Sixteen months ago I moved into a small rental home on the edge of Germantown. It had been over three years since I’d lived alone due to an illness that was both physically and financially strenuous. That first night I was elated to lie down in my bed, in my own space, with my things out of storage and settled into rooms. It was pure bliss, made sweeter by the fact that my little house somehow had everything on my wish list, including a back yard and a big wide front porch.
I’ve always been a person who loves being outside. I grew up on family land at the edge of Oldham County and spent most summer days on my bike, ripping and roaring through the fields, or swimming in the lake, or catching minnows from the creek in my bare feet. While my creek stomping days have long past, I made it my first priority when spring came to create an outside happy place on the porch. I set up a table and chairs, enlisted help from my family to install a porch swing, and spray painted cheap Walmart planters a precious shade of blue that popped perfectly against the other hues of the house exterior.
Within a week all my days included an evening routine on the swing. I’d grab a book or open a window and turn on the record player so I could hear it outside, pour a single bourbon on the rocks, and spend at least an hour at sunset gliding back and forth, watching my nook of the city wind down from the day.
Soon I started getting to know the other dusk porch dwellers on my block. Mr. Ivo, in his 70s and happily slowing down, lives to my right. His seat of choice is a rocker, and we’d spend a little time every day exchanging pleasantries. Next I met the couple diagonal from me and their six year old daughter, Ellie. Want to feel important? Become friendly with a six year old and wave to her every time they come home. I got the biggest kick out of her explosions of excitement with every greeting accompanied by super high frequency shouts of “hello.” Next came Rick, a resident of the four-plex to my left. He’s an interior designer and professional organizer who keeps friends’ dogs when they’re traveling. You never knew what dog of the week would be on the leash when he came around the corner for nightly walks. Last, but not least, was Cathy, a single woman with the most impressive green thumb of anyone I knew, other than my mother. Her cherry tomato plants were enormous and they over produced for her personal tomato eating pace, so I’d come home to ziplock bags of tiny red treats about once a week. We existed in harmony, all resigned to our porches and chatting from a distance, with exception of Cathy’s stealth veggie deliveries, for the first whole year I lived there.
Until this week.
On Monday evening, I came home late with a backseat full of groceries including my big splurge of the night, spicy California rolls from the Kroger sushi section. (I’m a high roller.) After putting the goods away I took the sushi to the porch with a beverage and my iPad mini to watch an episode of Friends before dark. Cathy was across the way busily weeding her flower beds and moving plants from inside the house to their seasonal spaces outside. At one point she emerged with the largest potted plant I had ever seen. It looked like the demagorgon from Stranger Things in plant form desperately seeking to consume anything in its path. Maybe the first plant that ever made me pause and think, “What the hell is that?”
She noticed me gawking and shouted across the street, “Do you want some aloe? It’s out of control.” I giggled because aloe has to be the least scary plant there ever was. I was hesitant at first, but then decided aloe was useful to have around and there was one unoccupied pot in my basement that needed something inside. So I fetched the pot and crossed the street, ascending the stairs of Cathy’s porch for the first time. She cut a section of aloe and handed it to me, and we began to chat about the only two eyesore houses in sight that were finally being cleaned up, a very exciting development.
Before I knew it the conversation had taken five or six twists and it was an hour later. The sun was going down and I had a few things to do before bed, so I said “goodnight” and made the tiny trek back across the street. I sat down on my swing for a few more moments, holding the potted aloe and realized something.
My neighbor had just become my friend.
An hour later, while snuggling in my sheets for sleep, I realized that it almost didn’t happen. I almost didn’t cross the street for aloe. Then I found myself smiling, grateful that I had.
Looking back I wonder what streets I haven’t crossed and what I may have missed out on because of it. It’s easy to stay in our safe comfortable personal spaces, but we’ll only ever have what we bring to those places, & I’ve decided I like mine much better with a little bit of monster aloe growing on the kitchen counter. So…cheers to crossing streets.