My Yard/My Life


by Michael Hoak

Yard work is never ending. We have a lot of concrete in our back yard, it’s cracked and uneven and we always trip on it. I hate it. Yesterday I dug up concrete with a big sledge hammer and a pry bar. The day before that, my therapist told me to dig up memories that I’d forgotten about. That went nowhere. Digging up the concrete got me bitten by an ant colony. This concrete slab is bigger than my house. I sometimes dream that I’ll wake up and the concrete in my backyard will have grown overnight and I’ll try to open the front door and we will be encased in concrete. If someone broke it open and exposed me to the horrible light of day would I bite them?

My neighbors say we’re wasting the good soil in our yard. To demonstrate this, they’ve planted lettuce and garlic and other kinds of lettuce in it and they come over and say, “Look how quickly that grows! That soil is so good. You’re wasting it by piling it in the corner and covering it with a tarp.” Goodness, I worry. What else am I wasting? I watch my daughters sleeping at night and think that they’ll never be this age again and that I should wake them up and play with them all night except I’m so tired and I was glad to put them to bed when I did it an hour ago. Am I wasting some talent I don’t know I have? How do you find something like that out? What if, when I’m eighty, I realize I should have been a professional baseball player or a concert pianist except I didn’t know it. What if I can’t eat all the lettuce in my garden and my neighbors see it rotting back there?

Did you know I can’t really accomplish anything in my yard? I mow the grass every week but when I wake up a few days later, it’s all just back again. Why do I keep planting more grass? I hate mowing it. I pull the weeds every day, but somehow they’re bigger the next day. Are they replanting themselves over night? Have I accomplished anything in my life? Who knows? Probably, I guess. Whatever it was, I hope it was more satisfying than mowing the yard.

The best part is that I spend all my time working in my yard, and I never actually get to enjoy it. I also never use my vacation days at work. Or when I do, it’s because I need to take a day here and there to work on something around the house. Probably something in the yard. Or a kid is sick. Or I’m sick. I wanted to buy a hammock for the back yard, but I couldn’t find one I liked. And then I realized it would probably just hang there mocking me as I toiled in the humidity trying to move soil from one place to another. I forget why I even started doing that.

When we lived in Brooklyn we had a little patio. We put planter boxes with trees and bushes and some flowers and a few other things that looked or smelled nice. And we had a little table that we sat at almost every night. We spent a lot of time in that 150 square foot paradise. Now I have a quarter acre and I look at it a lot and wonder what it would be like to sit in it every night. Maybe I’ll never know. That Brooklyn patio was also all concrete, just like most of my yard now. But it made sense then. The concrete in my yard makes no sense. Who put it there? Was it a curse put upon a previous owner? Did someone know a concrete guy?

Oh look, that skunk is back. He’s shuffling around back there like he owns the place. I hope he’s enjoying himself. I’ve never seen him lift a finger to break this concrete or pull these weeds. When we have friends over, I spend the whole time grilling or cooking that I sometimes forget to sit down. They say how much potential the yard has and that it could be a really nice space with a little work. Yeah, no kidding, I think. I look at the measly progress I’ve made and the pile of busted concrete. What would I look like with a little bit of work? Do I have potential? What does it mean when my friend tells me I have so much potential? It doesn’t seem good, but I smile and thank them anyway.

Right now I’m looking out the window at the yard. From this narrow angle it looks serene, and I wish I were out there instead of sitting at my computer writing this. If I went out there, I’d wish I were back inside at the computer. The grass is always greener, I guess. Except in that brown spot in my yard where I left a fire pit sitting too long. The fire department informed me the other night that I’m not even allowed to have a fire pit. They made me put it out. That was the one night I was enjoying my yard.

My yard also has a pond in it. A little one. Every few days I have to take a pool skimmer and skim out all the mosquito larvae. You have to do these little things often or it catches up with you. Every once in a while I find a new grey hair on my head or arms and I yank it out. I feel sore a lot more often than I used to. I get winded climbing the stairs even though I ride my bike every day. I cross professional baseball player off the list of things I might be when I grow up.

It’s not all bad though. When the light shines through the trees in dappled patches on the one perfect corner of my yard, it makes me smile. I watch the blue jays and cardinals and robins and the two mourning doves that frequent the yard. I watch the butterflies and hummingbirds. I watch my kids playing on the swing, laughing and screaming with joy. Someday this will all be perfect. Maybe it already is.

Image by Lionel & Heidi.

About the Author:

Michael Hoak works in publishing at Yale University Press, where he also hosts a podcast and reads a few books from time to time. He has moved around way too many times to list here, but he now lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife and two daughters.