolling as their father and I discussed the bounty of the garden and the blessings of life in what they perceived to be the ramblings of the old and infirm.
It was, I suppose, to be expected. How can a teenager understand the great pressures of mid-life and the greater relief in forgetting such pressures for a moment?
But they badly miscalculated our parenting strength and pushed too far, basing those calculations upon the weaknesses of earlier, pre-garden parents. Having recovered our mettle, we swiftly meted judgment to fit the crime of cluelessness; and thus convicted, two quieter teens spent the last hours of their day pressed into domestic servitude.
Their chores were our gain. Released from further drudgery, their father and I showed them just how young and spontaneous we could be by grabbing the keys and heading over to a friend’s house to catch the last of the hockey. There might have been Scrabble involved, but I’ve been playing that since I was fourteen. All in all, a miraculous transformation of a day heading downhill fast.
Everything is better outside. Thank God someone opened that door.