(This happened during a time in my life when everything seemed hopeless. I had been trying to get sober for 15 years, and had once again thrown my clean time out the window. I had decided that smoking pot would save me: that decision led me to withdraw from everyone who loved me, because I didn't want anyone to know my secret. And there were other secrets, too. I was sleeping with a knife under my side of the mattress, and I wasn't sure whether it was to use on myself or on him. Lance's abuse had gradually gotten worse and we had grown in sickness together, slowly by slowly, inch by inch, blow by blow, until I had become one of the women I had never understood: a woman who allows herself to be beaten and believes it is her fault. So that's where I was at.)
I lived in the rough part of town, but I was too restless to be still so I decided to walk. It was high noon under a Texas summer sun, and I walked and walked, and noticed all the small things I normally missed on my hurried drive home. The houses were small, the windows were barred, and the front gates were padlocked: but the tiny yards were impeccably groomed and dressed in greens and gardens and benches. The grass was mowed. The houses were painted. There were colorful rocks, small fountains, and of course statues of the Virgin Mary. The pride these people took in their small plots of land touched me deeply. I walked more slowly now, finally able to see something besides my own fear and pain.
And that's when I saw her. In between a few of these sweet little homes, there was a small sad structure. It looked like a shack, windows open to the stifling heat, rough paint badly applied: and the yard! There was a tree, and nothing else. Not even grass. All she had was dirt. And she was sweeping her dirt. She picked up sticks and rocks and put them in her pockets as she worked. In the white-hot afternoon, she tended her garden of nothing and made it as beautiful as she could. I slowed my pace, but did not want to be caught staring: we nodded at each other as I passed, and I walked on with sudden tears pricking the corners of my eyes. I had seen nothing but hopelessness in her yard, but she saw her home, and she was going to do her best to tend it. What she was doing looked like love to me, a careful and patient love that would eventually lead her to the vision she had in her heart, of grass and new paint and a bench or two. She simply bowed her head and went forward. I knew that she would get there.
The beauty and courage of her gesture set my heart on fire. I wanted to be like her.
And in that moment I knew that I could. All I had to do was believe that it was possible, and take a tiny step forward, no matter how futile it seemed. And then another. What she could do, maybe I could too.
(My tiny steps gained momentum rapidly. I left Lance within the month and never looked back. I barely remember the girl I used to be: that was 20 years and many lifetimes ago. I still think about that woman sometimes. She will never know that she changed my life.)