It’s early spring in our small town, and I am weeding the garden. My baby girl is sleeping, strapped into a canopied vibrating chair on the lawn, where I can keep an eye on her. It is one of our first days outside together; she is only three months old, born in winter.
A teenage girl walks down the street, past my garden. She passes my house twice a day during the week, on her way to the school bus that stops at the bottom of the hill. She has a nice smile, even through all the awkwardness of early adolescence. The only time we spoke, she told me she’d seen turtles in our garden.
Today, she is walking down the hill, as she does every school day. But today is Saturday: that’s the first difference. The others are easy to spot: the tight jeans, the black top with a square neck, the silver flashing at her earlobes — a world apart from the rumpled denim and sweatshirts of the weekdays. For once, her hair is down, gleaming in the spring sunshine. When she nods to me, quick and shy like a deer determined to cross a road in front of traffic, I notice her eyes, outlined with a black that is too precise.
Did I mention it’s spring? I nod back at my neighbor and smile to myself.
She turns left at the bottom of the hill, walking toward a bungalow where cars are always parked helter-skelter in the front yard, where teenage boys lounge and listen to loud music. I pull out a clump of crabgrass. Of course.
Once, I was a gawky girl with shiny brown hair. So I know what lies behind my shy neighbor’s Saturday descent. She has plucked and painted and polished. She is walking alone, without even the nervous giggling of a girlfriend. Walking towards a yard of back-slapping boys.
Last night my husband and I watched a show about exotic fowl on the Discovery Channel. Humans have got it all wrong, I think today; the boys should be the ones puffing and preening, devising a baroque mating dance with two steps forward, one step back. Let them be the ones to flash blue feathers, puff up their necks, fan out their wings. Let them walk up the hill and loiter in front of my shy neighbor’s house, naked in their desire.
Instead, the shy girl with shiny hair promenades alone to boys who lean against cars, to boys with shaggy hair who sniff and scratch like quasi-brutes, whose pants barely cling to their behinds, whose threadbare t-shirts are of dubious cleanliness. She deserves something finer. A male peacock, iridescent in the sun, his tail spread; a long-legged heron, bowing and offering his lady love a token.
Of course, she’s just a young girl. Although she is walking down the hill now, shining in her new-minted glory, it’s still practice. She’s in the earliest flush of spring. She needs time to flesh out her own act: the downcast eyes, the shining hair, the smooth and faintly scented skin. She needs to learn to smudge her eyeliner. So much left to perfect; these boys in the yard are more witnesses than participants in this girl’s first spring.
I am not very old, but it has already been my time. Spring has had its way with me. The whole season was delicious: the circling dance of the maybe, do you want to, yes. The hand on the knee; the arm around the shoulder; the perfect and brand-new scent of the nape, the collarbone, the back of the knee. The late nights. The surprise of dawn. The long, slow slip of mornings into afternoons.
Spring has had its way with me, and now I am well into summer, fighting the weeds, trying to keep what grew so abundantly just a little while ago alive and thriving under the summer sun. I am watering, harvesting, plucking the fruit before it splits open and falls to the ground to rot; I am working my hardest to keep one step ahead of the drought, the bugs, the dank rank air of plants too close together, so my husband and I can make it to harvest.
Most of spring’s charm is the promise of summer. But in retrospect, spring is more fun and less work.
My neighbor has reached the car-cluttered yard. She stands, the sole girl, surrounded by boys who are doing their best not to look at her, and she flips her hair.
I kneel to pull out more weeds. Spring. I look at my three-month-old daughter, and I sigh.