Sunday, July 10, 2016

Roots of Anger

When words escape, flowers speak
~ Bruce W.  Currie

The headlights of my car shone on my husband, James, sitting in a lawn chair beneath one of the large oak trees on the perimeter of our front yard. While it was not unusual for James to sit out in the gardens, admiring the flowers and enjoying the air, it was unusual to see him out there on a cool and misty late September evening—too late, almost too dark, to see anything in the garden.
         I parked and stepped out of the car, turning as James walked toward me.  With only a slight greeting, he took my arm and gently led me to the edge of a nearby flowerbed. 
         My eyes soon adjusted to the waning light and I faced what he had seen when he came home a few hours earlier: almost every single one of the lush and lovely perennial plants in the entire front garden pulled out, lying there on the ground, their roots exposed and their leaves withering.  I could not speak, tears came in my eyes. All I could manage was a small whimper.  What in the hell had happened?
          James led me around to the back garden and I saw the same decimation. Dozens and dozens of flowers and even small shrubs, all ripped out. Thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of work, all that burgeoning beauty, yanked out of the ground.
       When it became too dark to examine any further, we walked into the house. James poured us each a glass of wine.  We began to speculate, trying to figure out who would have done such a hateful thing. 
        James said he had seen the five, six and seven year old girls from the house next door skitter across our driveway just as he came home at 4:00.  He did not think much of that as the girls had skipped around in our front yard at other times and once or twice we  had a few brief but enjoyable conversations with them.

The family moved in to the house two years previous. During that time, we made a few attempts to be neighborly with their mother, Jackie and stepfather, Jonas. They both seemed guarded and tense—unwilling to communicate much beyond a nod.
       At 2 a.m. just a month before, Jackie stumbled drunk, loud and disoriented into our yard. The next day her mother came over to apologize for Jackie’s behavior. She said her daughter was a clinically depressed alcoholic, stemming from childhood sexual abuse (this was just a bit more than I needed to know). I reacted with guarded sympathy, as I did not want to become embroiled in the family’s personal problems

Several times over the previous two years we observed the stepfather very drunk and we often heard him shouting angry, hateful things at the girls.  He and James had a verbal run in or two concerning their barking dog and the garbage cans and collection of old cars which often spilled onto our property. 
        A few days before this plant-pulling, the stepdad accused James of killing their dog (that was the first I knew of the animal’s death).  James responded, “I didn’t kill your dog. I could have if I had wanted to, but I didn’t.”
      We truly did not want to believe it, but after much talking, James and I both connected the destruction of our flower gardens to our next-door neighbors. As difficult as it was to fathom, the three girls must have wreaked the havoc in our gardens.

Even though my heart ached when I thought of waking to the specter of all those lovely plants lying on the ground, a deep sadness for three little children displaying such frenzied anger tempered my pain. I willed myself to dwell on the next morning and how I might handle the situation.
         The new day arrived crisp and sunny.  I called my office to say I would be in after lunch, then I took my cup of coffee and walked around the front and back yards to check on the state of the plants. As I did, I meditated on the right way to approach the situation with our neighbors.
      We knew the girls lived in a house with a dysfunctional mother and a stepfather who was sullen and angry, drank too much and had a volatile personality. This knowledge led us to imagine the girls lived with ongoing, disturbing upheavals in the home. 
          Although never subjected to the dysfunctional home life these girls lived, I recalled the roiling, inner anger I felt during my childhood years ... always feeling helpless and misunderstood and often acting out in untoward ways.  
        My childhood experiences were nothing approximating what I felt certain these little girls endured. Yet I understood that an inner rage at injustices and the sense of being powerless to change anything at all sometimes twists children to behave inappropriately.

I walked over to the girls’ house and spoke with their mother. Without any trace of disbelief, Jackie acknowledged the girls probably did pull the flowers. She said they thought James killed their small dog and were sad and angry about that possibility; she then offered an apology for their behavior.  Just as she backed away from me and began to close the front door, Jackie agreed to my request for the girls to come to the garden the following day, Saturday.
        I spent the rest of the morning checking on the plants, determining which ones might survive replanting and which ones might not make it. An inner healing took place as I walked among those dearly-loved plants; any residual anger, any sadness and pain left from the night before was replaced with a deep sense of empathy for the helplessness and turmoil those children must be experiencing.
         When I arrived home that evening, I found several notes of differing sizes and shapes on the back porch. With a purple pen and colored pencils, the girls wrote and drew pictures (all spelling is as written by the girls):

          Dear Nabers, Hi, how are you? I am so, so, so, so, so sory after I mde a mess of yur yard.  Wie I did it becuse you guy yeld at us about the dog barking and some times the dog was not even hear. Mom told me that you seid we can’t play in are own yard so sorry we picked the flowers.  Mom seid that you seid we can’t have are garbige up  at the top of the griveway and I am sorry I even went on your properdy. Sorry agin I will do some work in your yard that you want me to.  From Naber Marin
     Dear Nabers I am sorry [picture with arrow pointing to “durt”]  
     From Kailey
         I am sorry Naber but We just got mad.  Kailey
         I am so [repeated 13 times] sory but I just got mad. 
         Sisey will tell you wie…

         Dear Nabers I am sorry From Blayke [with drawing]

          The next morning Marin, Kailey and Blayke, knocked on our back door.  Shortly after greeting them, I told them how sad I felt when I heard their dog had been killed―assuring them James did nothing to cause the death. The three of them shifted back and forth, eyes down. In a heartbeat or two, Marin, the oldest, looked up at me with a sweet half-smile and said they were ready to help with the flowers.
         The girls and I walked around the front and back yard.  As we walked, I told them of my love for flowers and how much they meant to me; the joy and happiness I felt as they bloomed and grew. I listened when they commented and answered when they asked questions.  I showed them the hand tools and demonstrated how to use them. 
        The girls worked close beside me--often asking the name as they picked up a drooping plant and positioned it back in its spot.  As we worked, I talked about sunshine, rain, fertilizer and nature. Over the next three hours, working side by side with me, I sensed those three little girls were absorbing my words and I have no doubt they truly loved the type of attention they were receiving. Happily, most of the uprooted, replanted perennials and shrubs survived. 

I don't want to sound as though I was feeling oh-so altruistic. Sad, hurt and angry, my initial feelings were extremely self-centered.  Yet, the morning after, when I walked among the flowers, talking to them, touching them as they lay there with their poor roots drying out, something clicked in my brain and my heart. A bittersweet love for the little girls replaced the anger and hurt. I thought of the compassionate care and grooming they would have to go through in order to blossom into stable, healthy and loving young women.  

At the end of November 2003, we again received numerous drawings and notes from the girls.  One drawing from Kailey is very creative.  Not simply because of the three cute figures on the front, with birds and a worm, but because she has written “Kodak” all over the back of the paper.  The note from Kailey says:
          Hi thanck U for the flowers I lik them. Thank you for thinking of use.  
          PS  December 17 is My Birthday.  Kailey
In April of 2004 we received another note, signed by all three girls (written by Marin, I assume.  Printing is very neat and spelling much better than the first):
          Dear neighbor,
 Hi, How are you? I am fine. Thanks for the fake flowers.  We really like  them. There beautiful flowers, even though there fake. Here are some  flowers for you. We just wanted to give you a note to say Thanks
          From, Marin, Kailey and Blayke
          P. S.  A poem just for you:
          Roses are red,
          Vilets are blue
          And here are some
          flowers just for you.
        I certainly do not recall giving them any fake flowers.  I do remember giving the girls’ mother some cut flowers from the garden.  Oh well. 

During the last two years I lived at the  house, our relationship with the girls continued to be friendly, albeit wary. They would often come over to talk with James when he was outside and they seemed to enjoy checking on the flowers.  
          In a few months, the mother delivered a baby boy, the father deserted and Jackie began another downhill spiral. Twice during this period she fell through the hedge between our back yards and arrived scratched, drunk and disoriented on our rear doorstep