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Looking out my Backdoor: If I could ruin my life differently


“I want to be 14 again and ruin my life differently,” Kathy told me.

After that surprising statement Kathy wriggled past elaborating further than a mumble about kisses with a fellow cellist at music camp.

Harkening back to when I was 14, all I could think was “Ewww.” Way back then, “He looked at me,” would have put me, a late bloomer, in a dreamy swoon.

Kathy a long-time friend, is stuck in Canada, as we all are stuck-in-place for an indeterminate while. I’d say her life is idyllic and I believe she would agree.

But, hey, we all go there, wondering what life would be if we’d chosen Door #1 rather than Door #3.

So much for email. My backyard pulled me outdoors under the new-leaf shade of my jacaranda to survey my kingdom.

My long-tall cactus waved his arms seeking admiration for poking out its first flower, a dinner-plate burst of frothy white with yellow centers. I admired.

Kathy’s words stayed with me, niggling away. If I could step in a time machine and say, “Beam me up, Scotty,” I still would not want to go back to 14 or any other age. Well, maybe 45. Let me think on that.

In the other corner, my Cascada de Oro, a truly ugly tree when its leaves fall off, has seemingly overnight burst forth with great clusters of golden flowers hanging from nearly naked branches like grapes on steroids. She also demanded admiration. I admired.

If I could go back in time, I’d plant her on the other side of the wall in place of that ugly little spike cactus. Today she is a floral beauty and will be for a month.

Know what? I could plant another tree on the other side of the wall.

Know what else? I trust that you and I made the best decisions we could with the information we had at the time. Let’s leave it at that. Did we make some stinkers? You betcha. Or maybe you didn’t but I did.

Sure I’d love to think I could roll back the clock and avoid pain, humiliation and hurting others. I’ve made stupid choices based on lousy information or fear or despair or want or impulse which ended by smacking me upside my head. Maybe I needed the pain to learn better ways, hard headed as I am.

Hey, here comes Leo. I’m going to ask him to empty out more flower pots. We’ve planted several in lettuce and cilantro, and various herbs. “What do you think, Leo? It’s either we take out the stump garden (a rock garden filled with succulents) or plant corn in flower pots.”

Leo is a good help to me in sorting out what I want. “The stump garden is too pretty to rip apart. We can put corn in pots. Corn has shallow roots.”

That’s another thing that took me forever to learn. Ask for help. A foreign concept in my family.

Leo and I crowded geraniums into other flower beds, filled pots with new soil and planted corn. Sweet corn. From seed smuggled across the border by a friend.

Would I ruin my life differently if I could? Probably not. I have experiences that will haunt me to my grave. But I’ve also said “yes” to incredible opportunities, things beyond the imagination of a simple Montana plains girl. And I’ve had much fun along the way.

Oh, listen. The cicadas are here, first night this year. I love the local legend; the cicadas sing down the rains. We don’t look for the rainy season until we hear the click of cicadas that generates into a shrill to make me plug my ears.

Would I be here in my own little slice of Paradise had I chosen differently when I was 14? Probably not. I have a hard time believing I’m here as it is.

Had I not broken my arm in Harlem, I would not have happily moved to my little apartment in Mazatlan. Had I not visited my cousin Nancie and her friend Lani in Etzatlan, I would not be living in my little garden casita today.

Tomorrow? Who knows? I have a friend who advises, “Say yes to life.” Every day.

But, if I could ruin my life differently, I’d be wilder.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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