I adore an untrimmed tree. Bushes that are ragged and messy. Nature at play.
Like we do every second Sunday, Labor Day Sunday Alan and I had brunch with my mom and dad. That weekend though, Alan, my parents, and I had several messy items to discuss. We met at mom’s condo before heading out to breakfast. The discussion, though needed, set emotions tingling and pushed tensions sideways.
By the time Alan and I returned home, I ached to find calm. For me this meant I needed to be outdoors. Air. Wind. Trees. Land. Alan and I quickly changed into yard-work clothes and set to spend the afternoon outside. While Alan tackled the front yard, I set to clear the wild poppies away from the fruit trees. After three wells the structure of clearing was too confining. I needed to crawl and to get dirty.
I discovered the long handled hedge trimmers in the back of the garden shed. They were old and steel and rusted from lack of use. I had gone looking for them after I had trimmed the two year old dead-fall from the seven foot tall hedges with hand shears.
Soon, the pile of debris mounted. The Sunday afternoon was warm. I had visions of feeding the deadfall into our firepit; every branch I yanked from the greenery, part of me exhaled a tension from the past few years of navigating seeing my parents as per decree of my mom.
I started to trim bigger and bigger branches. I found that if I pushed the side of the handles against my shoulder I had far more torque than if I just pulled the handles with my hands.
I aimed for a fist size branch. I heaved. I heaved more. I wedged the side of the clippers next to my shoulder. The clipper teeth grabbed. The branch, green and very much alive, bounded backwards, surprising me, pulling me and the clippers with it. The handles sprang forward and flung backwards hitting me solidly in the side of the face, a bit below the temple, a bit higher than the cheek bone. Solidly, that beautiful Sunday before the start of a new school term.
I remember that I stood still. I hoped I might be able to continue. Then the nausea hit. I walked to the back deck to sit. I called for Alan. I could hardly speak by the time he opened the gate and came around. Hardly open my eyes by the time he got me up and into the bathroom to be ill.
We sat together to call the provincial health line, speaking to a registered nurse. I spent the next two days sleeping with an ice pack on my face. Monday, my shiner was coming along nicely.
A few students new to my program asked about my black eye. A few looked at me sideways. For the most part, my friends and most students wanted to know the story of the black eye. I offered a contest, a large coffee to the student who could guess how I had earned it. They did not, did not, tell a story for me.
However, two folks did.
Both times this set me spinning.
After my black eye and I arrived on the scene and after I had shared the garden hedge trimmer tale: “I hope you hit Alan back.” And another friend two days later, “Yeah, Right!”
What blindsided me was their lack of trust in me, their disbelief in my faith in Alan.
I am so seldom proven speechless. As I watched the moments slip away in long strides between those words and my heart, I felt an absolute thud. Our friendship is done.
Clarity. A moment of understanding friend and understanding not. A moment of seeing judgement sit front row with my experiences.
Not a week before the start of classes, a student, her sister, and her mom stopped by our classroom to share details of their summer. The mom had a fading bruise on her face. My student began, “wait until I tell you about the summer we’ve had.” I know my mind slipped straight to domestic violence. I have thought deeply about this family’s experience often since my blindsiding swirling moments. Did I judge? Did I have any supporting evidence? Did those two people who responded to me have any supporting evidence of me? Of their own?
As I write this I am reminded that we bring our own stories of experiences with us. I was originally pained by how those two friends had responded. Both friends had a bit of an understanding of my past and I had held that as comparison with Alan’s gentleness today, and even more, more painful, a sense that I was entitled to respect because of my growth.
Yet. Here we are.
I have no idea of your response. And more, an emotional response to an emotional event is rather okay. In fact. I cheer the response. When I wrote my thesis, I dove into the study that if anything, we ought to take life personally. We are living and feeling beings. Our hearts are where we must begin. We are spirits on a spirit journey. A heart journey. We spend our days and years striving to connect our hearts to our heads.
I know my truths. This Brown-Eyed Girl knows her stories of experience. Or at least, sometimes I come to know them through writing and thinking them through. And even better among a fine row of aspen.
Feature Image: “Field of Brown-Eyed Ones” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/48556674832 shared into the public domain using (CC0)