Her name is Sherri. With an ‘I.’
I’d made my way down the side of the road with a 30 gallon trash bag and the pickup tool from the flea market I’d purchased just that morning. I had my earbuds in, listening to Last Podcast on the Left, zoning out under the scorching blaze of a June midday sun. I couldn’t hear much else but rumbling engines, thick tires treading on black asphalt, and random honks as people either waved to say “Thank you” or “Get the hell out of the way.”
A shrill note came over the noise, and I noticed a woman standing in her driveway. She wore a forest green dress that reminded me of a pillowcase, and had a dandelion ball of curly salt-and-pepper hair. Both her arms were raised and swirling around to grab my attention. A smile spread across her face as I pulled out my earbuds.
“Hello!” she said. “Hey, I’m sorry I’m standing here yelling at you. I’ve been trying to get your attention. You know, there’s a certain frequency or pitch that’s supposed to sneak its way in past other sounds. Have you heard about that?”
I told her I had and she waved me forward, so I approached her. I left behind a few pieces of trash in the weeds and made a mental note to snag them after I spoke with her, before moving on.
“I’m Sherri,” she said, sticking out her hand—I shook it, wondering if I should’ve warned her how sweaty I was. “That’s with an ‘I.’ Sherri with an ‘I.’ That’s how I always introduce myself.”
I gave her my name, nice to meet her. Then Sherri With An I proceeded to apologize for the state of her yard. She tried to keep the trash cleaned up, she said, but as I could see—and I definitely could—her yard was in an incredibly dramatic state of disarray.
I know her yard well. It’s the only one on the road I’ve truly taken notice of, and I make it a point to glance at it every time I cross over the train tracks and drive up the hill to my street. Not to be mean, but ever since I moved to the area over three years ago, Sherri With An I’s yard has been what you might call an eyesore. Picture the original Jumanji, and that still wouldn’t do it justice. The yard is totally overgrown with tall grass up to my waist and weeds that reach far over my own head—every square inch of it, save the strip of flattened grass just off the road where a number of walkers and joggers have forced a path.
Only once in my three-plus years on this road have I seen the yard cleared away, and that was at least two years ago. On the afternoon I met Sherri With An I the yard was back in full-force, attempting to conceal her house from the wandering eyes of the world again. I’ve wondered for years what kind of people lived there, hoping they were kind but assuming not.
See, we have it ingrained in our heads from an early age that dirty, unorganized things are bad things, and if those things are bad that means dirty, unorganized people are bad. Of course I know now that isn’t true but I’m still guilty of thinking all rundown houses have monsters locked in their attics, and that sometimes they get out at night.
But that day, standing in the yard I’d nearly idolized in my own fantasy, Sherri With An I told me the city was supposed to take care of it. “I’ve been calling and telling them for months my property needs to be cleared, and they always say they’re gonna come, but they just don’t.”
Her van was parked in the driveway thirty feet from us, and a fallen oak limb was propped up against it. A rope had been looped over the tree and tied around the limb to keep it from perpetually crushing the van. She said she hadn’t been able to drive anywhere for months, so it was lucky she could walk to the Dollar General from her house when she needed something.
A man once stopped by to ask her about the limb, she said. He offered to cut it for her, take care of the problem, so they exchanged contacts. He would come back the next day, he told her, and she believed he was the answer to her prayers. But he didn’t come back the next day. In fact, that had been weeks ago, and she still hadn’t heard from him.
Sherri With An I asked where I lived—up the road, down the street, in the white house with the red brick chimney. She asked what I do for a living—a writer working full time in the film industry.
She has a friend who pursued film in Hollywood years ago, and one time when Sherri With An I was much younger she went to visit her. Her friend had to work a lot, so she spent most of her time there on her own. She ended up getting a ticket to see Johnny Carson where she hit it off with a fellow audience member—unfortunately she didn’t give me his name. But she said she couldn’t believe how much they had in common. They were both tourists, both drove SUVs, both liked the same kind of music—that sort of thing.
When he realized she didn’t have much to do in town, he invited her to tour Universal Studios with him the following day. Oh, she was just so excited to be treated so special by such a nice man in Hollywood. She didn’t say whether or not he was handsome or charming, but I get the feeling he was a little bit of that and more.
She dressed in the best thing she packed—a little yellow sundress and some matching slippers. “The water is so soft out there, my hair was just perfect that day.” She looked so sharp that people were slowing down in traffic to get a good look at her, trying to see if she was somebody famous. “I’d spent my whole time there looking for celebrities, and then suddenly everybody was looking back at me like I was somebody. Really somebody. That’s how good I looked. I felt like a movie star.”
Her movie friend has since left Hollywood for the television stations of Atlanta, but they haven’t spoken in a few years despite how much closer they live now. Nothing happened, she said, they just grew apart. Just life. That’s how it goes.
Then she told me a movie was almost made in her house. Jett Williams grew up there, she said. “You oughta look up Hank Williams’s illegitimate daughter.” So I did. Her actual name is Antha Belle Jett, and I don’t know if she grew up in the house now occupied by Sherri With An I, but I do know she believes it’s true with every fiber of her being. Someone told her a long time ago that they wanted to make a movie about Jett’s life, and that Sherri With An I would make a lot of money if they decided to film in her house—a potential payday she still hopes for.
At that point a car pulled into her driveway, and the woman in the passenger seat gave a house key to Sherri With An I. They talked for probably twenty minutes about things I was trying not to hear—meanwhile, I snagged those few pieces of trash I’d initially left behind and awkwardly stared at my phone like the millennial I am. I considered waving goodbye to Sherri With An I, but decided that would be rude since she was in the middle of telling me a story.
When they finally drove off she told me they were liars and cheats. That’s when I learned a good bit about her family history—mostly things to do with her siblings trying to sell their parents’ old house without her permission and for far less than it was worth. She stepped in and stopped the sale from going through, and the buyer tried to sue her for neglecting to honor the contract. Something like that. But she said she had enough paperwork on her side to win the case.
Allegedly the woman dropping off the key was the buyer who tried to sue her, but I thought it odd considering how pleasant they were to each other. “That woman lied in front of a judge. Her husband is a preacher, and I’m sure he’s a God-fearing man, but he don’t know what kinda woman he’s married to.”
She picked back up where she left off, assuring me that she has Antha Belle Jett’s autobiography in the house. Apparently there’s a picture in that book of Jett as a kid playing in the yard in front of what she swears is the same front porch as hers, with the same metal decor and all. “You never know, one day you might be making a movie inside my house just right here.”
We soon said our goodbyes, nice to meet you, will be seeing you again soon. She went back inside her house, the house where Jett Williams grew up, the house where they want to make a movie one day. I walked on through the yard the city won’t take care of, past a van she can’t drive because of the fallen oak limb. I moved forward with picking up trash down by the railroad tracks and said a simple prayer for her.
I wish the nice man in Hollywood had a name. I wish she and her friend hadn’t grown apart. I want her to live in the house where Hank Williams’ illegitimate daughter grew up, and one day I hope they pay her a lot of money to shoot a movie there. I hope she wears sundresses and has perfect hair and always feels like everybody is looking at her like she’s somebody, really somebody. Because she is somebody, isn’t she? Yes, despite her overgrown yard and fallen limbs, she is so very somebody, and I want so many good things for her it hurts.
Not a week later I drove home after a long day away from it, and I found myself behind a van. It crossed the train tracks and quickly pulled into a driveway. I’d never seen a vehicle make a turn so suddenly after the tracks, and I wondered if Sherri With An I was having another key dropped off, another lawsuit, another dead parent. I rolled by slowly, ogling the situation, hoping this visitor wouldn’t bring her anymore troubles.
The van parked in the driveway and I saw that it was Sherri’s. That’s Sherri with a ‘I.’ The limb was no longer persecuting it, and she could drive again at last. Then I noticed the yard had been cut back a little off the road. It wasn’t completely cleared, but it was a start.
I couldn’t help but laugh. I drove on home with a grin on my face, because it looked like she finally got a couple of her prayers answered, after all.