Six months into our seven year relationship, I had to break up with B and send him back to Kansas. The whole spectacle was like some 90s hair band love ballad video. The bipolar drive to the bus station, B’s arms flailing in the air like some Evangelist, begging me to let him stay. That last deep needy kiss at the platform. His stumble up the bus stairs. He sat down near the rear and steamed up a window with his hot drunk breath and wrote “I love you,” then he flipped me off as the Greyhound drove away. I stood watching until the bus became a fleck of silver in the Akron skyline. I thought to myself, if only love were enough.
I drove straight to the LA Cruise Thru and bought two bags of White Horse bath salts. So that I did not spill any, I waited until I got home to open one and begin a relationship with the craziest drug I have ever done, an addiction that would last many months until the substance became illegal and I would turn to meth. Less than five minutes after a line of White Horse and my entire body took on a vibration that mirrored the feeling I had one spring break when my best friend Kelly and I had pockets full of cocaine as we shimmied down The Strip just as the Nevada sun was rising. Far from Vegas, I settled for a trip to the nearest Walmart. I needed a hobby, something to keep me far from any semblance of heartbreak. I knew that I had arrived when I walked into the gardening section. My house was less than six months old and the lonely lawn needed something that resembled life.
The first thing that caught my eye was a lavender plant that said “Provence” on the label. Having spent a little time one summer in Provence, this particular plant spoke to me. Not in words, of course. But in feeling. I sniffed the plant at least a dozen times before I got to the check out.
To maximize my chance of the plant taking to my soil, if I ever did get around to planting it, I decided that maybe I better buy a few more of the French beauties from a variety of stores. For the next several days, while hooting at least a half gram of bath salts a day, I became a frequenter of Lowe’s and Walmarts. If I talked to the clerks, I made sure to accentuate what I imagined would give the air of sophistication that I thought I adhered to, “Do you have any Provaaansse lavender?
Within a week, a new dilemma introduced itself in my very much sleep deprived mind. What if I had tunnel vision concerning my choice of lavender? Why not consider other types like English or Spanish? Ohio weather is much more like the weather in England. And as a person who appreciates scientific research, shouldn’t I use my new land to see which types of lavender from which stores will be the most fragrant? The most lush?
To put it simply, I became a lavender slut. I could not stop buying plants. My garage looked like the little shop of European horrors.
My obsession upgraded itself with a new interest in the exploration of my neighbors’ yards. I soon realized that lavender was not especially popular in my area of Akron so I decided that I needed to enlarge my gardening vision. I wanted to enhance my community. Northeast Ohio could be the new France. I then had the idea that I would start a sort of trade, a service project. I would dig up a flower in someone’s yard and replace it with one of my lavender plants. Then, I’d take my neighbor’s flower to plant somewhere in my naked yard.
Lavender samples were stored in my backpack, which was almost zipped, except for the shovel that poked through one side. The earliest I got to actually hitting the streets of my city was two or three in the morning. Aware that I was partaking in semi-illegal endeavors, I brought my youngest pug Edith along to act as a decoy. It was completely logical that I was walking my dog in someone’s yard during the middle of the night. Perhaps a person would have seen me and then scurried back to bed so that I could begin the kind swap. This went on for weeks. I was a tweaked out philanthropist. It is a miracle that I was never arrested.
Excuse the pun, but sobriety forces me to sift through the past and find my roots, before I detoured my entire being through years of attempting to get away from myself. I grew up in an apartment with my mom and I have no childhood memory of ever planting flowers. My earliest memory of gardening is from almost two decades ago. Kelly and I had barely graduated college when she found out that her father was sick. While her cancer-filled dad wilted away in the back bedroom of the house where she had always lived, my Kelly took up gardening.
Every time I called my friend, her mom would scream out the back door for her to come to the phone. I imagined Kelly reaching for the cordless, her long, dark hair messy-bunned on her head, her knees smudged in dirt. I spoke to her everyday, but I rarely asked about her dad. My job was to learn how she needed me to be for what would be the worst thing that ever happened to her. A secret language evolved between us that summer. She used words foreign to me, like hostas and deep shade. If she told me that her cannas were thriving, I knew that her dad was doing worse. The days her mom had to work, she would feed her dad chocolate, turn on the baby monitor, and head outside to play with her calla lilies. They were her favorite, especially the yellow ones.
I felt helpless in being present for Kelly. Once I brought her dad his favorite frozen custard and when I knocked on the door, pint in hand, Kelly and her mother stood there weeping at my gesture. Death is odd and hard, but watching someone die is a different ball game. It is a bottomless pit; it’s the screaming of every fatherless daddy’s girl in the world saying, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”
Some things are just too heavy, too sad, or even too shameful. Sometimes the only thing to do is laugh. When I picture myself walking down the road at 3 am, five foot shovel sticking out of my backpack, I have to smile at my insanity. I can see my little pug Edith trotting along.
I remember that summer Kelly’s dad was dying. I tilled a spot of dirt around a tree outside my apartment and planted dahlia bulbs. When Kelly came over one Friday to hangout and drink, I proudly showed her my tiny garden, in honor of her father. I’ll never forget the moment when she bent down and raked her fingers through the dirt to examine my work. She broke out in the first laughter I had heard in months.
“My dad’s dying and you planted your dahlia bulbs upside down, dumb ass.” I sat on the ground and tossed my head back while laughing so hard that I could barely breathe. Summer was light again and we were just two kids drinking and laughing.
Just last December Kelly sat across from me in the hospital cafeteria on the very day B’s life support would be turned off, the day I would have to crawl up next to him and let him die. I thought I might die too. Kelly urged me to eat the soup she had bought me. She knew it would be a long day since the last of B’s family had not yet arrived. I opened the pack of crackers in front of me, sprinkled them in my soup. Kelly said, “So tell me what you are feeling. What is the last thing the doctor said?”
“The left side of his brain is basically destroyed.” I slammed my fist on another pack of crackers and opened them. They looked like sawdust. Kelly’s eyes looked so helpless as she waited for me to continue. I took a drink of coffee and just as I started to speak, I heard a song playing over the cafeteria speakers.
“Mmmbop, ba duba dop ba du bop, ba duba dop ba du bop, ba duba dop ba du, yeah.”
“The father of my children is dying and Hanson is playing,” I said. I may have even shouted it. Kelly and I laughed so hard and loud that people stopped eating and looked at us. Even when Mmmbop was over we were still laughing.