Sacred Ground

All of the grass is burnt. Not that crunchy, golden burn that Utah grass achieves at the height of every summer. It’s black as silt after a flood, black as molten rock, black as the hair around my sister’s asshole before the bleach. Nothing will grow, not for another few years at least.

I was tired of the weeds. I was tired of the constant nagging to trim the hedges, to maintain this house that, just five months ago, I had committed a quarter of a million of my future earnings to. So fuck the HOA, or that’s what I thought as I poured gasoline out of the watering can last weekend. The petunias had to go.

I didn’t light it. In order to prove to the insurance company that it was an "act of God," I left it to God to choose some poor bastard in an old Ford pickup to throw off a spark; or the local LDS bishop to toss out the butt of a cigarette only to watch it explode into a hellish visualization of how shameful smoking is in this day and age; or for good, old Ruth and Harold to start up their gas grill next door.

Harold felt real bad about it. The volunteer fire department canvassed all our houses two weeks prior with warning pamphlets about grilling in these dry conditions, but Harold had been grilling every summer for thirty-five years. He knew the winds.

“Isn’t that right, Ruth?”

“That’s right, Harold.”

Harold just couldn’t believe it. He never thought it would spread that fast. I was glad to be able to give him a complex over something small that would drive him mad for the next twenty years. He had retired three years ago, and his hobbies weren't nearly stimulating enough to keep him entertained. He basically confessed to me that he had been searching for just such a mental obtrusion. He didn't use words to express this desire, but I had always been good at reading between the lines.

Now, every time Ruth and Harold drive past the shirtless bear in a ranger hat at the town entrance and Smokey says the fire risk is "Very High," Ruth calls each of their kids to remind them not to turn on their grills. Harold resents her for this passive aggressive reminder, and they both realize that they’re lucky to have someone in their lives who they want to outlive.

Sometimes, when you live in a town with less than 20,000 people you have to make your own entertainment. I got a certain satisfaction from knowing that I had contributed to Harold’s ongoing, low-grade anxiety.

Next summer, I planned to buy a charcoal grill and fire it up on my burnt front lawn just to tick him off. I’ll shrug and laugh when he scowls at me in consternation.

“It’s not like I’m going to start a fire,” I’ll say. “Nothing left to burn here. Right, Harold?”

The HOA doesn’t expect me to replace the yard this year. Given Harold sits on the HOA, I might even be able to keep my maintenance-free lawn for two years. It’s too touchy of a subject for them to bring up given the ongoing trauma I’ve suffered after almost losing my house due to Harold’s bold arrogance.

Once a week, I run through the neighborhood screaming at two a.m. just to make sure Harold remembers he almost killed me.

I think Harold likes worrying about me. I’m kind of like his surrogate daughter at this point. Harold and Ruth have invited me to so many dinners since the fire, I’ve saved fifty percent of my food budget this month. I've never had enough spending money to afford regular Brazilian waxes. I thank them for this every time I sit at their dinner table.

The first time I brought up my waxes, Ruth told me no one wanted to hear about the state of my garden. I reminded her that they burned down my garden beds in the fire too, and she apologized by asking me how much hair was removed. I forked a diagram into my mashed potatoes with so much graphic detail, Harold had to excuse himself from the table. I slipped Ruth the name of my wax artist when Harold stepped away. That's how I apologized to Harold for the whole fire incident.

A few weeks after the fire, I asked a few hippies from the local ashram to do a smudging ceremony to clear the bad energy fires leave behind. It made Ruth really uncomfortable to see "transients" infiltrating their neighborhood. She and Harold watched from their kitchen window as I reclined in my rainbow lawn chair, sipping piña coladas with a hot guy from bum-fuck elsewhere.

Ruth had her suspicions that the smudging ceremony was actually a gay pride parade in disguise, but she never told me to my face because she refused to talk to or about people with "ambiguous skin tones or gender identities." At least, that's what her grandkids told me.

And I'm pretty sure it's true, because she didn't ask me about my date even though I practically pegged him in the front yard while the hippies cleared the air and my pot stash.

I'd been looking forward to my date for weeks, and Ruth knew it too. I'd chosen my potential suitor carefully. I'm talking about hours of swiping to find someone who didn’t look like they lost their virginity to their cousin.

I hadn’t had sex since Jack left me four months prior, but I didn’t let that lead to desperation. Only a mongrel would do.

Turns out, Ruth didn't like mongrels. To be fair, she didn't like Jack either.

Jack was the asshole that talked me into this ridiculous house in this unbearable neighborhood. I didn’t know he was an asshole when we decided to buy a house in my name. Well, I knew he was an asshole. But he said I was the only person he didn’t want to be an asshole to and that made me feel special.

Jack had the look of someone who used to have a six-pack and was probably popular for five minutes in college. He had been popular for just long enough to give him a lifetimes dose of confidence that women found sexy even though we have too much self-awareness to ever believe our own mediocrity could be a gift to half the human population.

Jack loved the yard. When we first looked at the house, he kept talking about what he’d do with it. Mostly, these fantasies involved him mowing with his shirt off or gardening with his shirt off or grilling with his shirt off.

He also said he would fuck me against the living room window like an elk in heat as we looked over the blooming petunias. So, there was that to look forward to. He made it sound much sexier when he grabbed my ass and whispered something in my ear about sowing his seed in me while the realtor checked her emails in the kitchen.

Somewhere between escrow and having the keys in my hand, Jack realized I didn’t play an essential part in fulfilling any of his domestic fantasies. A few days after we moved in together, I found him looking for duplexes with yards on Craigslist.

It was devastating for me because, for three weeks leading up to his confession, Jack had gotten into the habit of quickly closing his laptop every time I entered the room. I was convinced he had developed a porn addiction.

I'd spent hours researching how to stage an intervention that didn’t shame him or belittle my own sexual expression. I didn’t have time to intervene before he left. He didn’t even stay long enough to take his shirt off for the neighbors. He was only here long enough to fuck me from behind.

Jack did buy a lawn mower and a watering can before he left. He took the lawn mower with him – said he needed it for the duplex, and it wasn’t like I was ever going to mow the lawn. So, what the fuck was I supposed to do with a house and a lawn and goddamn hedges that even a narcissist named Jack knew I'd never maintain?

A week after Jack left, I got my first HOA notice. They kept reminding me twice weekly thereafter that amongst the hundreds of papers I signed when I took possession of the house, I agreed not to let the grass grow longer than two and three-quarters inches. They had rulers.

Why the fuck would anyone knowingly agree to pay a quarter of a million dollars to be subjected to Nancy Milligan’s ruler brigade? And every time they came around, they looked at the watering can on the front porch as though I'd been secretly using it on the lawn when their kids were safely tucked in bed just to spite them.

The truth is, the thought of mowing the lawn every two weeks for the next twenty-five years was more depressing than letting it burn. The truth is, I wasn't ready to find someone else that was looking for a lawn to mow.

“The truth is, Harold, a vicious cycle of men, whether you or Jack or my Tinder-of-the-week, have been trying to sow their seed on my goddamn lawn, on my sacred ground, for too long. Love me and leave me, is that what you’re planning, Harold?”

Harold didn’t appreciate my outburst. I probably could have chosen a better moment to accuse him of extramarital fornication than when his grandkids had just arrived from Salt Lake.

“It was a metaphor for Christ’s sake,” I said, but there was no redemption among those Mormons.

Harold turned red and shuffled his family away from me as though I was the arsonist.

I’ll give him a chance to apologize over dinner tonight. I hear Ruth’s making a pot roast.


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