On branches and weeds

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?”

A casual glance through the front window. “Nope.”

“Okay.”

My husband and I had been having this same conversation for four months. The two trees in our front yard were so over grown that the leaves were only inches away from the ground. One exceptionally long branch was hanging over the street, waiting for a strong wind to knock it into one of our neighbor’s cars. Our yard was a hazard and an eye-sore. We both knew it and we both wanted to do something about it. We looked into hiring a landscaper. We had seen several trucks on our block and they had all very helpfully stuffed their cards through the screen door. Still, every offer seemed too expensive. In my eyes, the logical thing to do would be to trim the trees ourselves, but we didn’t have the tools or friends we could borrow the tools from.

“Besides,” my husband would always say. “Our trashcans are too small to fit that big branch and all of those leaves. They would just end up in a big pile in the back yard, and I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

I asked if he could borrow some tools from work since they sometimes have to do landscaping around their billboards. I volunteered to help him so that we could get the task done quicker. I suggested renting a dumpster to put the branch in. I did everything in my power to make the job sound easier than it was. There was always a good reason why he couldn’t ask his boss about the tools or why this weekend wasn’t a good weekend to take care of the yard or why renting a dumpster wouldn’t work. Meanwhile, the wind kept blowing and the rain kept coming and before we knew it, there was a jungle of weeds in our backyard tall enough to touch my hips. I started pulling them myself but the task was daunting, especially since four hours of pulling weeds had barely put a dent in the sea of plant parasites in our backyard.

I didn’t want to nag him. Nagging men doesn’t ever seem to work. I watched my mother do it and it only ever seemed to make my dad angry. He would make his decision/do that one chore/buy that one appliance/paint the fence/file that document/get rid of the clutter in the backyard when he was good and ready, and no amount of complaining or begging was going to change that. (He always did get it done, just not when my mother wanted it done.) I tried nagging my little brother about his chores in the years after my older siblings were out of the house, my parents were both still working, and it was just the two of us on Saturday mornings. Mom had given us both responsibilities and I had done my share. I didn’t think it fair that he got to laze around and told him so. It would take an hour of his day tops to do his laundry, clean his room, and take out the trash. But no! He didn’t feel like doing it right then so he wasn’t going to do it. I would yell and scream until I had no voice and no dignity, and he would still sit there, very calmly, and say, “Nope. Don’t wanna.” (My little brother and I get along great now, by the way.)

The same thing pretty much happens with my husband. Neither of us have ever gotten angry enough to yell at each other, but we’ve gotten frustrated and annoyed with each other when I ask him do to anything repeatedly and he doesn’t do it immediately. Every time, he has stated very clearly that he heard me the first time and he does indeed plan on doing that thing I asked him to do, just not at the exact moment I would like this thing to be done. At times, I’ve been able to remember that I love this man and I chose to marry this man and, with that choice, I also vowed to respect this man whether he drops what he’s doing to do what I want him to do or not. And at other times, I simply stew in the corner, muttering under my breath about the “stubbornness of dwarves.” (Hobbit reference to those of you who are raising your eyebrows right now.) As you have probably concluded, the former response is the more mature and loving response, and the one I think we should all strive to achieve in situations like these.

So I decided to be patient despite the fact that the yards made my stomach turn every time I looked at them. He knows it bothers me, I reasoned. To some degree, it bothers him too. I just have to wait until it bothers him enough to push him to do something about it. That’s not to say I didn’t gently prompt him now and then with the, “Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?” question. But I don’t think he considered that to be nagging because he never became frustrated or upset with me when I asked.

Finally, the blessed day arrived when I pulled into the garage and looked over at my husband’s truck to see heavy duty gardening tools. Once inside, I saw my husband sitting before the TV, playing his video games, with the curtains drawn away from the sliding glass doors. (Usually, he keeps the curtains closed because he claims the light from outside causes a terrible glare against his screen.) It was a wonderful sight to behold; a clean-cut back yard without any sign of weeds. I expressed my joy by falling into his lap, throwing my arms around his neck, and kissing him repeatedly. I might have been a tad overly dramatic, but I have no regrets.

He trimmed the trees the next morning. I raked up all the leaves and thinner branches for him and we filled our trashcan plus two large garbage bags. He took out the chainsaw and cut down that dangerously long branch. Then he cut it into smaller pieces and we loaded them into the bed of his truck. We took a little trip to the landfill and bid a very short farewell to that branch. Then it was off to Smashburger for a date we couldn’t afford. While I’m usually very frugal and disciplined about going out to eat when we really shouldn’t, I was happy to charge it to the credit card. And while I’m usually very self-conscious about the way I look in public, I sported a messy high pony tail, an old Spider-Man T-shirt, jean shorts, and my running shoes without a care. Because our yards were clean, our trees looked beautiful, my husband was in a good mood, and we were eating great food.

“In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” I don’t know who Khalil Gibran is, but he’s a wise man. I think sometimes I get so caught up in being a wife that I forget to be a friend. I could’ve said something along the lines of, “Finally!” or “It’s about time you finally got this done!” or “If you’d just listened to me four months ago, this would have been done by now!” but that would’ve changed the day completely. It would’ve led to an argument. Instead, we were able to work as a team and enjoy lunch afterwards, teasing and talking and just being together. As a couple but also as friends.

I’m so thankful that my husband and I can do things like that. We can work, run errands, do chores, even sit together in the same room (him playing his video games, me watching Gilmore Girls on the laptop), and be refreshed. Together. And I think it’s because of the way we choose to respond to one another in potentially upsetting situations. Did I have a right to be mad? I think so. Did he have a right to lay into me for asking him about the yards every so often? No matter how gentle or nice I was about it, I was still repeating myself so, yes, he probably did have a right to become frustrated with me. But I know my husband; he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing, moocher who waits until I get tired enough to just do whatever it is I want done myself. He had a timetable that was different from mine, and respecting that brought forth good results. And he knows me; he knows my intentions are good, even if I sometimes let my emotions or other circumstances get the best of me. The key, I think, is remembering the truths about each other and using those truths to shape our responses.

I don’t pretend to know everything about marriage. After all, I’m still a newly-wed. (We’ll be celebrating our second anniversary at the end of May. Woohoo!) But I think we’ve got a good thing going on here, and if I can share it with others, maybe even be of some help, I will.

Stormy weather

Today’s the third day in a row that the skies have been overcast here in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s been raining on and off, and will continue to rain on and off throughout the weekend. Or so the weather forecast people say. I don’t know what it is about this weather but it makes it very hard to work. My desk is situated in a corner; there is a large window beside me and behind me. I have a clear picture of the cold, wet, gloomy world outside. It almost seems to muffle sounds, this invasion of storm clouds. The naked tree branches against the background of misty grey seem to make the sky bigger (if that’s possible). I find my mind wandering to my manuscripts, my works-in-progress, the stories floating around in my head that I haven’t written down yet. It’s almost as if a spell has been cast, a spell to heighten imagination and dim focus.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this weather. I’ll take cold and cloudy over clear skies and overpowering sun any day. But this isn’t working weather. It’s curl-up-on-the-couch-and-read-a-book weather, or have-a-movie-marathon-and-eat-ice-cream kind of weather, or write-while-listening-to-epic-movie-scores weather.

My dad grew up on a farm. His father woke him up before the sun rose to do work in the fields. On cloudy, rainy days, however, my dad was allowed to sleep in and have a lazy day indoors. That’s why he claims days like today make him feel lethargic. I don’t really have an excuse.

Still, I don’t think anyone can deny that there’s something special about rain.

I’ve had some pretty cool moments while it was raining. I used to play in the rain with my little brother. Many an adventure was had while lightning streaked across the sky. It rained for 12 hours while my family took a road trip to Sacramento. My brother and uncle took turns driving through the night and into the next day. I can still remember waking up in the back of the truck, shifting into a more comfortable position, seeing my big brother at the wheel with nothing but gray mist and water to be seen through the windshield. The cars speeding beside us made me nervous but I trusted my brother.

It was summer when I first moved to Phoenix. I was living with my grandparents until I could find my own place. I didn’t know it at the time, but Phoenix is known for their summer dust storms. The natives call them Haboobs. A strong wind will pick up a wall of dust that moves across the entire city, covering everything in a fine layer of dirt. Then some rain will come to turn the dirt into mud. My uncle, living in a rental house next door at the time, came over to take pictures of the dust storm. We sat in my grandparents’ garage, talking life and photography while we waited for lightning to illuminate the dreary sky. My future was still so uncertain but, for that hour and a half, it didn’t seem as scary.

During a thunderstorm, my landlord’s dog got loose and was going crazy outside. I snatched her and brought her into my little apartment to keep her safe until my landlord came home. She lay huddled beside me on the couch, trembling and whining every time the thunder rolled, while I watched a movie on my laptop. I was nineteen and experiencing my first big storm alone. That dog, although annoying, was a welcomed companion that night.

Another storm took out the power while I was working at Chipotle. Food safety protocol forced us to throw away all the food on the burrito line when it got cold. We waited for the power to come back on and then proceeded to cook more food. We were closed for almost three hours before the line was re-stocked again. I can still picture the unfortunate coworker, who had been assigned the job of turning people away, standing just outside the door in her windbreaker, kindly explaining over and over again why we were closed. In the months to come, one of us would look at the other after a particularly difficult shift and say something like, “Today was bad, but remember that one time when the power went out?”

While we were dating, my now husband parked his truck at a stop sign and tugged me outside to kiss me in the rain just because I mentioned I’d always wanted to be kissed in the rain. Also while we were dating, my now husband locked his keys in his truck for the first time during a storm. He spent almost an hour trying to break into his own car before he finally gave up. I let him stay at my apartment until the storm blew over and then drove him to his house for the spare key. We weren’t even talking about marriage yet but he gave me that spare key once the ordeal was over. As if he knew that it would be safe with me.

The first time my husband and I spent the night at the lake together, the weatherman said it would rain. We managed to get the tent up just before it started pouring. Then the wind picked up. It was kind of hard to be romantic newly weds when the cold, wet material of the tent was mere inches away from our faces. It rained so much that it soaked through our tent and our sleeping bags. We were forced to take everything down and drive back home at two in the morning. We were soaked, covered in mud, and exhausted by the time we got home.

It rained Christmas Eve of last year, the first holiday my husband and I hosted his family in our new house.

And it’s raining now.

I guess I feel the same way about rain as Lorelai Gilmore feels about snow. In one of the earlier seasons, it’s the middle of the night but Lorelai can’t sleep. She goes down stairs to throw the windows open and look out. When I was watching the episode, I was confused. Nothing’s happening, I thought. What is she waiting for? And then it started to snow. That look on her face…that look of hope and wonder and enchantment, must be the same one I’ve got on my face right now as I watch the rain fall through the window.

Maybe something wonderful will happen. Maybe something unfortunate will happen, something that I’ll be able to laugh and blog about later. Or maybe the rain will just fall and nothing will happen. Either way, I’ll be watching.