It was a hot afternoon and the first day I had been able to sit upright on the couch without a lot of back pain. Gina, my neighbor, had dropped off a few groceries she had kindly gotten for me. Her round face was slightly puffy from the humidity and the blue glass tiara she was wearing in her waist-length blond wig was slightly off center. Long dangling earrings and a necklace and bracelet combination with large multi-color butterflies completed her ensemble. With her substantial bosom and high heels she looks like a 65-year old Barbie doll.
As she bustled around my kitchen putting away the few purchases she again began her litany. How the only thing that really gave her pleasure in life, other than her parrot, was her plants. All she wanted was a little cottage with some room for a garden. Was that too much to ask?
Since circumstances had forced her move to the apartment complex last fall, all of her beautiful succulents were stacked in pots on her patio or boarded out among friends scattered across the city. The apartment manager had already warned her several times to remove the dozens of pots from her entry way as they were a hazard to the fire department.
Ginahas been on tranquilizers since she was in her twenties. She has a social worker who goes with her to various appointments as her level of anxiety is so high it is sometimes difficult for her to drive. She is a kind-hearted person and I have never heard her gossip or talk about the other residents. She is street-smart, rather than educated, and is proud of her 40+-year career as a waitress. But she can no longer work and the money that came so easily before is now hard to come by.
I’ve talked to Gina many times over the last few months and each conversation eventually centers on the same theme – if only I had a little cottage with a yard, I could be happy. It is the same conversation we all have with ourselves. If only … I had a partner, a better job, was better looking, had more money, had a house, better health, a stronger body, had a child, had a car, had some recognition, had a spiritual breakthrough. We each finish the sentence in our own way but we all say it.
We take the unhappiness or dissatisfaction with our lives and give it a specific focus. If only this one desire could be fulfilled, we could be happy. But that fulfillment is always held like a carrot on a stick, somewhere in the future, at some golden time when our hearts will finally be at ease, when the gnawing hunger will finally be satisfied, when our minds will finally be quiet.
For Gina, that hunger is to have a garden again. It is unlikely that desire will be fulfilled for cottages with gardens are now out of reach for someone on social security living in a city. She has been told about the need to accept things as they are, to make allowances, to make compromises, to surrender to the facts of life. But she is not willing to go gently.
Like a child who cannot understand why she is being denied the treat, she cries and worries and prays and begs the faceless energy called Life for a reprieve, to be the loving mother and father who are now gone.
In the same way she cannot put aside the long blond wig or the childish tiaras or the Daisy Mae blouses, Gina is unwilling to be carried along effortlessly in life’s current. Instead of a peaceful acceptance of the way it is, she is fighting for the way things ought to be, and it is a losing battle for her and for all of us.
Meanwhile, I change the subject and ask her what she will make for dinner tonight and what clever thing Zorba her parrot has said today. We tentatively plan to go to the farmer’s market when I can get around again and she relates how the things she was given at the food bank were mostly spoiled. When she leaves I give a hug to her small, sturdy body and some of the long blond hairs rub against my cheek like little plastic wires.