I recently got a bad case of poison ivy.
Because I was distracted by zombies.
While “stealing” plants.
Let’s back up. There are a few things you need to know: I’ve been gardening like crazy, so plants are always in my mind. I notice what’s growing and what’s flowering more than I used to. It’s rather obsessive, the way I hone in on a new plant and want to know what it is...and want to have some, of course.
Well, I started noticing this gorgeous purple wildflower on the sides of the highways. I pointed it out to various people who all identified it as ironweed. I’d like to stress that point: it’s a weed. Not a wildflower. A weed.
There’s a cement company near me that has a quarry full of rock remnants that they allow people to come take for free. I’ve been taking trips out there since June, filling my trunk with rocks to border my garden beds and to make pretty stone paths through all my gardens. One Saturday, while selecting perfect flat paver rocks, I noticed that the quarry had lots and lots of vibrant iron weed growing all around it—surrounding the entire perimeter of the quarry. I decided to come back the next day with a shovel and dig some up to plant in my yard.
That’s not stealing, right? It’s a weed! A weed growing in a quarry where anyone is allowed to haul away what they want. It’s not like this was a landscaped garden in a park. I just want that to be clear.
All would’ve been well, but that night I went to see the movie Zombieland with my friend Rachel. Rachel and I love zombies. We see all the zombie movies, good and bad.
Zombieland was a comedy. It was fun, then immediately forgettable…or so I thought…
I headed to the quarry early Sunday morning and kept running the scenario of the movie through my mind as I drove the deserted interstate. Because I passed no other cars, even when I got on the side roads, it was easy to imagine that I was perhaps the only human left alive since whatever horrible outbreak of virus caused most of our race to become the walking dead. I imagined that I wasn’t driving to get rocks and some ironweed; I was on a mission to get much-needed food from the only place I knew where to find it. I had to go this quarry. My life in zombieland depended on it.
Maybe it was the fact that I’m a fiction writer and in fiction the worst case scenario is always the most interesting. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve always had a vivid imagination. Maybe it was the fact that from the moment I began to pretend my own community was a zombieland I hadn’t seen a single other person.
Or maybe I’m just a big ol’ freak.
Whatever the reason, by the time I wound my way down the deserted country road to the secluded quarry, I had myself in a jangling ball of nerves. I tried to joke with myself that I was just passing the time, as I thought things like, “Okay, I’m going to park REALLY close to this patch of ironweed. I’ll keep all the doors locked, but the driver’s side open. I’ll leave the trunk open, but not all the way open, because I want to be able to see over the car…” I could envision it clearly: the snarling, furious zombies hurtling through the cow pasture, stumbling over the loose rocks as they came for me, the way I’d whack one in the head with my shovel, dive into the driver’s seat, lock the doors, and speed away— zombies trying to cling to the car, falling away one by one.
I was jumpy as I waded into the waist-high weeds to tackle my first batch of iron weed. When three deer leapt out of the brush and dashed across the road, my pulse raced away along with them.
I hurriedly dug up three big clusters of the purple flower—again, I feel the need to tell you that my three extractions were not even noticeable in the ocean of ironweed surrounding the quarry—and put them in my back seat, checking over my shoulder often. Then I limited myself to looking only at those picked-over rocks near my car (instead of climbing over the mounds of rocks to the farthest piles where the real treasure are found, like I usually do). Once my trunk contained the ten or so pavers it’s capable of holding, I breathed a sigh of relief as I locked my doors and drove away. Mission accomplished: I was still alive.
Oh, it took about twenty-four hours. The ironweed was planted and thriving in my yard when the first unmistakable blisters appeared inside my wrists.
Then on my fingers.
And one especially aggravating patch on my ankle.
I know poison ivy. I watch for poison ivy. My allergy to it is especially bad, so I’m always on the lookout, and I knew there was none in my yard. Just to be sure, I walked through my yard, all around my house, peering closely at every weed in every garden bed.
Along my back fence, near the flourishing rich purple ironweed, it dawned on me: the way I’d wandered into deep weeds to dig these flowers. How I’d reached down through the weeds to pick up the root balls.
That damn ironweed better come back next year in my backyard! Because that “free” weed cost me: $28 worth of cortisone cream and Domeboro at CVS, a $31 prescription of steroids, and a doctor’s office visit fee for an injection.
I met my friend Rachel for coffee a few days later and as I scratched forlornly at the now disgusting red clusters, I told her, “I’ve got poison ivy—bad— and I deserve every oozing bit of it.”
“From your yard?” she asked.
“No. Remember how I told you I was going to dig some up at Cemex? It must’ve been from there. I wasn’t paying attention.”
She shook her head, smiling. “You were distracted because you were stealing,” she teased me.
“No, I was distracted because of the zombies.”
She is the only person in the world who would totally understand that statement without another word of explanation. She took a sip of her coffee and with genuine sympathy in her eyes said, “I’m so sorry.”
I knew she meant it.
If the zombie apocalypse ever happens, I hope I get to survive with Rachel.
And if the world as we know it has to end, I hope wild ironweed will bring beauty to the devastation.