If the pandemic has given me one thing, it’s a new sense of agency. The lack of decorum in the presidential election is also a contributor to my demand for accountability, honesty and kindness from the individuals in my life. I call it standing up for myself. (If you’ve been on the receiving end of this monumental self-discovery, it’s possible you call it something else.)
A few weeks ago, I looked out my office window in the middle of a virtual lesson and did a spit take with my morning coffee when I saw a bucket truck driving across my lawn. Saying I’m proud to be a first-time homeowner would be an understatement. I now possess a sense of peace and security I never imagined for myself. Naturally, I’m protective of the new house. Unannounced visitors making themselves at home in my driveway did not sit well.
When class ended, I marched outside to get to the bottom of things. A man behind the wheel had maneuvered his way between our narrow front gates and run over a bed of flowers before tearing up the green grass in our yard with his double rear wheels. I noted a bottle of water discarded by our garage and a few of the workers relocating a pair of shutters my husband had spent the weekend restoring. They were not alarmed in the slightest by my sudden presence.
“Excuse me,” I said to the foreman, “I think you’ve got the wrong house.”
He pointed to his ears to indicate that he could not hear me over the roar of the engine.
“I AM CONCERNED,” I shouted over the noise.
He rolled his eyes and turned off the ignition.
“I think you’re in the wrong yard,” I said again.
“We’re removing this tree for your neighbors,” he told me, “I figured they would have told you.”
I hesitated for a second. How important was my lawn, really, if it meant having bad blood with our sweet new neighbors? Still, I felt something wasn’t right.
I asked who was in charge and he told me the owner would drop by sometime after lunch. I snapped a few photos and went inside to begin my next class, distracted.
When a fancy looking pickup pulled in that afternoon, I was ready for him. Ms. Sanders came to play. I walked right up to his driver’s side window and explained the situation in my best teacher voice. He looked annoyed.
“I’m sorry, but you’re trespassing,” I said. There it was again. His truck had annihilated the lawn I worked three jobs for a decade in order to someday afford and I was apologizing for it. “Actually, I’m not sorry, sir,” I corrected myself, “I’d like you to come look at the damage.”
He sighed and swung one leg and then the other out of the truck before hopping down onto solid ground. He was shorter than I thought he’d be. I led him to our yard and pointed to the tire tracks and the flattened purple flowers in their wake. His workers shot me conciliatory looks. They had simply done what they were told.
“I don’t understand,” he said dismissively, “These will all grow back.”
“I’m throwing a 30th birthday party out here on Saturday,” I told him, “I wanted everything to be perfect.” This had been the detail stinging my ego most of all. I didn’t want to fall into a meme-worthy meltdown or anything. Then again, something finally belonged to me — a whole house, and sharing it with my friends and loved ones gave me great satisfaction. I refused to let a delinquent bucket truck take that away from me.
It was time for my last class of the day and I told the man as much. “I’d like you to make this right,” I said. I gave him a stare only a middle school teacher could deliver on cue and disappeared back inside.
From my office window, I watched my husband attempt to pull into our driveway to grab a quick lunch and then back away at the sight of the truck, which glowed a hue of orange reminiscent of none other than our commander-in-chief. He approached the owner below. There was a lot of pointing and the exchanging of hard stares. I learned later that the man had agreed to replace the grass in time for our celebration on Saturday — the flowers too. I supposed that was good enough for me.
Days ticked by with no sign of Yardstick Tree & Site Preservation Inc. The neighbors made us delicious cookies to apologize for our trouble, but it was never their fault to begin with. Saturday came and went. Our guests didn’t seem to mind the mud, but it gnawed away at me. My agitation was less about the destruction of my property and more about the suspension of my self-respect.
Had it been any other year, I might have brushed off the presumptuous act of unlawful entry or even the decimation of my iris beds. But, this year I’m sticking up for myself. Follow-through and decency have never been more important and it starts at the top. Your move, Mr. Yardstick.