Editor’s note for this series: Times are weird right now. Confusion. Anxiety. Panic. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions these past few days. There’s a lot to observe when we’ve been forced to take a long collective pause. For our writers, they are working on their classic vulnerable OOM stories, and they are also bringing the funny, the reflective, and the weird bits we’ve all been experiencing during isolation. This new series, “Isolation Observation,” is meant to bring you into the very real worlds of our writers. Some go deep, some very light, and some in between. We’re all here in this together. xo Alex
At 9:00 a.m., I open the window blinds in my home office and, with one hand raised to block the glare of the sun, I search for my neighbor in his backyard. I don’t know this man. If I saw him any other day—a six-foot white guy in a slightly hunched, aggressive stance wearing Ray-Bans with a white-blond ponytail cascading down his back like a character from Sons of Anarchy—I’d tense up as we passed each other and would debate crossing the street. But now, when the quiet I once loved has become unnerving, I watch him from the second floor of my house with great hope.
Before the pandemic, I watched Rick—that’s what I call him now—water his yard, smoke a cigarette, and toss handfuls of bird seed to the pigeons before retreating into his house. It was all so mundane. I was really only interested in him because he lived in the neighborhood behind my house. I saw him every day, but didn’t know his name. My lack of interest made me worry I’d lost the southern hospitality I learned while living in Texas.
But then two days before schools closed, when we were ordered not to gather in large groups, I became transfixed as I watched Rick push countless loads of soil back and forth across his yard in a wheelbarrow. He shoveled the soil onto the hard-packed desert earth and spread it around. At one point, a man walked in through Rick’s open gate. I could tell by his posture that Rick didn’t know this man, but in minutes, Rick and the stranger were laughing and joking. They surveyed his yard and poked their heads over Rick’s wall to look into the neighbor’s backyard that was between ours. Then, they looked up and, for a second, I thought Rick could see me smiling down at him.
As each day began to feel more uncertain than the one before it, I opened my blinds and there was Rick. He was gardening, but this time with a little more fervor. Maybe it’s an urgency to live. He doesn’t just water, smoke, and greet the pigeons. He plants a few trees. He drives tall stakes into the ground. He tills a back corner of his yard and tends to a vegetable stand where I imagine he’s growing tomatoes or peppers or fresh food that’s too difficult for him to find at the grocery store. Rick’s upgraded his water hose nozzle for one that showers the ground in rich, even sprays. He stands on his patio and surveys his yard—”Yes, it is good,” I imagine him saying—then he smokes and feeds the pigeons. It’s illegal to feed them here, but I cannot begrudge him this. I want Rick to be happy. When he stands in his garden, I know it’s going to be a good day. I know there is something to look forward to.
I can’t wait for the day when I open my blinds at 9:00 a.m., and can no longer see Rick—because his garden has turned into a lush Eden. I hope by then, the pandemic is over, and I can knock on his backyard gate and ask him to come in.