In October last year, I took home from work an ordinary-looking potted plant. I was actually in the process of moving, so a new plant for my new apartment was an exciting prospect. It was both exciting and daunting. All sense of routine, maintenance, and discipline were matters still difficult for me to integrate into my daily life. And here I was, about to care for a plant.
My therapist said to me, take care of a plant, then get a pet, then you’ll be ready for a relationship with a woman. It seemed the wrong way around to me – you get the plant and pet once you have the woman and you’re living together! The delusion of the Middle Class Dream – the apartment, the woman, the pets, the boat, the villa in the countryside – was still upon me, so anything that questioned that dream-delusion seemed ridiculous. However, I had looked at my life and past relationships. It was just rubble. It wouldn’t hurt to try a new approach.
I gave the plant a name – Cranley.
So for the month before I moved, I watered Cranley every day, sometimes twice a day. I did no research or asked people how to care for plants. I just went on my own crazy conception of love and care, which was often full-on mania. Soon enough, my sister tempered my enthusiasm with some reality: you don’t need to water Cranley every day. I didn’t want him to die. I was on a journey, dammit! Plant – dog – woman. Nothing would hold me back…
I watered him every day. When I travelled, I made sure my sister or brother-in-law would take care of him. And when they were away, I asked another acquaintance to care for him. I made his watering a part of my daily routines. I sometimes played some music for him – classical, blues, jazz.
Just don’t die, Cranley. You can’t be another casualty of Mina.
He soon occupied an important part on the marble window sill in my kitchen. And I moved my medication next to him, so that there was now a marrying of my health and his health. Half of the glass of water is for me, the other half is for him.
I did this, day in and day out. I looked at him. Sometimes, I stared. I wondered if he would grow. Would he ever grow? I worried when he wilted or he didn’t seem to respond to the water.
I bought fertilizer and a special spray. I read up on about his species and how to care for him. After using them for a while, Cranley seemed to bloom and flourish.
I felt more secure in my part in the relationship. I was showing up and doing my part every day.
It’s been about 7 months now since Cranley came into my care. He hasn’t died. His arms are becoming gangly and there’s this wonderful light-brown tinge to some of his leaves. When I walk into the kitchen, I’m happy to see him. His arms tilt into the window, leaning into the Swedish sun.
Cranley has made no demands in this relationship. But now that he is in my care, I feed him, I make sure his pot is clean and not filled with water, and I prune his stems in order for more leaves to sprout. He gets the best sunshine in the apartment and sometimes, I just sit there and look at him.
That whole advice of a plant before an animal before another person is not about following a script, but rather learning how to be self-less, how to adjust your life so that another being occupies place in your mind and heart. In the center of this advice is the relationship with myself, one-half of Team Mina and Cranley. I care enough about myself to drink water and take medication every day. I do fun and spiritually nourishing things every day, like making art, to stay in balance. A healthy, present Mina is a Mina who is able to be present for Cranley.
I’ve had smirks and furrowed brows at having a plant as a pet because that’s how I introduce him – my pet Cranley! He doesn’t lick his balls or purr, but he is alive and he is worthy of love. He doesn’t even ask for it. He just sits there every day, living, breathing, and basking in the sun. And when I don’t feed him, he doesn’t complain. But over time, he dies because he hasn’t eaten.
When I looked at my past and examined what had gone wrong in relationships, I saw how selfish and reckless I was. Most of the relationships were about what I needed and wanted, and rarely involved being there for the other person. When it didn’t work out the way I wanted, I abandoned them. When I felt threatened or afraid, I ran. When I let others influence me, I dropped them from a great height. And all humans are made of porcelain, not stone.
That “all humans” includes me, too. The toll of what I have done is equal to the magnitude of the shame that I had made a part of my being. I’ve done shit and I am shit. Taking care of this silent, beautiful plant changes shame to acceptance and gives me hope for the future.
Happy anniversary, Cranley. You’re rather wonderful.