I rake to enliven my lawn. I have a sense that raking helps the growth of the grass, that I’m opening things up for the surviving blades– providing space to breathe and flourish. It’s logical and might be factual, but I got the idea from my friend Brian when he and I were eighteen. He took the time to comb his hair in the opposite direction every day to stimulate his hair follicles. He had previously advised me to treat my acne with Ivory soap and it worked, so I went with his follicle stimulation therapy to save my hair. He’s just about bald now, but it worked really well for me. I have a nice full head of hair, and I still run a shark’s tooth comb up the back of my hair every morning before I shower. Naturally, I carried this theory over to lawn care.
I start at the patch adjacent to the driveway, because that’s always a safe place to begin. It’s a small area and can be raked to completion in an hour or two. The front of the house is like an ocean, and I have this fear of venturing out into the green ocean of grass and not being able to make it to the other side. I’m scared of how different the raked areas will look from the unraked areas, of abandoning piles of raked grass at visible areas, of not knowing what to do with all that dead grass when my trash bags run out, of it not looking any neater when I’ve finished, of not being able to finish before I have to leave my wife and my sons again.
Whenever I’ve been home over the past eight months, there’s been a sense of making sure we do everything we can before I have to leave again. I take David to Starbucks every day before school, for example, and he gets a kids hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and those chocolate shavings on top. It’s terrible that he drinks these things three times a week while I’m home, but I suppose I see it as a way to compensate him for the fact that I’ve abandoned him for a year. The farthest back I can remember vividly is to when I was four or five years old, so David will remember this time I was not with him. The hot chocolates are an attempt to wash this out of his memory.
I rake the grass in small sections, usually in groups of ten strokes. When I finish the ten strokes, I move laterally and to the top of the section and pull the rake for ten more strokes, and I end up very close to the previous pile of dead grass. If I don’t make it in ten strokes, I’ll go eleven. If I make it there in nine strokes, I’ll stop and move up and laterally again.
If I do this long enough, I’ll have a nice long row of dead grass, small branches, leaves, and shit if I rake the area where my dog spends her time. I walk to one end of this row and pull the whole row of dead grass together into the nice, round, volcanic pile most people are familiar with. I suppose I could pick up the row and save myself the step up raking it all together, but I like the piles to be isolated. Looking at the mounds all over the lawn assures me that I am making progress.
When I was five, my father was healthy, had more hair, and an impressive mustache. When I am dead, this is the way he will appear to me in heaven. He might have the cowboy hat he wore for a while when I was twelve.
The days went too fast toward the end of my last visit home. There was too much to do, and it felt a lot like preparing for death, or what I imagine preparing for death is like. There was so much ocean to swim, and I knew there was no way I’d make it to the other side.
When I left this last time, Jack waved goodbye from the driveway, his mouth that strange shape it takes when he is in emotional pain, while David and Ben stayed inside. The car pulled away from them, and I noticed that I had forgotten to pick up some of the piles I had raked the day before. I had just run out of time.