A thin woman with gray hair pulled back in a tight ponytail shouted across the street at me. I’d encountered her once before, last year, on the sidewalk by my house. She was examining the trees the City had planted on the boulevard.
“You killed them.” she said. There was fury in her eyes. She looked at me as if I was the drought, killing the baby trees, drying up the creek with my sucking, unquenchable thirst.
It hadn’t occurred to me to water them; I didn’t plant them. But I watered those trees that day and the next and the next.
So when I saw her on the other side of the street staring closely at someone else’s sapling, I was a little relieved. I noticed she was wearing tennis shoes and that her jeans fit her the same way jeans fit my mom, dangling almost, from the sharp hooks of her hips.
And then she shouted, “I suppose you’re going to let your dog shit on my lawn.”
Well, no, I hadn’t planned on it. But it’s possible, I guess, since I don’t know where you live. There wouldn’t be any malice in it. I mean dogs aren’t like that. And anyway, I’d clean it up.
I didn’t say anything. My dog, Betty, and I just watched her walk away, like we watched that coyote walk away last fall, after eating its warm squirrel breakfast.
Poor you, I thought and then I wondered what I could possibly have said to dissolve her meanness. I came up with nothing. But who am I to try and fix her, as if she’s the broken one, as if we all don’t have stuck gears and rusty springs and all sorts of missing pieces.
I am broken just like she is.
I’m the thief who breaks into your garage and I’m the thief in shiny, fancy clothes helping myself to your paycheck. I’m the fat guy that lies and the thin guy that lies. I’m a rapist, a torturer. I’m a murderer too. And I’m a notorious slut.
But I’m also Jimmy Carter and Mary Oliver and Jean Vanier. I’m all the writers and artists and music makers. I’m the people who raise their voices against war, who are willing to accept less, to give freely of what they have for peace. I am all of these people and they are all me.
I am the thin, angry woman, the protector of trees, who shows her brokenness so openly. I had better be kind.