When I was young I used to live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. That’s right above North Dakota. Really cold winters and dry, hot summers. Despite that, I spent a lot of time outside with my friends. We lived just outside the city, and even though we lived in a building, there was a field of cows right behind it. My dad was in school and my mom worked all the time, so I spent a lot of time outside with my friends. But this story took place when I was completely alone.
Our apartment was on the second floor of a four story building. It had big windows in the living room that overlooked a daycare center on the ground floor. So everyday you could see little kids, really little, like under five, playing in the playground outside, under the supervision of a couple of daycare workers. For some reason I was fascinated by them! I could watch them forever! And so I did. I don’t know why. I didn’t think they were cute. I thought of them as real, complete people. Because even at that age, you could see who were the leaders, who were the followers, the bullies, and the pushovers. The popular ones and the ones that want so desperately to fit in, but can’t. You could see, even, couples forming and disengaging, and acts of jealousy from a spurned lover. You could also see people peeing their pants, which I guess wasn’t quite grown-up behavior. But I was interested in the social dynamics the most. When the weather permitted, I would slide the window open by about six inches so that I could hear what was going on as well.
I knew that what I was doing wasn’t exactly wrong. I wasn’t going to get into trouble for it. But I knew that it was… strange, weird, something people would look askance at. I was only 7, maybe 8, but I felt almost lecherous, perverted, just wrong, somehow, to be able to watch and see so much without being seen. And I made sure not to be seen. I would hide behind the long beige curtains in our living room so that no one could see me. And if ever a daycare worker happened to look up, I would recoil completely behind the curtain. I don’t know why! Imagine this 7 year old kid, caught up in a ball of shame and secret delight that would befit a 70 year old man with a telescope.
Anyway, one day I overhear two daycare workers. They are right below my window, like Romeo to Juliet, so their voices travel up to me very easily. They are oohing and ahhing because they’ve found this tiny unmistakable tomato plant growing in the crack of the wall. They are just marveling at it, you know, because no one planted it there, and yet there it was! They are so delighted! The mysterious little tomato plant is like a miracle to them, you know? I don’t really react to it at the time. I just sit there stonily and listen and peer down at the tops of their heads. Little do I know that my dark subconscious has already made other plans for the innocent little tomato plant.
Later that day, after the daycare has let out, I find myself hanging out outside, and then somehow I find myself climbing over the daycare fence and inside the empty daycare compound. And I find myself standing right where those daycare workers had stood, peering down at this green tomato plant. I think it might have been the first time I’d seen one. It has little green tomatoes hanging from it, and it is small but sturdy, and is this bright grasshopper green, with a little bit of downy fur on it. And if you are close enough to it like I am, you can smell that tomato plant smell, you know? And standing there I can sense a little bit of that wonder of the daycare workers. That in this hostile climate, where the winters are full of blizzards and the summers are shockingly hot, this little tomato plant somehow managed to insert itself into this crack in the ground, by a wall, without any human assistance or planning, and it’s even able to bear fruit!
And so, I don’t know how this happened, or why, but I bent down and held it in my hands, and pulled that little tomato plant out by its roots, and threw it on the ground.