by Amanda J. Crawford
The pumpkin vines started popping out of the compost pit in the summer, a few weeks after he was gone. The wide, sun-thirsty leaves stretched up and out of the decay toward the mottled light that peeked through the branches of a large walnut tree.
A novice, I had thought we could garden here, in this unusual stretch of wooded backyard three houses long, right in the middle of the city. He was the one who helped me plant out front where the sun was strong instead, leaving the backyard to the walnuts, squirrels, dandelions, and compost.
But here they were now in the backyard of the community house: pumpkin vines popping out of the rot of their forebears, sprouting from discarded guts. Something new from the ruin. One after another.
We hadn’t had much luck growing squash the previous summer. We tried an array of organic strategies: we spritzed the leaves with peppermint spray, ground egg clusters with the heels of our shoes, and squished squash bugs — those meaty gray prisms I’d learned to spot and loathe — between our fingers until they popped.
We listened to women, gave out safe words, took back the night, tried to identify threats, but didn’t use pesticides, didn’t scorch the earth, and didn’t suspect our friends.
All those beautiful and broad squash leaves and fuzzy yellow flowers that bloomed in promise all summer, browned and withered anyway under the onslaught of predators before we could harvest a single butternut.
It’s hard to reconcile the events of the last year: a reality TV star who bragged about grabbing women between their legs becomes president and then other men are plucked for their misdeeds from the hallowed ground of entertainment and media and business, one after another, as if connected by underground roots or invisible vines — the web of misogyny, an organic outgrowth of patriarchy that we suspected all along, revealed.
We ask ourselves how we didn’t see it, now that the evidence of ubiquity has piled up. But in the months between Donald Trump’s rise and Harvey Weinstein’s fall, all we saw piling up at our community house in Kentucky were odd-shaped pumpkins.
There were blue-gray pumpkins and oblong orange pumpkins and crook-necked pumpkins with green stripes. He bought them from a farmer after our squash crop failed, piled them on the shelves and floor around the hearth for decoration, and roasted them at potlucks all winter. The tender flesh piled high.
By the time the young woman came to us, the days were long and warm. The pumpkins that were left from the winter had begun to rot, leaving gooey circles on shelves and floor.
We told him not to come around anymore and composted the remains. And I worked in the garden alone or with different friends, all of us disturbed by the dirt we hadn’t seen on soil-covered hands.
Then I spot the seedlings poking up their heads in the compost, full of hope, training to the weak light. I lift them gently and carry them to the sunniest places, where I hope they can root and spread, unfettered and uncompromised.
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Amanda J. Crawford is a veteran journalist whose literary work has been published in Creative Nonfiction, Hippocampus Magazine and Full Grown People. She is a journalism professor in Kentucky, where she performs with the band Former Friends of Young Americans, helped run a community arts venue, and grows pumpkins.