In the Aftermath
I stood on my deck, splintered boards mildewed under my bare feet, and thought for a moment what an odd bowling alley our backyards made. It had been days, maybe weeks, since the last storm, and now, with every fence down, it looked as if Mother Nature had carved an alley smack down the middle of our block. No longer protected by the waving arms of oak trees or divided by property lines, our secret lives were now exposed.
Backyards, so unlike the portrait we present to the street, are storybooks. Real-life story books. A rusty swing set , four doors down, still stands. I envisioned a young man there, sweltering in the sun, making sure the shiny new frame was meticulously level, and then affectionately drowning the legs in a pool of concrete. His little ones could touch the sky, and never-ever would that tee-pee frame teeter from their fun. I counted the houses again. Mrs. Lazaro is a widow now, her children long grown. On holidays, laughter blows over the fences like barbeque smoke. Her grandchildren.
A little to my left I see a flattened fort and the remains of a toppled tree house. The yard is over grown, lush with weeds and kudzu. The newly fallen trees look like Lincoln Logs tossed absentmindedly from heaven, landing just so on a boy’s world. Three little rascals are climbing over and under the debris .The oldest, lanky and with a mop of hair the color of damp mulch, claims his territory. He quickly mounts his flag; a brightly colored swim suit secured by duct tape. Two little fellows scramble to follow him. No one hollers out the back door to be careful. I know instinctively that when the fences go back up, the little jungle created by the hurricanes will remain there. Paradise for three little boys.
I feel like a peeping Tom here. I can suddenly tell who has matching garbage cans and which of my neighbors haven’t a clue what actually is garbage. An above the ground pool is now a crumpled pile of blue in the distance. It looks like a miniature mountain of vinyl. I have to squint to make sure it’s not just a reflection of all the blue-tarped roofs surrounding it. Whose lazy round river has been destroyed? I realize suddenly that backdoors are very different from kitchen doors or front doors. Some appear to have not been opened in years. I imagine them lined with deadbolts from the inside. Are these dog -less homes? I wonder why the inhabitants, once neighbors, now strangers, have never felt the urge to tiptoe barefooted in their pajamas through the wet grass. To gaze at the stars on sleepless nights.
I scrunch my toes on the cold, soft planks of my beloved deck. I close my eyes and pretend the towering trees are still dancing overhead; their swooping branches sprinkling morning dew into my coffee cup. The rising sun kisses me and for a moment, I’m standing at the ocean’s edge, digging my toes into the wet sand. I can almost smell the salt drifting in the breeze. This is my backyard. As I turn to open the back door, I remind myself that when this is all over, I want to hang a welcome sign here.