Usually I dodge the more-muscular-than-me crowd at the gym after my shower and meal upstairs. But one day last week I ran into this woman who looked strangely familiar to me. And not at all happy that I was clearly staring at her while she was covered in drying sweat.
After finally telling her that I wasn’t simply leering, I was trying to comb through my memories to place her in her appropriate memorial context, she introduced herself as Penny Pizzazz and waited. As if that was the answer I was looking for. But it wasn’t.
Instead it was only after I recalled a recent tussle over a croissant that I knew who she was. The Croissant Woman.
Except she wasn’t actually The Croissant Woman, that was the other woman. The one who pounced on the Pick-Up end of the cafe counter in order that she was able to say “No, I ordered this” before you could get up from your seat.
It wasn’t my finest moment, but hunger and a lack of discretionary croissant spending took over.
Penny, as I now know her name is, overheard the exchange and without so much as uttering a word went up to the counter, ordered a croissant and told the barista that it was for me. Before walking out and not saying anything. I hardly had time to etch her image into my mind, making note of a future act of reciprocation.
Not wanting to draw attention to her act of kindness, I feigned long overdue recognition of the name Penny Pizzazz and awkwardly stumbled away and back home.
Metaphorically, I planted my roots here in Windenburg a few weeks back now. Or so I told myself. Shelter, a steady source of food, and some human interactions. Maslow himself would have been proud of the progress I’ve made climbing up his pyramid.
But metaphoric roots just aren’t good enough. I was able to eavesdrop on the specks of conversation dripping off the gymrats faster than their sweat and I overheard one long-legged jogger talking about something called ‘the Garden Gnomes.’
After pressing for more information and discovering that this didn’t mean I would have more unfortunate run-ins with small, ceramic elves, I inquired about The Garden Gnomes and was invited to join them on their next gathering.
Usually the Gnomes will rotate between the personal gardens of each member, but since I don’t want to force my fellow green-clad gardeners to trim back the wilderness on the Lot, our next meeting took place at the park. You could argue, and I did internally, that this was my home for my first few weeks in Windenburg.
Getting your hands covered in dirt, the fabric of all life, seeing life flood back into plants with your (seemingly) simple actions, recognizing the fragility and uniqueness of life in all its forms.
That’s what gardening does for me. For all of the Gnomes. It’s a deeper connection with the seasons, weather patterns, the fortune and misfortune of a blazing sun or an early frost. It’s simple but alluring and meditative in a way that so few things in my old 9-5, then veg on the couch until bed life were.
The Gnomes also had the added benefit of officially introducing me to that sexy librarian from a few weeks back. Turns out she’s not a librarian, and she has a name: Lilly Hooks.
Hooks. Very apropos given that the first gathering of the Gnomes ended with the six of us gathering around the dockside to struggle with fish that had better things on their agenda that day than biting onto our lines.
A few days after the Gnomes gathering, the unfamiliar sensation of an incoming text message stirred me from a late nap. Lilly had, apparently, decided to sink her hooks into me and ask me out on a date for tomorrow.
For a while I stared at my phone, unsure of how to politely decline when I didn’t want to decline at all. A second text nudging me to immediate action forced the word “sure” out. Just enough to agree, and not enough rope to hang myself with. Yet.
When I arrived the next day, my previous experiences told me that when you arrive to a date and find four men dressed as knights some horrible joke has been played on you.
Insecurity was knock out of its place when Awkwardness arrived together with Lilly. My Awkwardness, not hers. For she didn’t seem to house one grain of awkwardness. Her laid-back manner made felt, almost, as if she didn’t care one way or another how this date went.
We toured the Von Haunt Estate for hardly more than 20 minutes when Lilly told me about the gardens out back. I delighted hearing about these famous gardens, thinking that Lilly had chosen the perfect spot for us to enjoy each other’s company. Lilly suggested we wander the maze in opposite directions to see who could find their way our first or find something better than a way out, a story.
I raced into and through the maze in short work, surprised at how easily I found the direction. I sat near the entrance waiting to hear the story that Lilly had found while she lost her way.
It only took about 10 minutes inside my own head to realize that Lilly wasn’t in the maze.