Ancient History

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Black Thumb

Never give a plant to me, unless you are holding a deep grudge against the poor thing—-like it killed your pa. Any plant that enters this house is doomed to wither, shrivel, dry out, and die.

Christmas poinsettias do not see the sunrise on Valentine’s Day. An herb garden I received one Mother’s Day was crispy by midsummer. I water these plants, I give them sunlight. I follow the directions on the little plastic spike that pokes out of the dirt. Still, I find myself playing Taps a little too often for the formerly flora.

After the loss of our baby, I read through some of the grief pamphlets the hospital gave to me after my “procedure”. Many of them suggested getting a plant or a tree as something living to memorialize the loss. I immediately crossed this option off my list because my track record for maintaining life was just dealt its biggest blow, ever. I welcomed the flowers that arrived—-you expect those to eventually fade. Flowers are different than a potted plant, or a tree.

A few days after the loss, Fed Ex rang the doorbell with a delivery for us. We opened the box and unwrapped the bundle. It was a grouping of three plants in a cheerful ceramic container. While I was happy that someone was so very thoughtful, I immediately thought of the other plants I had doomed. Suddenly, the life of this particular plant became incredibly important and symbolic to me…I cannot let this plant, so linked with our loss, die.


I can’t walk by the plant without feeling the dirt for signs of dryness. I turn the pot to make sure each leaf receives equal sunlight. I keep it in the kitchen, the sunniest room in the house. I examine the edges of the leaves for signs of rippling, dryness, and discoloration. I feel the leaves to make sure they are still soft and supple.

I don’t think a plant has ever been so fussed over. It could stay alive by my sheer will, watered by tears and the light of hope.

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