The color is creeping back in, dotting the medians along the interstate with a sprawl of white buds, prickly sprouts of waxy green buds curled on the bushes under my porch, patches of green blades pushing through ashen pine needles next to my shoe, the daffodils coming up in the horse pastures. The sky has resigned into a diminishing periwinkle from a washed out lilac color indicative of sinking sun. It is spring.
I keep forgetting to water the begonias. They were almost too good to be true, I bought them at Trader Joe's on a rainy Tuesday, and their color and bloom were impeccable. By the time I made it home, the flower heads popped off in the bag, on the kitchen floor, on the counter to my horror. With the luster gone, watering a plant just seems unnatural. I hope I get over it before it is too late.
There is a garden outside of my apartment, but it does not belong to me. My landlord and his daughter, the help that comes during the week, they work in it, I do not know what they do, how do you plan a garden, but I have spent many short days before the night comes too early watching the rain soak the land, doing little to dissolve the compost—eggshells, grapefruit remains, fruit rinds. I do not eat eggs or grapefruit.
When I had a home, there was a garden. My husband purchased the home long before I came into the picture, entered the front door, then pulled away in a moving van. The previous owners must have planted the hyacinths that burst into vivid blue puffs, the bleeding magnolia that tempted the neighbors to pinch off branches, the tulips that hid under the overgrown bushes, and the daffodils that appeared too early in late winter snows. The plant I loved the most was the lilac tree. It stood right at the entrance of the fence and I would stop every time I passed it, pulling the flowers close to my nose, sharing the odor with the bees, although this ritual was unnecessary, the smell would waft in the spring breeze anyway.
I remarked that when I left, the tree would go with me, but I had only two weeks to vacate in the middle of a hurricane, and really, what does one do with a lilac tree in a studio apartment? He would not have noticed though. I liken his attention to fine things like the overgrown vegetable garden in the moss of the backyard. Nothing but weeds.
I feel like a vagrant in spring. What I mean is there are gardens everywhere, the flowers belong to someone, the medians to the state, the bulbs to the nurseries, and I have no patch of land. Everyone has daffodils.
I saw a dream, a person I would rather forget, who is it anyway? Then I wake up to the humming of the refrigerator and realize that I have no house, I am not in my house, and how did I get here, I wonder.
I am in a good spot. What I mean is I am in a nice space. I will never get to be thirty years old, in a studio, with a chatty tuxedo cat, overlooking the river, while working on a doctorate again. I sit in a room that women envy. At least that is what my friend tells me. Midsentence, she turns without a transition to her toddler who has put a clothespin in his mouth, and the moment is gone. There is a hole in the ceiling and the carpet has been pulled up. She is stenciling the floor and creating a library painted in red. She has an office where she freelances, she still feels ill at ease that she is not working at the bank, and she schedules one hour a week to paint. The house has many windows with sunlight streaming in. She asks if I considered splashes of yellow in my apartment. She shows me the blueprints for the garden she is planning with a family friend, penciled in on graphing paper. I wonder if this is how I wound up off the grid.
I appreciate her encouragement. “Every time you write me,” she says, “you are doing something awesome.” Her son grabs my pinkie as he leans into my arms and his fine hair smells like a baby. I close my eyes.
I let go of a fantasy and was lauded for it. I avoid facades in the form of uploaded sonograms, pictures of gender reveal parties and showers, the new fad of pregnancy photo shoots, and laments from the other side of colic, sweet baby and daddy sleeping shots, first birthday invitations. I am clearly beyond “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” I’m in the “hold my infant while I hold your purse” phase. My therapist says that perhaps if people say it enough or show it enough, they may believe it themselves.
Is it really avoidable, though? Is it avoidable when your friend says she is “living the dream”? I am too, except in my dream, the colors are little off, keys slightly out of tune, and sequence out of order, but you do not want to awaken from it. It is not avoidable at the suburban supermarket as you stand there at the deli, overlooked in lieu of the man and his wife together on lunch break and the mother with the stroller obliviously cutting in front until you finally push through, ticket in hand, and say, “I actually have a number”. I stood there haughty in my black silken trench coat staving off the thought that this is some metaphor for my life. Is it avoidable when your friend tells you that they are planning on trying for the second baby this summer and planning vacation around it? Take your number, please.
I have a conference next week and another proposal due. Two papers. A committee to form. Internships, adjuncting, summer employment. Most of all comprehensive exams. “Life is good,” I remarked to a colleague on a street corner today. “Aren’t we lucky to be here?”
I probably never would have had children with my husband and it was a prospect that left me uneasy because I did not want to desire something I could not have. So I simply convinced myself I did not want it. He would have made a distant and disengaged father. I knew it. I knew it because he was a distant and disengaged husband. He disliked children more than the disdain he held for cars or women he was done using. Only once did I bravely approach the topic, standing over his shoulder has he typed his budget into an Excel spreadsheet, casually remarking, “Perhaps when I finish the dissertation, we can start trying. I will be thirty-three and that is a good time.” He paused and looked up. “It will be a long time.” I quietly retreated from his space and went walking under the electric lines, the ether of connections over my head, into the pink of the sunset. I bit my lip to keep from crying.
When I was a child, my dad would play Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time” album on Sunday mornings. I grew up admiring the sultry redhead with the sliver of white in her hair who could play slide guitar, an instrument I was unable to master to my dad's chagrin. It became a soundtrack of sorts. The title track is a song of longing in their hearts and I could not imagine an age where I would “have to decide.” Yet here I am, nobody’s girl.
I was a good wife. I know now I would have been an excellent mother.
Marriage taught me I have enough love for two people. That I can be selfless, do the dirty work, and still be gracious and loving.
I spent so many years cultivating. I embraced being “ladylike.” I became fluent in “soft spoken.” I became a master at feigning “gentle.” I remember being told by my grandmother, “Don’t you want a nice man like that?” while pointing to the virtuous groom that a cousin would marry. I became good.
Now I am tough as nails. I am steely in my silence. Still waters run deep. I accept no less than what I deserve and specify precisely what that will be. I do not demure to playing second fiddle. I am unyielding but diplomatically so. Perhaps this is not the embodiment of femininity. But it makes me an incredible woman. You would be damn lucky to have me.
It is Friday and on Fridays I think of that house. I would be making spaghetti and listening to NPR. Before that, it was steak dinners at franchised saloons and Netflix before Saturday errands and Sunday day trips. I think back to Wednesday morning, face in my pillow, wondering how I got here.
There is a song that goes, “Helping the kids out of their coats. But wait the babies haven’t been born. Unpacking the bags and setting up and planting lilacs and buttercups. But in the meantime I’ve got it hard. Second floor living without a yard.” So I do not want for things that are not mine. They once were.
The question was asked, “What would you do if you were forever on your own?” and my answer is, “I would become great.” But “good” sure felt alright with the summer breeze in the kitchen and nuzzling my nose in a mop of wavy hair populated with nascent silver strands as the orange morning sun slivered through the blinds.
Yet here I am. The evening sank into the indigo trenches deep. I drink Bao Zhong, an oolong that boasts of its lilac scent. The white strands are becoming more obvious in the black of hair. In the upcoming weeks I will a daffodil festival with a tour of a flower farm. Again, I will refrain from purchasing bulbs; last year, I knew my time was limited and this year I am out of time. The flowers in the vase on my dresser are dying; the lilies are dry, their pale purple petals curling on the dresser, while the carnations staunchly hold out for something better. Perhaps I will have something to offer in a nick of time.
(originally posted by a member of the fww community)