September 1, 2009
I call her Jennifer. I suppose I could learn her actual name just by taking a look inside her mailbox some morning, but then I’d feel like a stalker. Plus, “Jennifer” is my favorite female name and what if I found out her name was “Faith” or “Serenity” or something like that? That would kind of ruin everything.
So, here I stand, like I have at least one night a week, every week for the last year, outside her living room window. I know it’s been a year because certain details remind me of how the world felt the first night I started watching her: the white plum blossoms, lit up by street lights, looking like snow on the tree branches until you realize it’s early blooming flowers... the way her lawn looks perfect because the winter rains have kept the grass green while the cold has kept the weeds down... a certain warm smell to the air, even though it’s still actually pretty darn cold. I pay attention to these kinds of things, even when I’m not trying to.
Certain features of Jennifer's landscaping make it easier – and safer – for me to watch her. There is a big thick juniper right in front of one of her living-room windows (the one I use), which not only means that people walking or driving by on the street can’t see into her house, but it also means they can’t see me standing between the bush and her window. And there is a convenient series of trees and hedges that connects this corner of her house to a neighboring yard with a vacant house which is actually accessible from a different, dead-end street. What I do is, I just park my truck right in front of that vacant house early in the evening and walk up with some of my carpenter's tools, like I’m working there in my spare time or something. Then I just come around back and run from tree to tree till I get where I am right now, looking in through Jennifer’s living room window.
Now: what do I see when I peer through these panes of glass at night? Well, yes, I often see Jennifer in there, and yes, she is a beautiful woman, but it’s not because of those perfect-but-unassuming curves, barely showing through her paint-splattered t-shirt and jeans, that I return to her home again and again. And it's not because of the pale white skin on the back of her neck, or the way she seems to float above the floor when she's in a good mood. Or the tiny wrinkles she makes around her blue-gray eyes when she's trying to solve some artistic problem. The reason I keep coming back to this window is to witness what Jennifer is creating in this otherwise typical nice home in a typical nice suburban neighborhood.
Half of her living room is a normal living room: a sofa, two matching chairs, etc. But in the other half, she has removed the carpeting, laid down corroleum over the sub-floor, and in this space she maintains a miniature village. When I first started watching her, Jennifer was still in the process of pulling the carpeting up. Now over this past year, I have seen the village grow, shrink, change from Mediterranean fishing village to English hamlet to western ghost-town to modern American suburb. Some evenings when I come over, Jennifer is either not home, or perhaps she is doing something in another part of the house, and I get to really investigate her work (she usually leaves the light on in the room). Other times I watch her arrange and rearrange houses and trees and shops and little people, all of which I think she makes in a different workshop somewhere else in her house. Some nights, she just sits in the room and does nothing for hours, just looking at what she has created and taking it all in. That is when I feel closest to her.
Tonight is one of those nights, and as I stand in the window, watching her watching the world I’ve watched her build, I try to imagine what she is thinking: Is she lonely? Is it sad for her when she contemplates wiping out one world in order to begin creating another? Would she like someone else to be in the room with her while she creates?
And that is when I notice a new detail in this version of the village. New since the last time I visited, three nights ago.
On the farthest edge of the village, closest to my window, she has located a new house, and surrounded that house with trees. And, there is another object that she has placed outside the new house, and it is not a tree. It is a little man and he is propped against the side of the house... as if peering into a window.
So now of course I am thinking all kinds of things; all of the obvious philosophical questions present themselves to me: Is reality just a series of creations inside creations, like the cover of that Pink Floyd album, or like one of those Russian doll sets? Is God just some crazy artist? Am I the maker or the made?... and all the other variations on that theme. My head is spinning a bit, but mostly I'm focused on Jennifer. I want to know what her eyes are doing. Jennifer is sitting on her floor with the back of her head toward me and my window, and she seems to be staring at the center of the village. It feels like hours while I wait for her to turn her head toward the new house so I can at least see the side of her face. But she is keeping herself absolutely still, even more still than I am. While my eyes are locked on the back of Jennifer's head, my mind drifts and I recall a conversation I was having with this guy I know, about the moon. He was telling me how he'd read that the American flag they planted there 40 years ago is still up there, and that it'll probably still be there for a long, long time because the moon has no atmosphere and no wind and nothing to grind that flag down. I told him that if that is true, then all of the countries on Earth should get together and make a huge artifact that tells the story of humanity in pictures, and send that up to the moon. Then in a million years, maybe, after humans are long gone and our cities have all disappeared, some aliens will come in their spacecraft, and even though our Earth by then might just be a big desert with a few cactus plants and cockroaches, when they stop on their way out and investigate the moon, they'll find the artifact and realize that at least we tried.
At some point a sharp breeze carrying the remnants of winter’s cold snaps me out of my trance. I know she is not going to turn around, and that's probably for the best. I feel for my toolkit with my foot, pick it up, and then quietly back away from Jennifer's window and start back to my truck.