I have a garden of about 12 flowers.
A few of them come and go with the seasons, and the rest bloom yearlong.
I am always happy to find a flower that wants to join my garden, and I’ve met each once in a different place. I bumped into one at the library, one sat with me on the P-Line, another one was introduced to me through mutual friends. Each encounter is life-changing. And the best part is that meeting a flower often leads to a long, rich journey of friendship, of learning about how each new flower grows, its likes and dislikes, its colors and textures, how it changes with the seasons.
I cherish taking care of my garden. I listen to my flowers and figure out exactly what they need. I make careful note of my findings. Some need more water than others. Some need fertilizer and some don’t. Some need extra sunshine and some like to be kept in the shade.
At times, tending to my garden is an arduous responsibility. Every week, I spend hours under the sun. And when schoolwork builds up or when I need more alone time than usual, the sun beating down my back, my hands covered in soil, gets a little uncomfortable. But I don’t mind. I do not mind one bit, because I love taking care of my garden.
And my garden takes care of me. Sitting in the grass, basking in the sunlight with my flowers by my side, grounds me. My garden separates me from the worries spinning in my head, it connects me with all things natural and real. Observing the way my flowers choose to live — boldly like my zinnias, peacefully like my peonies — teaches me who I want to be. Laughing, talking, crying, growing — my flowers have seen me through it all.
Every now and then, one of my flowers will catch my eye. One might grow differently from the rest or sprout a mesmerizing color pattern. Out of adoration, I begin to pay special attention to that flower and its needs.
The last time I found such a flower, I was very young. I had just started building my garden and this particular flower became my first, permanent resident.
She was a faded purple petunia. Beautiful, soft and thin-skinned. I adored her and she adored me. We spent hours talking and laughing. It was through the subtext of our conversations that I discovered that she required extra sunlight to grow. Wanting her to flourish, I lovingly replanted her in direct sunlight. I kept close watch, I even evicted any plant that dared to grow tall enough to block her from the sun. I was certain I had done my due diligence in caring for my petunia.
But as time went by, I began to discover little burnt holes in her leaves. A cocktail of grief and confusion drowned me. She needed extra sunlight, but I had been burning her. How could I have hurt her?
She collapsed soon after, and it was months before I came to terms with the ugly truth: The intensity of my adoration had killed my purple petunia.
It was a hard pill to swallow. I envisioned myself becoming many things in my life, but a killer was never one of them. It overwhelmed me to think that I am too much. That my grip is too tight, that my instinct is not to be trusted. After my petunia died, I struggled to trust myself. I began to adhere to my flowers’ care instructions, word for word.
The next time I found a flower that caught my eye, I tread carefully.
This flower was a vibrant blue calla lily. Elegant on the outside, with an abyss at his core. He crept up on me. One day, he was just another flower in my garden, but the next, I found myself wanting to tell him everything.
He was different from my petunia. He was stronger, he stood taller, but still he required a little extra water than most other flowers. While it was in my nature to want to give him all the water in the world, I was determined to never again make the mistake I made with my petunia.
I gave my calla lily just a tad bit more water than the rest. I grew proud of myself for my restraint. I was reserved. I was cool. With everything I had learned, there was no way I could hurt him now.
A few weeks later, I entered my garden for my daily check-in. My eyes started scanning my flowers. I applauded my tulips for standing so tall, my roses for their abundant bloom — I froze in my tracks when my eyes fell upon a wilted flower. My calla lily.
My calla lily was crumbling, I approached him and found him dried out. I didn’t give him enough water to survive. My mind went blank, killer was the only word that remained. I had done it again. I thought I did everything right.
When I lost my calla lily, I decided I couldn’t deal with the guilt and grief of having a garden. I was incapable of moderation, I either held on too tight or not enough.
I was tempted to burn the rest of my garden to the ground, but ultimately, I decided against it. Instead, I began to create distance between myself and my flowers. I made an effort to disentangle myself from their growth. I took a step back and allowed them to figure out the best ways for themselves to bloom.
And my flowers, to my pleasant surprise, began to flourish. Not only did each flower get stronger, my relationships with them did, too. Eventually, there was more want and less need.
I no longer mourn my petunia and my calla lily, though I think of them fondly. I thank them for teaching me how to nurture the foundation for better, healthier relationships.