What Planting Tulips and Posting About it on Instagram Taught Me


 

I turn to Edwidge Danticat's The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story when I am on a stalled A train, when I am still in bed hovering between sleep and wake, when my knees knock against the hard seat in front of me on the Q37 as it rumbles over potholes. "There's no such thing as simple mourning for anyone, really," Danticat starts, "except that as writers our grief becomes woven into the fabric of our work as well as into our source material" (156). If what I write becomes an extension of what I grieve, how can I also make room for joy? Last spring, I made a daily inventory of three things: one thing that brought me joy, something I mourned and what the Q37 smelled like. Grief was still the dominant filter that colored my days, so I tried something that I thought would produce a more tangible result. I planted tulips. 

I use Instagram as a diary, a well, and as a means of trying to make sense of what I see, what that might trigger in my memory and words that attempt to build a bridge between the two.

I'm descended, literally, from people who planted things. My paternal grandfather farmed rice and told me he developed joint pain because of it. An explosion of violet and fuchsia zinnias sprung up every summer in his front yard in Queens. It took me years before I made the connection between the labor diaspora we come from and my relatives' knack for gardening. The Guyanese love affair with posing for photographs near flowers and covering their homes in floral patterns is well-documented. As I type this, my comforter, bed sheet, pillow cases and venetian blinds are all covered in clashing floral patterns.

The bottom of one of my clothing draws popped out from the weight of my sweaters, so I put my tulips on top of it.

It was probably selfish of me to expect a plant to take away my grief. On top of producing oxygen. On top of beautifying my room (which is dusty and filled with stacks of books). I wanted to water something, watch it grow, mourn it when it died and keep my daily inventory of grief, joy and smells. 

Instagram, for better or worse, has become a space for me to archive my immediate emotional reactions to all the things that feed my writing.

My end of the day ritual included plopping down on the floor and reorganizing my day into joyful moments, moments of morning and memorable smells.

The Weekend

4:44 am and I mistake the glow from my phone's screen for a flash of lightning. Lightning doesn’t flash, it stutters. Thunder fishes me out of my dream, guides my limbs to yours and the tardy storm that sneaks in through your open window feels like it’s been rolling for three lifetimes. Curtains the color of bruise rise and then fall again like worshippers praying to the clouds. The rain sounds like someone up there is shaking all the bus change out of my pocket. Stubborn sheets of rain fall off the sky’s shoulders. I imagine if we were outside, we'd turn our palms up, try to catch bits of it. I make my elbow into a question mark and hook it on to yours, a comma. Let our limbs punctuate our longing. A lingering question haunts me back to sleep: have the tulips bloomed without me? I almost mourn their petals falling off before I know what color they will be, but in this moment, next to you, all I feel is joy. 

Golden hour hits my room at the back of the house around three in the afternoon until six.

How do you mourn?

Monday

On my walk to campus I spot a lone red tulip in a dirt patch. This brought me joy. The tulips I grew in my room are a faded yellow, the kind of yellow that emerges from a fabric that’s been machine washed and dried three times in a week. Eventually the tulips grow so tall they bend and break at the neck. I cut them, migrate each one to a cup of water on my writing desk. This was never their habitat, but a selfish part of me wanted to tend to something.

These two were my favorites.

The lone red tulip had an unexpected center. It was adjacent to the Q34 bus stop: gold dipped in blood, fire sprouting from stem. I love peering down into flowers because what stares back is not a flower at all, but the sun with lips stained sindoor-red or a brilliant bird whose feathers were knit out of red and yellow yarn.

To spring, with love: It’s okay. Take your time.

Today I mourned the death of my blue Pilot Precise v5 pen with the extra fine point.

What are the fleeting mundane things we mourn in any given day?

The Q37 smelled like someone ordered a double apple hookah: a caramel something dunked in bourbon.

Keeping an inventory of scents helped me stay present on my commutes.

What I smelled, unsurprisingly, triggered memories I hadn't thought to write about.

Recognizing a scent without recalling its name is a strange feeling.

Tuesday

Something that brought me joy today: a woman walked up to the front desk of the Advising Center. I noticed her nails first. They were covered in this color: silver-blue underbelly of deep ocean waves refracting and reflecting the sun. As if eight-year-old me shook a vial of three dollar navy glitter from the school supplies section of Rx Pharmacy on Liberty Avenue and buried her nails in it. Rx also sells fresh Guyana bread, pastries and sweets. It smells like expired prescription pills, latex gloves and freshly baked plait bread. If I stand at the border wall between bakery and drug counter/all the unnecessary things you can buy at a drug store, I feel something like motion sickness. I feel every time I helped my grandma restock her pill box with the Prednisone that did not save her lungs, but raised her sugar levels. What really brought me joy today was the woman’s question. It wasn’t about transferring credits or withdrawing from a class or commencement or a hold on her CunyFirst account. She wanted to ask someone she thought worked there (but who we realized only shared a name with one of the staff members) a question about a plant he’d gifted her. What’s the question? She looked at me without blinking: I want to know why they have tears. Your plants are crying? They’re tearing.

The petals of these two felt like something between wax paper and tissue.

Each of these tulips broke at the neck in a matter of days after blooming.

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