Beth woke up all at once. The kind of waking up that ruins an entire day. The kind of instant unknown that makes a person forget why they once loved dreaming so much. It’s so sudden, how the thought of going back to sleep for just another hour because visions of elementary school felt so comforting, becomes an incomprehensible memory. What was so great about elementary school?
Trying to think of all the things that could turn this day around, she considered going to the grocery store or cleaning the house. Maybe write a letter to herself, or complete an item off of the never-ending to-do list on the fridge. She wanted to be someone that could control their mood, to be a woman that deserved the title of being rational. But to Beth, it was self-evident that she never grew out of being a girl. Next was the daily occurrence of stripping naked, and putting on the same outfit template–jeans and a plain top–out of the freshly laundered crumpled clothes basket. She was clean and ready to go waste her money. Every day was the same template, too. Getting herself ready to go for the day felt like taking care of a psych patient, not crazy, just natural.
She could buy herself breakfast, but she wasn’t hungry. She also didn’t see the need for something like that today. She could buy a bunch of books that she had been wanting, but she would never read them. She decided to buy a plant, that she could let die of thirst.
So many playlists were made over the years, so many songs that carried sentiments could be played, but the best she could do that day was turn on the car radio and be annoyed by their voices. She went to a plant store and looked around for one that needed very little attention. She was too tired to care for a plant more than she cared for herself.
She walked up and down the aisles and thought about how much money and effort it would take to have a beautiful garden, and how much she wished she could become that type of person by just wanting to be.
Flowers were going to be too much work; something so pretty needed to be watered, cared for, and spoken to. Nature is too kind, she thought, much kinder than people. A cactus would be too easy, it could sit there for months and be alright--it wasn’t realistic. Nothing could be okay if you didn’t touch it for months. On a day when she had more hope for people, she might remember wildfires and the absence of man’s fault. But today she could only consider TV shows with terrible endings, tax lobbying, and the vegetables she would have to throw away on garbage night.
She decided to get an herb. It made the most sense to buy something that she could gather expectations for, something to become dependent on. She would be responsible for the plant, and so many things could go wrong, and when they did it would all be the plant’s fault. Chives were ugly, mint was aggressive, so parsley it was. It would make her meals look pretty, but no one would ever really notice if it were to be missing.
She searched for a pretty pot to put it in. She found two very similar ones, she didn’t feel strongly about the difference between them; she chose the more expensive one and walked up to the checkout counter. The cashier was a young, blonde, free-spirited girl. Being blonde means a lot less than it used to, she thought. But it still means a whole lot.
The cashier worked at this plant shop like it was her dream. Her name was Sarah or Natalie, Beth assumed. Maybe even Emma. She would get off work and go get ice cream with her best friends. Or her sweet boyfriend. They would laugh harder than they would a couple of years from now, taking it all for granted, the way seventeen-year-olds are supposed to. They would complain about their parents and wake up early to get coffee before standardized testing, not realizing how much they would come to need it someday soon. She would shower and sleep on her wet hair and wake up with the salted waves she was sporting at the moment. Was there a vacation town nearby that Beth was unaware of? She would kiss her mom and dad good night, and drive her little brother anywhere he wanted to go. She’d have a garden someday. Everybody loved her, she was made of summer. She knew what she wanted in life: simple things. Beth found herself a bit in love. The kind of girl everyone wanted to be, standing so nonchalantly in that very plant shop. She wondered if Emma knew how wonderful she seemed. Natalie prompted her to buy fertilizer, but it felt unimportant, all Beth considered was how terrible her hair must look next to Sarah’s. “Not today,” with a small smile. “No problem!” It was a gentle proposition, and so quickly let go. Today could be easy, she thought. She could stay with this girl all day and it could be easy. “Have a good one”, the cashier excused her. It was time to go home.
Empty and quiet, her house was no different than always. While putting the soil in the pot, the dirt felt good all over her hands, but a lingering thought wouldn't float away: this would all feel better if she had vacuumed earlier. Why didn’t she clean her house? It was a mess and the world was heavy. Her thoughts went a million miles a minute, but they kept repeating.
She lived so far from everyone she loved, which she could count on one hand: her mom, her dad, her ex-boyfriend Noah, her childhood friend Anna, and her grandma. Her parents were still in Pennsylvania, her ex-boyfriend was engaged, Anna was getting some degree on the west coast, and her grandma died 6 years ago. She had been so busy doing nothing and didn’t make time to let new people in. Though loving people didn’t prove to do any good, everyone was still so far away.
She tried to make new friends, but they couldn’t figure her out. They didn’t understand how her best friend was her ex-boyfriend who she never talked to. 'It must be the inability to move on,' they'd not so secretly presume. While that had some truth to it, it was mostly because Noah was the only person she ever met that even remotely understood her, or tried to, or admitted when he didn’t. The only relationship she wasn’t born or forced into. He was engaged to a new girl. His fiancé didn’t mind that Noah was friends with Beth, she assumed it was because she felt sorry for her. Surely she didn’t know Noah came over and had sex with Beth for the first 4 months of their relationship.
Beth’s grandma loved her. Grandparents love their grandchildren in a different way than parents, they treat them like miracles. Perhaps to make up for the fact that next, they die. Beth couldn’t remember what type of cancer had killed her grandma. She still hadn’t RSVP’d to Noah’s wedding. Maybe she would give them a plant.
Anna and she rarely talked at this point. Anna was so likable, and she liked people back. Beth considered this the key to actually having people to go through life with, liking them back enough. That condition often gets swept under the rug, people must think it's a given. Anna made loving look so easy, so easy that it seemed boring. She was simple. Beth’s parents still talked to Anna, she knew. Sometimes it felt like they were closer to Anna than herself, and she couldn’t blame them, but she did anyway.
Her grandma was dead. Her house was messy. Noah was in love with someone else. Anna was getting a degree. What degree was she getting? Why couldn’t she remember? Why don’t her parents call her more often? When was the last time they talked? Beth knew that there was truth to the saying “it gets better,” but there was no proof she would ever find someone else to love. To fill her hand back up to five–five living people. Five people who loved her back.
Did Noah still love her? She didn’t need him to, she knew he thought more about her than the other way around, he'd still check in on her, though at some point she stopped responding. Some people are just more thoughtful. Noah was the type of person who could fall in love with anyone, but he didn’t– he chose her. Officially, she broke up with him, but he was going to leave her, she knew that. He would have waited forever if she asked him to, but she didn’t. She didn't want him to waste his life on his tiptoes, hoping for her to feel more. Why couldn’t love mean more to her? Noah was the love of her life, but it still wasn't important to her.
From time to time she would try--for him, for herself, for her mom and dad. Even her grandma. He would come over while he was seeing his new girlfriend, and they would pretend to be in love. He would cook for her; they would watch new TV shows and sleep together. After a while, she knew nothing was going to change. The intimacy became less fun, getting ready for him felt like a chore, and the sneaking around felt pointless. It had gone on too long and it wasn’t fair. Though Beth didn’t consider herself a fair person.
She appreciated his effort to love her, but it was easy to let him go imagining him with someone who wanted simple things, who wanted anything at all. She was right, too; that made her smile a bit. She thought of how stupid their affair was, and how stupid being the other woman felt. How could she ever be Noah’s other woman? She was the love of his life. The smile faded so quickly, that if a person weren't looking for it, they’d have missed it. She was alone, filled with indifference. If time showed any sort of pattern, it was that she was going to be lonely for a lot longer.
Beth knew her parents loved her. They always wanted the best for her: To stay slim. To get great grades. To get a job right out of college. To move out and be on her own. To get off their insurance plan. The things all parents want for their kids. When she thought too much about it, she realized parents didn’t seem to like their kids at all. Her hand of loved ones kept losing fingers the longer her thoughts persisted. It occurred to her that they never asked her questions about who she was, but she wasn't very interested in herself either. Did anyone in the entire world love her?
She thought about her grandma watching her from a heaven she didn’t believe in. Would her grandma love the person she grew into? It was a sad thing to consider because when she truly thought about it, the answer was no. Beth was not a good person. Good people had friends. Good people couldn't use their hands as a measurement of love. Good people would know what degree their best friend was pursuing. Good people didn't blame all of their problems on their parents. Good people didn't sleep with their ex-boyfriends. Good people had gardens.
It all fell apart quickly, the clay pot hit the kitchen tile and split into a thousand little pieces and one big one. She swept what she could into a dustpan. So clean that it surprised her when she stepped on a piece and it stung like glass. She sat on the counter and picked it out of her foot. It came out quick, she barely had enough time to be sad that no one was there, ready with tweezers to be her doctor, but she still managed it. She looked at her foot, smeared the droplet of blood, and threw the shard onto the floor, ready to hurt her again.
The truth is, on the outside, Beth knew how to behave. She smiled and laughed in groups of people. She would eventually go to Noah’s wedding and be his nice, funny, and pretty ex-girlfriend. But she wasn’t the one that got away, she was a close call. Maybe only she knew that, and it made her feel lonely. Why couldn't they hate her for being a whore? Why did they have to love her for the smile she put on with the rest of her makeup?
Beth knew her story was simple. She was most likely depressed, and she felt broken – she was broken. She’d read enough books, seen enough posts, and watched enough TV to know this wasn't how people were supposed to feel. But she still couldn’t help but think everyone else must be crazy. What was so funny all of the time?
She considered her options and spent days wondering how pills would affect her. If she felt this numb already, who would she turn into? She’d taken anxiety meds before from a friend, but she just fell asleep. Maybe a life spent asleep wouldn’t be so bad, she could dream it all away. She loved to dream. Her elementary school teacher was so nice, and she sat right next to the cutest boy in school. Recess was so soon, and lunch just before. Maybe it would be pizza day.
Beth felt like maybe closing her eyes could fix her, but when she opened them, the parsley looked small and insignificant. Maybe it would be big someday. She told herself that next year she would go see a psychiatrist, for now, she would start her garden.