I’m carrying water from the spigot at Northeastern’s playing field across the street and through the park to the garden I planted, probably illegally. I used to think of myself as a community activist. Then I received an email from the state that they would run a lawnmower over my roses and I felt more like a guerrilla gardener. Then I came to water the garden and my hose was gone and the water main was turned off, so now I wonder if I’m a neighborhood pariah.
I try not to take it personally. People warned me that it gets turned off some time in October. And maybe someone thought it was the city’s hose. When people see me working on my garden they always say, “You guys are doing such a great job,” as if somehow I am working in an official capacity. Like the Boston Commissioner of Obsessive Gardening.
The first part of the garden I water is the farthest away from the spigot because if I wait til the end I might decide it’s too far to schlep the water. I created this part of the garden first, and it is a miniature version of my oval-shaped garden back at the farm. There are roses and azaleas but also a few tests tucked in between:
I planted blueberries to test if the rabbits will eat them. The rabbits only ate dwarf highbush, so I left it there and now they leave the rest of the bushes alone: we have reached an understanding.
I planted expensive hydrangeas to see if people would steal them. They didn’t.
While I walk back and forth I sing to myself because I can — this is the first time in 20 years that I’m alone so much of the time. I sing the same song over and over again. I just sort of start with one and then stick with it for the rest of the day. I try to sing softly near the tennis courts but still my black garden buckets swing a little too freely when I walk by the kids waiting to play.
My bucket doesn’t fit right and the spigot sprays all over, so I wear clothes that I don’t mind getting wet. The people around me do not. While I wait for the buckets to fill I toss a couple of stray tennis balls back into the court so I look more relatable. I also look up at my son’s dorm. The building is next to the athletic fields, diagonal from my park. I find his dorm room by counting five windows down from the top and four windows over from the right. He told me it’s crazy how much I look up at his dorm window. But I know he doesn’t think it’s that crazy because he never closes the shade. Anyway, I can’t really see anything — I can only see the light.
If I am too interested in what the other kids are like and whether any of them know my son then I might spill too much water. And if my younger son wants alone time and I have to take my dog with me then I have to take one bucket and not two. Not because I need to hold the leash — I don’t. She knows the garden routine just fine. But when she finds a tennis ball she insists on a game of catch. All the Northeastern kids want to play catch with her. She only plays with me though. That’s the price you pay for a dog who can be off leash in a big city. Nothing is free.
Someone posts a notice that says the garden must be removed and the transgressor must resod.
I continue to water the garden and every time I water I add more things to the garden. Digging is like drawing because I get to make new lines, and putting in new plants is like painting because I can imagine the colors and how they’ll come up next year. The dog digs holes for her tennis balls, and I dig holes for plants, and sometimes we like it so much we do it long after my son has gone to bed.
At 2am I am filling buckets at the spigot and the dog is finding tennis balls in the bushes. I tell myself I don’t need to try to look normal as we cross the street — her prancing with her ball, me splashing with my bucket. No one looks normal at 2am.
In the shadows behind the hydrangeas a guy pops out. I’ve seen him before, watching me garden.
He says, “Why do you do it?”
“Well. I’m not sure what else to do instead.”