I love having fresh flowers in my home. They’re beautiful and the care is simple. You buy them knowing full well they are already dying. You keep them until they are no longer pretty and then you throw them away.
House plants are quite another conversation. A house plant is a relationship.
My amazing co-worker Sheila brought me an African violet plant the other day. It’s beautiful and so is she. I didn’t have the reflexive reaction I used to have when someone would give me a plant. The exasperated, Great. You’re giving me a JOB.
It’s not that I’m ungrateful. It’s just… I’ve always been a killer. House plants. But only 100% of the time. I’m great with plants outside, but bring ’em indoors? I’m like a super creepy psychopath who sees a beautiful woman and thinks, This time will be different. I’ll bring her home and we’ll have a relationship! I definitely will not kill this one!
And then she’s dead.
I try. I mean – I really, really do. Historically, though, I have loved my plants to death. Watering, watering, watering, moving them from place to place. Talking to them. Not talking to them. Trying to crack the code of what I can do to get them to thrive in my care.
When I moved into my new place after my relationship ended, Mary made me buy some plants. At IKEA. She said, You need something alive in this space. I told her it would not end well. She said, They’re Jade plants. They’re impossible to kill. Hm.
She also made me buy a tall spiky plant and a fake palm frond thingy. I liked that one’s chances.
She told me to give the Jade plants three ice cubes a week and the spiky thingy seven ice cubes a week and the fake frond zero ice cubes a week, which seems unkind but life is hard.
This guy’s plastic.
I like him the best.
Anyway, I liked those highly specific instructions. No guesswork. Three ice cubes. That’s it. I listen to Mary. She knows all the things.
Then my friend Laurie gave me an Amaryllis bulb at Christmas. I thought, Great. Now I have to midwife this sucker into growing and THEN kill it. Which is, like, extra steps. I put it in a box and ignored it for a few weeks figuring it’d self-resolve. Guilt crept in because she’s one of my favorite humans, so I popped it in a pot with some soil, picked a windowsill, threw it a few ice cubes a week and wished it luck.
I would love to say that I’d had some revelation at that point, but it was mostly that I was undone and just trying to keep my own head above water. I didn’t have the energy or bandwidth to worry about or exert my will on these poor plant hostages beyond the simple marching orders I’d been given.
Pick a spot. Give them enough. Take care of yourself. Carry on.
This hands-off kind of love is new to me. It’s hard for me to leave things alone when I see someone I love struggling, but struggling isn’t a problem in life, it’s a part of it. One of the many brilliant things I’ve heard in the rooms of recovery is this, Do your part, then STOP.
That one froze me in my tracks.
I’m always up for doing my part. I’m slightly less awesome at identifying where my part ENDS.
It’s also hard for me to let things die. But again, death isn’t the end of life, it’s a part of it. People, things, relationships have a life cycle. And then they don’t.
I recently read Glennon Doyle’s new book, Untamed and it challenged me in some really beautiful, uncomfortable ways. I am going to be fairly insufferable referencing it for, oh, say, the next five years. You should acclimate. This is a marathon.
I have now stayed in two relationships totaling more than two decades, long past when they were good for me. In both cases, I focused on the other person so intently I ignored that the relationship no longer fed me. I watered and fussed and ‘advised’ and moved them into the sunlight – pretending the relationships were fine – when really, at the end of the day, they just needed to die. Glennon said in her book that control might be the opposite of love. It’s a sign of enormous growth on my part that I didn’t open my apartment window in February and chuck the book out after reading that bit.
That is so true. It is frankly a little aggressive how true that is. I tell you what, this book is working on me.
I know that some things need to die. Some things need to die and no amount of resuscitating or ‘help’ can or, and this part is important, should bring them back. Some things need to die and we need to call it. Time of death – right now.
That’s just so fucking hard and sad and I do not want it to be true. I hate giving up on things. I hate giving up on people. And it’s been a part of my identity for a while. The person who hangs in there, as though that’s some kind of badge of honor. At a certain point, it’s not loyalty, it’s just a refusal to bury the dead.
But if I am being rigorously honest, maybe it was less that I couldn’t give up on him or us, and more that I had already given up on me. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t really know how to. I have spent the overwhelming majority of my life tethered to people who needed me. I didn’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t responsible for the daily care and watering of another human being, so I settled for being desperately lonely, but with company. And I didn’t want to give up on our story, because it was, and still is in many ways, a really beautiful story. I loved our story. A lot of people did.
Someone gave me a cactus well over a year ago. Maybe even two. It died. Because, yes – not to brag, I can even kill a cactus. Anyway, I did everything it said to do on the plastic instructions dagger that comes with every plant, but it died anyway. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes you do everything right and something dies anyway. It had clearly been spraypainted, though, because no matter how dead it was, it stayed bright orange.
The company I work for has orange in its logo, so I brought the plant to work, where it has been for well over a year. Dead. I pretend it’s fine. I mean, it’s on-brand and requires nothing of me, so it’s basically perfect.
I’ve said many times that both of my long term relationships ended out of the blue, and that’s true. Ish. But I knew in my bones something either wasn’t right or was no longer good for me. I knew. I knew, but I just couldn’t let them die. I couldn’t let them die so I worked more hours, did more errands, cleaned more, worked out more, put on more mascara, volunteered more, went to more meetings… stayed busy, busy, busy. I think I knew somewhere deep down inside me, in the place that gets loud when I get quiet, that to stay still would be to know, and to know would require change – and I just wasn’t brave enough.
If you just stop doing, you’ll start knowing.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
When my marriage was blowing up, I tried to fix everything I thought was wrong with me – on the outside, at least. I starved myself, I bought new, smaller, trendier, cuter clothes. My make-up was perfection. I shot my forehead full of poison to deal with the wrinkles that did not yet exist. I ran on the treadmill like my life depended on it. I cleaned and primped the house until it looked more like a Pottery Barn catalog than a home. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Everything felt out of control, so I controlled me. At least the vessel of me. Her. I made her smaller and shinier and tighter.
Oh, and drunk. I drank. Every day.
When this last relationship was waning, it was different in that the control I was attempting to exert wasn’t over myself and it was deeply, profoundly rooted in fear. Maybe that’s redundant, actually. Control is always rooted in fear because control IS fear. My friend Sammie says every day she has one choice to make. What’s it going to be today? Love or fear? Am I going to live in love or am I going to live in fear?
Turns out, you can’t do both.
Both times, I thought I loved the man in my life too much to let it end, but the reality is I didn’t love myself enough to want it to be over.
Both times, I let the fear I felt at the prospect of walking away from a life that bore no resemblance to the one that some yet wild, dormant part of me knew I could be living to completely paralyze me.
Both times, I told myself the grief I felt at the cost of making the decision I knew to be right and true for me was not survivable. That I needed to do anything and everything to avoid that pain.
Our next life will always cost us this one.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
That is the truest thing I’ve read in a good long while. I have it written on a post-it on the laptop in front of me right now. The cost of the life I can live, the life that requires me to show up as all of me, is the life I was folding myelf up to fit into.
Back to the Amaryllis bulb. I decided to basically leave it to its own devices – to make it or not. I delivered ice cubes every Saturday when I was doing my rounds. And nothing happened for quite some time. Typically, that’s when I’d redouble my efforts. Up the ice cubes, start moving the plant around, re-pot it. Live, live, LIVE DAMMIT. Can’t you see how much I am doing to get you to do the thing you may or may not want to or be able to do???
A couple of weeks ago there was a little shoot. Then a stalk. Again, I didn’t do anything more than my part. Have an ice cube, nascent plant-o.
Thing is, if it had never bloomed, that would’ve been okay, too.
Two years ago, I wrote this in my book:
If your old story needs to die for you to heal, let it die.Laura Parrott Perry, How a Secret-keeper Became a Storyteller
Two years ago. I knew. I think I maybe even knew then. But it was a beautiful story. It was on-brand and required nothing of me. Perfect.
It didn’t require bravery. It didn’t require change. It didn’t require growth. It didn’t require me to show up as I am. It didn’t require me to step fully and completely into the woman I know I was created to be.
It was a story with no villain. It was also a story with no victims – only volunteers.
This fall, there was an unexpected storm and I was uprooted. When that happens you either land somewhere you can grow wild and untamed or you die. Those are the choices.
Here I am. I’m sitting here in the winter morning sunlight in my beautiful new home surrounded by things that are alive and growing.