“The patch of lawn before it had relapsed into a hayfield; but to the left an overgrown box-garden full of dahlias and rusty rose-bushes encircled a ghostly summer-house of trellis-work that had once been white, surmounted by a wooden Cupid who had lost his bow and arrow but continued to take ineffectual aim.”
― Edith Wharton
Annie was carrying a case of paints, brushes and canvases. She had somehow maneuvered her things down the long escalator and into the subway, but was having a hard time balancing all of her items when she began dropping things. Annie was in her first year as an art student at the Otis College of Art and Design. She was spending her weekend going to galleries and standing in various locations painting and drawing things that she saw around the city.
Annie was on her way to the farmers market near the Beverly Hills mall. She wanted to paint the produce and eat Nonna’s Empanadas. Her paintings were terrible, but it was her first month of art school and she did not know it yet. So she walked with purpose, thinking that she was fulfilling some destiny when Eddie spotted her. She looked the way that one who had real talent would look, confident and with more than just a touch of arrogance.
Eddie was standing on the platform. He was close to the edge. Eddie had been up all night walking around the city, he wanted to feel peace, no matter where he looked, he didn’t seem to be able to find it. In the darkness and cover of night he was able to let himself out. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Eddie was a respectable software developer working at a plush office in the city during the day. He typically drove a nice car and went of the most acceptable vacations. Ski trips to Colorado and tropical surf vacations in Maui. But at night, things were very different.
And that was his life. He was alone. When he did not know what else to do, he smiled. People liked his easy way of talking and his unobtrusive looks. Eddie wasn’t traditionally handsome, but he had a way about him that drew people to him. He had sandy blonde hair, thin shoulders and stood just a bit shorter than most men. People would describe him as humble, shy, thoughtful, but no one really considered him a close friend. So he went through his life, both part and apart from others. He never looked up from his life until that fateful day. That day, he looked at the world with wide open eyes for the first time and took a step outside of himself when he saw Annie.
She was young, her red hair long and wild. It was hot outside and she had it pulled back into a long, thick ponytail. She was wearing a boring black tank top and a pair of ratty old cut off shorts and red, worn out flip flops. She was not paying attention. She looked like she was reading a book in her mind, so preoccupied was she. This gave Eddie a minute to really look at her. Eddie did not think at first that she was very attractive. He had typically gone for the power suit wearing woman, women who were good at math or business. Women who pushed back against traditional gender roles.
All the more, Eddie saw that Annie had dropped some of her paints and he stooped down to pick them up. As he handed them to her, their eyes met and he caught his breath. Her eyes were green, bright green, living green. They were an animal of their own autonomy. They lived a life outside of this astral plane. They were the connection between the dimension that big foot lived in and the one that humans lived in. And that was the game changer. He did not care what had given those eyes an otherworldly connection, he just wanted to posses this woman.
So he handed her her supplies. He smiled because he did not know what else to do. Eddie had met his match. The other half of his hermaphroditic self, walking around the world. And for once, he did not look at a woman and imagine himself standing over her lifeless body, blood dripping down his chin. But he felt something else entirely. For the first time he looked at a woman not like a lion looks at a bloody piece of meat, but like an actual human being.
So they got on the train, Annie thanked Eddie. After exchanging small talk, the thing inside of her recognized the thing inside of him. And they went to dinner that night, a small dark restaurant with candles on the table and they drank wine and told each other jokes. After dinner, Annie invited Eddie to come home with her. She had no idea that she had just invited the fox into the hen house. He did not know that he had just met the wolf as opposed to the little girl in the red hood.
Annie lived in a small walk up apartment in downtown Los Angeles near the center of the city. Sometimes she stood out on her balcony and fantasized about burning all of the shit to the ground. She imagined what the city would look like after a nuclear holocaust or the great earthquake that was supposed to shake all the dirt and rot and human filth out of the city. She did not have compassion for human suffering, only disgust. Annie imagined herself the only survivor. In her fantasy not one other fucking person survives the fallout. Their faces melt, or they are crushed under the concrete built to choke the life out of the soil, and she likes it. She likes to think about the vines taking over the rotting fucking piss covered buildings.
She fantasized about all of the animals getting out of the zoo. The tigers tearing into the round, soft bodies of the zebras flesh. Their animalistic screams as their organs and guts fall out of their body cavities and onto the dirty ground. When the tigers are done the crows come and pluck out the eyes and eat the rest of the brains and rotten tongues of the stripped creatures. The balance of nature being played out for only her to see.
The city as it decayed would slowly see trees growing out of the cracked streets, the metal would rust. Animals would slowly but surely make their way back into their rightful habitat. The human bodies would rot, or get devoured by the mountain lions or turn to dust and nature would take back its rightful place over the city. Cleaning the dirt and shit and piss and evil that the humans had filled the streets with. Nature is clean, humans are filthy. Our hearts and minds and actions are destructive she would think to herself. She existed in two parts, her mind saw two worlds. One was the one she lived in, but right behind that image lived her fantasy. Her fantasy sometimes overtook reality.
Annie had been sneaking out at night and planting trees and shrubs in green spaces. People were starting to notice. Annie thought about the oxygen that she needed to breathe. The idea of all of the cars and people and plastic and trash left her feeling suffocated and panicked. Each tree she planted relieved that anxiety just a little bit. What she really wanted, but could not do was to trade a tree for a life. One filthy piece of human waste for one pristine, pure, natural tree. She was not ready to take a step out onto that ledge yet.
In her journal, Annie had fastidiously kept track of her endeavors her notes were simple:
San Julian park: October 13, 11 pm. Planted 12 Indian Rosewood Trees, 2 Honey Mesquite Trees, 5 Southern Oak Trees. (Human waste present, both bodies and shit).
Echo Park: November, 12, 1 am. Planted first grassy area with 10 Inscence Cedar trees, 5 Floss Silk Trees, 2 Eastern Redbud Trees, 5 Sweetgum Trees. (Human waste minimally present, bodies, no shit.Three more grassy areas to plant)
Lake Hollywood Park: December 25, 9pm. Planted 25 Brisbane Box Trees, 20 Common Crape Myrtle, 15 Silk Oak, 10 Golden Trumpet Tree, 5 Coast Redwood. (Largest Planting to date)
And the list went on and on and on.
When Annie felt like she had finished with he parks, there would be nights when she would be driving down the 101 and see a place where a tree would fit. She was at the point now that she kept a bucket filled with seedlings that she had ordered from the arbor day foundation in the back of her car. She would stop and in the cover of the night plant tress. She planted until she had not more money and her hands were bleeding. Of course she could have joined a friends of trees group, but Annie was never much of a people person. She preferred to do her work alone. She preferred to go back to her spots alone and check the trees, mark them and water them. She learned quickly that if the tree looked official, if it had some kind of tag attached to it, it was less likely to get pulled out or mowed over. So she perfected her system until the papers started to notice.
She read and article in the LA times about the “mystery tree planter” roaming the streets of Los Angeles and creating various urban jungle locations. The article made her sound like some kind of renegade hero. She was deeply offended by being referred to as the “Johnny Appleseed of Urban California”. The title insinuated that she was a man. She hated that. She had watched a ted talk on how to grow a tiny forest a few years after she had started planting and it ignited something fierce inside of her. Plants were clean, people were not.
Plants to Annie were not just something beautiful to look at, but they were her way of cleaning the filth that humans had smeared across the world that she had to live in. She was tired of it all, the heat and the people living like animals in the streets and the smell of urine. She couldn’t stand the gum stuck to the sidewalks, the crumbling buildings and the noise of people living. What made her truly and vilely ill was the idea that there were people living in pristine mansions on the sides of hills. They had more than a hundred people would need in a lifetime, and they looked out on the streets where suffering people were forced to live like animals, filthy and defecating on the streets. It was something that she could not bear and was the prime example of the evil within the human heart. The reason she fantasized about their destruction.
These people crying and yelling and talking, and living in filth, all of it was too much for her. They drowned out the duality of consciousness in her mind. She was not equipped to live straight into the world as one usually does. She needed that extra space that she had created in her own mind. It was as if her mind was a split screen television, the noise of the city blocked one of the channels that she needed. Annie needed space to breathe and think without constantly being overwhelmed by the chaos of the city.
Annie had these thoughts saved up in her mind for years. She had been alone in her thoughts about these things. A few days after she had met Eddie, he called her again and asked her out for a drink. She did not know that he had been thinking about her constantly for two days, absolutely paralyzed and unable to call her. It took him two days to gather up enough courage to talk to her again. When he finally did, she answered on the first ring. She too had been thinking about him.
They met at a bar on the rooftop of a nice hotel downtown. Annie suggested it because it was a garden oasis high above the city. Annie took the elevator as high as she could and then went the rest of the way up the stairs. She stepped outside onto the rooftop and saw Eddie standing at the bar. He turned toward her. She looked at him. He was wearing a pair of dark grey slacks with a light blue shirt with navy blue sailboats on it. She noticed right away that his light brown belt matched his dress shoes exactly. He noticed that his heart took its first breath and was born out of his body.
They sat at two chairs that were as secluded as possible. They faced another rooftop where young privileged kids were having a pool party. Annie looked at the kids with narrowed eyes, feeling a pang of anger at their carefree lives. Eddie only noticed Annie. The people at the bar had no idea that they had front row seats to the one thing that keeps humanity from burning itself to the ground. Love. It is rare and beautiful to be able to sit and watch the hope of life take form in front of your very eyes. To the onlookers it was clear that Eddie was more than in love with the wild haired woman he was so lucky to have been siting next to. Annie looked a little bored.
She was thinking though. She wanted to test Eddie. She was not sure that she would be able to trust a man who she could not share her secrets with. So as they looked over the city, Annie interrupted Eddie’s speech on how he would survive the great earthquake. It took him less than the beat of his heart to turn his eyes on her and answer in all of the right ways. The secrets between the lovers will stay secret, but it was on that day that Annie too finally felt a faint stirring in her heart. It was much different than Eddie, his love was like a Tsunami breaking on the shore. Everything that he had built for himself in his past was broken down and he built something new, something much more satisfying and fulfilling than the empty structures that has populated the landscape of his heart for so long. Now he built space for Annie.
Annie was more practical. She had never been lonely. She looked at herself in the mirror in the morning and accepted wholeheartedly that she was enough for herself. She had neither the want or need for another in the space of her life, of her mind, and of her largely unfeeling life. She lived as she lived and needed nothing else. She could see real use for Eddie in her life though. So she opened the smallest of doors and made the smallest of spaces and invited him to crawl in on his hands and knees, he gladly did so. And that is how two people who met, only by slightest chance built and planted and grew one of the greatest loves of all time.