The neighborhood seemed lively, cheerful even. Folks were out and about, working on their houses. The large Victorian next to the Community Center now has a new foundation, a respectable basement, and a front yard filled with broken brick. A house on 11th will soon have beautiful new redwood steps. The cute shingle house down the block is sparkling with a new roof, and the white turreted house on the corner will soon have new windows downstairs in the small spaces that were once stores. Perhaps, they will be again. No sense in having trash blowing all over all this shiny industriousness. Let the newness shimmer instead. Good exercise, picking up trash, and when the bits of paper disappear, beauty returns.
Next to the old but well-scrubbed administration building for the local public school is the only truly lush bit of shimmering green lawn in the neighborhood, but for some mysterious reason, folks toss their trash on the strip of lawn. I have no idea why. Is it too beautiful? Too magnificent? Too jewel-like for this rusty zone? Too otherworldly? I do know that to walk on that bit of lawn is to be transported away from the rough sound of highways and the rattling BART train and onto a spongy heath under a sky attached to glaciers. As my feet sink into the pillowed green, I can almost imagine the sound of North sea waves. At this time of year, a Princess tree (tibouchina urvilleana) that grows in the middle of that bit of lawn is alive with startling purple flowers as large as my fist but far more delicate, and when the velvety petals drop on the green green lawn below, the contrasting colors are almost too intense for the human eye to bear for any length of time. Even with sunglasses filtering the splash of light, the purple leaps, the green expands, and the mind reels.
Usually it’s before the sun breaks the fog and awakens the purple on the green that I walk out to pick the trash from that strip of emerald green, allowing it shimmer trash-free for much of the day, but yesterday because of the vet appointment, it was late afternoon before I arrived with my plastic bag in hand. Of course, I’d hoped that someone else had already bagged the trash and freed the green, and so it was rather discouraging to see even more trash sodden and graceless atop the delicate shimmer of the purple petals. I filled one plastic sack with crumpled milk cartons, candy-wrappers, coffee cups, scraps of paper, and flattened corn chips bags. Then as I begin to fill the next bag, I stumbled across an emptied box for a pregnancy test, folded once and jammed into the base of the old lavender bush. I dug that out, bagged it and then spied an abandoned urine-filled bottle near the curb. I suspect the bottle had something to do with the pregnancy test box. I hesitated at first to lift the bottle but after checking that the lid was tight, I added the closed bottle to my now almost full trash bag. Although the bag was filled primarily with paper, the addition of these two items somehow added unexpected and unexplainable weight to the bag. I had to give up on my trash-collecting mission.
The sorrow of imagining some young woman crouching behind the overgrown lavender bush to piss into a bottle and then test for pregnancy was almost too much to contemplate. I couldn’t imagine why a woman would choose to test for the stirrings of new life in her body in the middle of the night on a deserted street, taking the marked stick and leaving behind both urine and box for some stranger to move to the trash. It seemed a howling loneliness. I carried the trash bag to the city garbage can with tenderness and placed it gently, almost reverently, inside. That old Safeway shopping bag stuffed with paper trash also carried the weight of a young woman’s fears, not some fluff to be dismissed with just any old cavalier flip of the wrist.