I was never green-fingered, I mean not especially. I was just as capable as anyone else of buying some houseplant and placing it on some table or other and then watering it whenever I remembered or whenever it started to look dubiously brown.
I mean, how hard could it be? How hard could it be to raise and grow a plant compared to raising a child or maintaining a relationship?
It was for this reason I half-heartedly challenged myself in the first place. I'd lost both my husband and my only child in the past 18 months. My heart was sealed shut to further loved ones and even to pets, but hey - houseplant - I'm going to buy you and take you home. Just to see. And if you die? I'll simply shrug and forget all about you.
Anyway, I did take it home and set it on the table near the front door. It was rather a stringy-looking specimen with long pointy dark green leaves, but the dark green was ringed by a light to medium-green. No flowers, no berries, nothing exciting at all about this plant.
But still I removed it from the hallway table, which I barely ever glanced at, relocating it to the breakfast bar, or kitchen island, which I saw every single day. It looked pretty healthy. I still didn't know why I'd bought it but I had, so I would take care of it.
The following evening I sat at the breakfast bar on a high white leather stool tucking into my takeout lo-mein. A glance at the plant told me it was okay. It was doing fine. I mean it wasn't dead or dying, and for me that equated to success.
The evening after that I perched at the breakfast bar with my friend Maggie, catching up on gossip and laughing together. Maggie brought over a bottle of Pinot Noir and I made steaks and creamed spinach and we gossiped and laughed and reminisced about the adventures we had while we were at college together. She was a hoot and I suppose so was I back in the day.
The night after that, I was alone eating my dinner. I had chicken something-or-other 'a la ding' (yes I love my microwave). It was a year to the day my Rafael had gone. I wasn't in the mood to cook.
His father had died a few months prior, from cancer of the esophagus, and I'd taken Raffy into my bed for comfort. He was only a few months old at the time but I wanted his warmth near me, his beautiful, milky, baby smell. I snuggled him and we fell asleep together but in the morning I woke and… and…
I don't want to talk about that right now.
Pushing the remainder of my chicken whatever-it-was down the garbage disposal, I felt my eyes glaze over. My husband was gone, my Raffy was gone, and all I had left was the sad husk of myself and this strangely vibrant plant sitting on the countertop like it ruled the house. It was the only living thing here apart from me and I barely considered myself that way. My eyes twitched and my mouth set in a line, and I pushed the plant with my hand. It tumbled into the sink where I left it.
Waking up the next morning, I was bleary-eyed. I'd had bad dreams but forgot what they were about. I wasn't in the mood for work. I didn't even want to wake up. But it wasn't like I even had a choice. On autopilot I showered and dressed and headed into the kitchen to make my coffee.
Seeing the plant in the sink I felt bad. It still looked vibrant and healthy but it was lying on its side, soil spilled out into the sink. I picked it up, pushed it back into the pot and sat it back down on the breakfast bar. I stared at it. The leaves looked so resilient and thick before but now I noticed they were actually rather thin and delicate.
The dull shade of dark green was actually what you might call 'racing green' as a car enthusiast or possibly 'bottle green' as a beer fanatic. The plant looked strangely familiar and I felt good rescuing it.
I don't know why I felt glad plucking this useless plant from the sink and setting it back upright. I just know that I did. Without me the plant would die, so I guess I was responsible for it now. I laughed quietly to myself. My grief counsellor had suggested I get some houseplants or at least did something in the backyard. At the time I had rolled my eyes. Actually even now I'm rolling my eyes. This is ridiculous. It's a damn plant.
Getting home from work, I felt really tired. My nose felt blocked up and my throat felt sore on the left side. I felt like I had no energy. Ugh, that's all I needed - a bug. I had an early night after taking a hot bath with eucalyptus and tea tree oils in there for good measure. The following day I woke early, still not feeling a hundred percent.
I phoned in sick and was told to take as long as I needed. Usually I'd do anything to avoid being in this house alone. There are too many ghosts. Not real ghosts or apparitions or whatever you call them, but more like memory ghosts.
My memories: my husband picking me up with his strong arms and kissing my nose, and my little Rafael gurgling merrily in his crib. I remembered friends we had, coming over to eat dinner with us and drink wine and joke and laugh and enjoy our company.
Now it's all different. The house is silent like a mausoleum, with only me for company. The house is a quiet, empty shell and I'm just a small cog, rattling about in it, not doing anything much. I enjoyed my day off work, if 'enjoyed' is the right word.
I napped and watched a couple movies and snuggled under a blanket, and drank chicken noodle soup. Yes I know that's clichéd but that kind of soup really does make me feel better, even when it's the canned kind from the grocery store.
I decided the following day I'd be fine to go to work. I had no fever, my throat no longer hurt and I had the merest of sniffles. It's just allergies, I told myself. When I got home that evening, my first stop was the kitchen. I wanted a glass of juice but I also wanted to cast my eye over the plant. It was still there, sitting on the countertop, looking as healthy as ever.
I don't know why but I felt myself smiling. I might not have much or be much or have a lot to give but that dumb plant was still alive and likely to be the first thing I saw whenever I got home from work.
I laughed to myself and shook my head, pouring some orange juice into a glass. If I had to start my life over, I guess I could start small and work my way up.
The plant seemed to enjoy my company - well, it wasn't dead at least, and that was something!