Down a driveway of cement cobblestones, I talked to her about ghosts. Cam was my height, which means short, mostly black hair gathered in a ponytail, silver and grey on top bordered by red and blue streaks. She was Asian, maybe Vietnamese, renting a basement room, which at various times had served as my son and daughter’s living space. On this particular day I’d pulled up to the house where I’d lived with my husband for twenty-five years, the same house where he had died, the same house where I’d raised my children, where we’d eaten meals together at the kitchen table and stepped on the porch at night to look at stars. But on this particular day I was feeling nostalgic. I slowed down at the curb of my old house about twenty minutes from where I currently lived, wanting to catch a glimpse of the garden where for years I had waged a battle with ferocious weeds, transforming patches of Bermuda grass into stays of Pacific Coast Iris, a wisteria vine, an herb and vegetable garden, daffodils in the spring.
Bay Laurel trees in my new neighborhood were beginning to tease the air with spikey leaves; it wasn’t yet quite spring. I wondered if the apple tree I had planted in our backyard was still there. I wondered if I’d see any daffodils with two-tone cream cups. I’d recently returned to the Bay Area following an almost three-year sojourn in the south. I think my unplanned visit was part of a reintegration, reacquainting myself with the path I’d traveled in the hope of creating a new one.
She said it was okay for me to look at the garden even though Lester, the man whom I’d sold the house to, wasn’t at home. I only wanted to look at the garden, I said to her, not go inside the house, and while I was standing there, recognized the rosemary bush I’d planted, remembered walking down to the garden with a scissors to snip a bunch to use in dinner preparation. I saw a crowd of agapanthus, Lily of the Nile. The original plants were small pots I’d originally brought back from a Lake Merritt Garden show, purplish-blue and white blossoms. She nodded and said it was okay and opened the gate. I stepped inside. There was a gazebo just beyond the backyard stairs, a raised garden bed filled with kale, collards, and lettuce (this may have been Lester’s winter garden), succulents with thickly padded leaves, a clipped grapevine that twined around the back stairs (possibly the one I had planted in another section of the garden), an area with roses, fuchsias, jasmine, a brick walk-way possibly built with the ones we had left in a pile following the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, a pergola near the back fence, actually a stone wall that my kids and their friends had decorated with drawings. I recognized my Pacific Coast Iris in the same spot where I’d planted them. But I realized that this garden was not mine. Yet Lester had used the plants and the ideas I’d left behind, and in that way, I had contributed to the garden. I clicked pictures with my cellphone and stepped back outside through the gate.
“Can I ask you something?” said Cam. She had allowed a moment for me to ferry my thoughts from past to the present.
“How long did you live here?” She held a small notebook and a pencil in one hand. She seemed like she was about to take notes.
“Have you ever seen ghosts in the house?”
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