Last week I returned to Home Depot to purchase new hanging baskets. Mary helped me this time. “Hanging baskets that need shade, please! I’ve all but killed the last ones by failing to give them enough sunlight. I didn’t realize my front porch doesn’t get any sun,” I admitted with eyes downcast in embarrassment. There was kindness and a hint of laughter in her reply.
“First garden?” she asked. I nodded. “You might lose half the plants you put in your first time around. You learn as you go. Even if you do your research, there’s so many variables. You can watch You Tube videos on anything these days, but some factors you can’t anticipate.” Mary continued to mentor me, seeming to recognize my lack of experience and took the walk toward the back of the store as an opportunity for much-needed instruction. “You just don’t know what’s going to do well in your garden often until you plant it. So try something. Wait and see. Cut yourself some slack. Your next planting season will be better, and the one after that better still.” After thanking her, I purchased some red, pink, and purple impatiens, knowing they would thrive as the ones in my garden beds have. All four azaleas having now lost their blooms and returned to an unimpressive green, my yard welcomed the colorful additions.
So many variables. Not just the amount of sunlight but the time of planting and the distance from other plants. Not just the frequency of watering but the depth of the hole and the local climate.
From my first marriage, I learned that if the most basic needs are not meant, a relationship is not going to thrive. In my next relationship, we saw both of our needs attended to. We made the most beautiful memories. I was writing an epic love story that ended with a reality check about transplanting surprises when I faced the facts that we were at different places in our lives. This recent parting I wrote about just three weeks ago.
He sent me a dozen roses laced with lilies after the break-up to honor the love that we had shared. The thought has crossed my mind, or more accurately swam around it continually, that I made a mistake letting him go. In like manner of the previous half a dozen floral arrangements he’d given me, I dried the flowers and made them the new centerpiece on my dining room table. We’ve spoken every day since at our previously appointed date times, not quite ready to give each other up yet, substituting awkward goodbyes in place of “I love you”.
Then yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, he admitted to having committed a series of infidelities with his ex-girlfriend during our relationship, each “slip-up” corresponding with a further series of deleted text messages and verbal cover-ups. The elicit details are irrelevant. During the necessary phone call of closure across four state lines, I asked few questions. I wasn’t overly emotional. I explained that I did not love him, but rather a man that did not exist. I did not know him, but rather a version of himself that he had presented himself to be over the past year and a half. I’d questioned my decision to move on, and this was the confirmation I needed that he was not the one for me. “So I’m nothing to you now?” he asked weakly, and I could practically see his furrowed brow and teary hazel eyes.
“No. You don’t miss ‘nothing.’ You don’t grieve ‘nothing’. All of our beautiful memories are tainted. Everything was… a lie,” I gushed, the first spark of emotions entering my voice. Though he balked at my premise, there was no denying that our relationship was not just tarnished. A little polish can make silver shine again. We had been writing two different love stories, and both of them ended last night with a reality check about unanticipated factors that essentially destroyed any glimmer of life or hope.
I planted my first garden this year, but not my first relationship. There was a vague sense of déjà vu as I scoured my house last night for every remembrance of him and packed it all in a box. If I’d labeled my ex-husband box, it might have read, “Failure”. If I labeled this one, would it be “Fraud?” I was running out of room as I neatly stacked photographs, cards, golfing records, gifts of clothing, and cherished jewelry yet to have parted from my skin since receipt. The mass of dried flowers were not going to fit, and I didn’t have enough fight in me to find a larger box. Half listening nostalgically for the last time to our painstakingly nurtured Pandora station perfected for over a year with our mutually agreed upon “Thumbs up” and “Thumbs down” songs, I was grateful for my friend Angela, the gardener.
She suggested we save one rose from every bouquet and that she had a plan for the rest. A shovel in one hand and dead flowers in the other, Angela marched out the front door and into the garden. I followed her balancing a few vases of my own. She dug a hole. It was dark, but it didn’t matter. She placed the flowers on the ground and told me to start stomping. I’d kept it relatively together up until this point, but the act of participating in the physical destruction of cherished moments was heart-wrenching. Tears soaked my cheeks, and I choked back the sobs. Angela proceeded to fill the hole with my broken memories, explaining that they would give nutrients to the soil that would help my garden grow.
The hole was full, and one bouquet remained. The roses and lilies sent to honor our love. Angela pointed to the fireplace and said, “Smash away!” I hesitated only briefly before the anger of betrayal finally seized me. As I repeatedly smashed the long-stem roses against the brick, their thorns digging into my palms, the sound of fragile petals crumbling, the harsh sobs finally surfaced as well. Though it lasted only a moment, that irrational moment of grief found a most rational sense of satisfaction in closure.
As I laid awake in bed during the hour previously reserved for Skype conversations where he would read me Walt Whitman until I fell asleep, I felt the need to text him one final message. Nearly dizzy from the mental exhaustion of purging reminders of him, I typed only, “I forgive you.” It wasn’t planned or expected, but perhaps it would give him the same closure I had experienced in the dark of the garden last night.
No, this wasn’t my first relationship. I buried many plants from that first attempt because I had failed to pay attention to the tags. When the azaleas were blooming, they were so ripe with varying shades of pink that they delighted me every time I pulled in the driveway. Tonight, absent color, their dead blossoms muddy from a mixture of soil and rain, I saw him.
Mary said my next planting season would be better. Perhaps he was better. He made me feel alive and loved and cherished… while we were flourishing. But after the delicate petals have been loosed by the natural course of events after blooms die and find their end in the mud, or planted in a hole in the garden bed, or crushed against the bricks of a fireplace, what remains leaves me hanging on Mary’s last words. “And the one after that better still,” she had said.
No matter how much research you do or how many YouTube videos you watch, often you just don’t know what’s going to do well in your garden until you plant it. There are just too many variables and factors you can’t anticipate. Even when a relationship seems to be perfect, long-term viability has yet to be seen. Though he fit some criteria I searched for after my divorce, I no longer have to wonder if I made a mistake letting him go. Previously appointed date times pass with affirming silence. The vase on my dining room table is empty. I told my mother I guessed I should buy some fake flowers. Her reply?
“No. The REAL flowers are yet to come. Save their place.”