Today I will buy myself flowers.
This is a decision I make the night before, when the weight of unfulfilled expectations and abrupt endings has smothered everything but my disappointment, and I know something must change. Something a lot bigger than a quick grocery store run, but hey, it’s something to look forward to, and that’s a start.
I wear the shirt that still has the tags on, the one I was maybe saving for a special occasion, and I like the way it makes me feel, so I decide today is the day. I spritz on the perfume I never really got around to justifying the cost of, even though I love the way it settles into my skin and makes me feel expensive. I’m not sure why that hasn’t been reason enough to wear it.
More than 12 deep breaths later, I am out the door and ready to take on the world. Or, at least, the bus ride to Trader Joe’s. Right now, they feel one and the same.
It is a blue sky day, and I know I have always been the type to find meaning in the color of a passing leaf, but this time I swear it must represent something profound. I kick a dandelion on the sidewalk and wonder if doing so affects the magical integrity of a wish-granting plant. I brush the thought off quickly. It doesn’t matter; I didn’t make a wish anyway.
The 51B bus line is moderately busy for a Sunday afternoon, and it is not too difficult to fade into the bustle of traffic. My earbuds discourage the casual side conversation I would usually initiate with the strangers around me, and sitting there in silence, I feel as if I am sharing a secret with myself. It’s not funny, but I still laugh, and the girl next to me is a little bit startled.
The entrance to Trader Joe’s is lined with flowers of every vibrant color and imaginable size, and I am so overwhelmed I almost walk right back out the sliding doors. But I don’t. I am still growing used to taking up space, to allowing myself to occupy a busy silence without feeling ridiculously out of place. The awkward moments I stand between the peonies and roses, pretending to peruse a bucket of bouquets, when I am actually just trying to find a place to rest my busy hands so they don’t sit there fluttering, at my sides, in my pockets, on my hips, hummingbirds with nowhere to land. A lady reaches across me for a potted plant, and I am jolted back to reality.
Deep breath. It’s flower shopping, not rocket science. I drift to the carnations, my favorite flower since yesterday, when I looked up “common flowers” and decided I liked the way the petals unfurl like ruffled tissues. The selection is admittedly bleak, and a wrench is thrown in my plans for a pastel arrangement with hints of baby’s breath, which they are out of, too.
But I am nothing if not adaptable, and a still-blooming bouquet of carnations catches my eye. It might have something to do with the fact that they are bright neon pink. While I initially wince at the lack of subtlety, I can’t seem to stop coming back to the flashy monstrosity until I say “screw it” and sweep them up into my basket. They are neither soft nor delicate, but they are bold and resilient. I figure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
At the checkout line, the cashier scans tubs of strawberry ice cream and Trader Joe’s-brand Takis I’ve thrown in along the way. It’s not until I pull out my card to pay that I realize this is my first time grocery shopping alone. Sure, I’ve run errands with my mom or roommate, but I have always seen the chore as something to do with a partner. Why go if you don’t have someone to advise on chicken versus lasagna for dinner, to consult on the best breakfast cereal choice? Perhaps I am tackling my indecisiveness one grocery store run at a time.
Back in my dorm, I trim the flower stems and cut an empty plastic bottle open to create a makeshift vase. Once that is finished, the flowers are on my desk, there is nothing else to be done and the absence of immediate action has filled the room, I finally lean into the quiet. Alone and at my desk, I let it consume me.
Sitting there in a pile of half-finished poetry and discarded plans, I sift through unfiltered feelings, skipping memories like stones. I wonder how so much future can all be made void by a sudden change of circumstances from a sudden change of heart. How none of it was ever in my control and what it could have looked like to know a world where love is enough.
Processing turns to spiraling, and I realize this is not what I want to do. I don’t want to hold my memories hostage, picking apart the good ones until every smile has been dissected, every casual word analyzed to madness. I want to let things be for what they are. I want to make new plans, and I want to be the only one who determines whether they come to life or they don’t. I want to take back control.
And then my rapid take-home kit tests positive for COVID-19. In a whirlwind of confusion and hastily packed bags, I find myself at Foothill with nowhere to go and no one to be for the next five days. I release the illusion of control I thought I held over my circumstances, as well as the notion that I had ever really lost it in the first place. Life will keep happening, and I will keep adapting.
I release the illusion of control I thought I held over my circumstances, as well as the notion that I had ever really lost it in the first place. Life will keep happening, and I will keep adapting.
In my new dorm room, I have a corner window. It captures the breeze and overlooks the Bay. Looking out from my perch, I see a girl in the window of the building adjacent to mine. She pulls her hair up behind her head and looks off into the distance, where the sun has already started to set over the Bay, casting golden light everywhere. It cascades softly through the cracked window, permeating even the most stubborn, shadowy crevices of the room. As the daylight settles into the quiet, it is then that I notice the bouquet of pink flowers sitting prettily on the back table.
They’re the kind of flowers you’d buy at Trader Joe’s for your sick girlfriend when she gets COVID-19 and has to isolate in a tiny dorm for a week or so. Each bud seems to glow in the direct incandescence, and I can’t help but wonder who would bring me flowers. Not because I asked for them, but because a simple, pretty thing they saw at the grocery store reminded them of me.
This train of thought leads me to the grand realization that I could buy all of the flowers in the world for myself, and I would love every snapped stem, but no number of tulips or daisies would ever recreate the meaning of a loving gesture that comes from someone else.
And that is OK.
I don’t need to replace the need for people in my life. This world is engineered to flourish under connection. No amount of self-care will substitute cravings for external acceptance and unconditional love from others. Hyper-independence is a defense mechanism against the fear of trust, the fear of letting people in, knowing one day they may go. But so is the temporality of life, and no amount of withdrawing or window-shuttering can keep out the ebb and flow of transitory experiences.
Hyper-independence is a defense mechanism against the fear of trust, the fear of letting people in, knowing one day they may go. But so is the temporality of life, and no amount of withdrawing or window-shuttering can keep out the ebb and flow of transitory experiences.
And as it turns out, there is nothing I need to keep out. Nobody sends me flowers, but my parents wish me a happy Lunar New Year on FaceTime and they order a boba drink from Doordash to my suite. Nobody sends me flowers, but my quarantine roommate grabs me an extra breakfast bag when I do not wake up in time to get my own. Nobody sends me flowers, but I already have a bouquet of hot pink carnations waiting for me on my desk back home.
We are never quite as lonely as we feel.