And is anything really that big of a deal?
I’m a dramatic person. I always have been. I cry a lot, I fret, worry, worry again, and then I make myself so exhausted that I sleep for twelve hours and get up and do it all over. But, on the outside I’m like a Sphinx.
I am housesitting for a dear friend in the lovely river village of Piermont in New York. The house is cozy, Victorian, lived-in, and perfect. Everything in the home speaks of a rich, full life of family, food, books, treasures, history……everything that makes me immediately self-conscious and clumsy.
It was my first day in the home. It was warm and inviting when I stepped in, which was welcoming after the massive snow storm that hit the day before. I was anxious, and yes, fretting. I felt off-balance. Maybe I was still jet-lagged from the flight to New York, or I simply felt like Goldilocks entering while the bears were off looking for honey.
Whatever it was, tragedy struck when I went to accomplish my first duty as houseguest. It was time to water the plants. Now, there are literally about 30 of them, and each has their own funky personality. I went around the house, introducing myself to the plants – my new friends and dependants for the next month. It was just us. We were in this together. I saved the big guy for last. Or is it a girl?
The large hanging plant, which I later learned is a philodendron – like someone later learns the name of the person that they hit and killed in the street – hung up high in the kitchen, and its numerous, luxurious vines spread across the entire room, up over the tops of cabinets, down the sides of the three-tiered hanging produce basket, and winding around vases, old sugar jars, and an unused toaster. The vines were so long that there were bound up around the produce basket, wound like a hose on its hanger.
Yes, I was told that there was a stool in the kitchen that was to be used to water said plant, but in light of my fretfulness, many unsteadiness, and my wacky brain, I did not remember this till later in the week, when my senses returned.
So, I did something so unbelievably stupid that I shudder to think of it. I gazed up at the plant, my brows knit, my bones chilled, my hands shaky, and I wondered how the hell I was supposed to water the plant. “Ah, look.” I thought to myself. “There is a long pole with a hook on the end. It must be used to reach up and take the plant down, as one does in a clothing store when they grab a hanger way out of reach.”
I would later discover that this pole was for the skylight above.
So, innocently, I took the pole and placed the hook at the end around one of the three spokes of the hanging plant. And lo, the bough breaks, and everything came crashing down. Including the green vase that the philodendron wrapped its tentacles around.
Plant down. Vines broken. Green vase crushed.
That vase would become a symbol for the next 31 days of my failure, my shakiness, my lack of place. My intrusion.
Terrible thoughts to have about one’s self, I know, but alas. I spent the entire month searching and searching for the appropriate vase to replace the old one. It was my obsession. Strolls through Manhattan would be consumed by window shopping, praying that the identical vase would be found, like the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory. I became fascinated by periodicals about indoor plants. Any new garden store I went past was potential salvation.
Online, I would search ceaselessly, to find the appropriate size, dimensions, and perfect shade of Kelly green. I would stare at the kitchen endlessly, trying to analyze which choice was most appropriate for the design scheme. Then I would think, what if that vase was an heirloom? What if it used to hold their grandmother’s ashes? I felt like dirt.
The replacement that I chose came from Etsy. It seemed like the right color of green, the height was appropriate, and it didn’t cost $100. I ordered it, and temporarily, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. That is, until I had second thoughts. Surely, I must have made the wrong decision, I thought. What about that antique French ceramic pitcher that was my second choice? No. It was the color of grass. Not right.
In the wee hours of the night, when I lie in bed and everything feels like a huge mistake, nay, a disaster, in my life, that’s when I would start to imagine that I could fix something if I just felt this wave of power in my solar plexus. (Dramatic and weird). I would start to create this ball of power and send this ball down the stairs to the vase so that it would magically fix itself, and that the broken vines of the Philodendron would grow anew.
At three-thirty in the morning, half asleep, I actually believed that this was possible. I extended it to my life too. If I could feel this power at three-thirty in the morning, then I’d extend it to everywhere. I’d fix the hole that I had found myself in, the messes that I had made, the relationships that felt lost, the deep sense of failure that had come over me.
Then I’d wake up in the morning, look up at the ceiling, and think to myself, “damnit..”
The month went by. I continued to talk to the plants. The vase ended up being a fine replacement, and I put it in front of the broken one, so as not to conceal what I had done (and I couldn’t trash the old one in case it had been a bearer of ashes), but more so to just gently protect the eye from the turmoil that I had caused. It was a buffer, and it actually looked quite nice.
I continued to water the Philodendron, and each time I BROUGHT OUT THE STOOL to reach up towards it, I would say, “I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry….” Its long, broken stems were turning yellow.
Finally, it was the day of the return of the three bears. Well, actually, two humans and a dog. They were coming home late so I went to bed early, ready to explain my failure in the morning. I cleaned the house so it looked perfect, looked up at the plant, and said a prayer.
The next morning I came down, feeling hopeful and having slept like a dead person. (worry, fret, worry, fret, sleep……). When I looked up at the vase, it had been moved aside, exposing the broken one, as though it were the first thing they saw when they entered the house late at night.
For a moment I thought that I would vomit.
I ate an apple, which always helps with nausea. I sipped water. I embraced my fate.
There was stirring upstairs and I took a breath. Footsteps were heard, and the wife entered the kitchen, a smile on her face. I smiled back, surprised by her open face. She said “Your beautiful-(early morning stutter)-it was beautiful last night.” She was referring to the home. I smiled, I relaxed and finally said, “You must have seen this.” I was pointing to the vase.
“Oh, yes, it doesn’t matter.” She replied. It turns out the only reason she saw it was because she just happened to have bought some new dried stems to place in it while she was gone.
It doesn’t matter. That’s what she said. To think, for a month, I had this feeling inside that was beyond terrible. Like I drank poison. I know that feeling well, because I carry it around inside of me for many different situations, both big and small.
I doesn’t matter.
And I began to question the horrible feelings that I had about other aspects of my life. Did they really matter? Were my feelings about the darkness within me accurate? Was the darkness even accurate?
OR, was that powerful feeling of magic in the middle of the night actually what patched it all up after all?
Ooooooooooh. I like that option.