Kick and I read books about gardening. We lived in a condo the first three and a half years of her life, but we read books about planting seeds, about training vines to twist and grow upwards, about roots reaching deep for water and branches arching overhead. When we moved to a house last August, I ordered bulbs from a catalog.
Blue hyacinths, because my grandmother loved them. Purple tulips for my mother. Crocuses, so we would know when winter was over by their green shoots pushing upward. Kick and I talked about them over breakfast, how we’d pick the flowers and put them in vases all over the house so it would smell like springtime.
When the package came in the mail, I looked at the label and discovered that what was delivered wasn’t what I’d ordered.
No blue hyacinths. No purple tulips. No crocuses.
Instead I had been sent a box of red, white and blue flowers called a “patriotic garden.” All sales are final, said the customer service rep. It was only $12, and the nights were getting colder.
I could send them back, but then I might not have anything to put in the ground.
Last November on election night, I boarded a cross-country plane from my hometown, Los Angeles, to Boston. Up in the air, I disappeared inside two novels on my iPad, happy to be free of all distractions. That is my favorite thing about air travel: For a few hours, at least, you can exist outside of time.
When I landed, I turned on my phone and discovered that while I was floating through the sky, the country had entered a new reality. I rode to my hotel, stepped into my room, and called my mother. It was late in Massachusetts, maybe one in the morning. I felt childish for making the call, as if my mother could fix anything. But I was lonely and distraught, and besides, hadn’t she lived through worse times than this new presidency could possibly bring?
“I thought it would be better for you,” she said softly. I felt foolish for having thought the same. The street outside was dark and quiet. I stared out the window, realizing I had no idea where I was.
The house we moved into in August was built in 1934, renovated extensively last year — a new second floor, a total gut job on the inside. In the front and back yards, the flower beds are filled with stones and chunks of brick, pockets of sand and blobs of discarded cement. The builders took out the fireplace and left large limestone slabs where I imagined tomato plants and herb plots. We moved in too late for a summer garden or an early harvest, so bulbs would have to do.
The spade clinked against the rocks as I dug.
The frost was thick that morning and it had dissolved into a miserable cold rain. It was my only free day for the next five weeks, with daylight precious, so now or never. When the rain abated for half an hour, I dashed outside.
I put my hands into the soil. I pushed the bulbs down.
I am not good at hope, nor built for optimism, and the last year has not helped. The last two, really; a minor downward spiral started in 2015 with a friend breakup that was entirely my fault and continued with the unavoidable separations from a job I once loved and an organization to which I’d devoted more than 15 years of my life. One person I loved was dying, and a hero was dead. By the time Trump’s election came around I was deeply numb.
People keep asking me about things for next year, or even the year after, and I could not think: How to look that far ahead, when every day things seem to be getting worse? What fresh hell, we joke, but every single one of us knows that each fresh hell is one of our lives. Health care, media, war, violence, and overlaying it all the sense that none of our problems are solvable anymore.
I roll my eyes at my own despair: I am going to be fine. I am white, a citizen, living in a city, with a job and a spouse and a healthy child. The roof over my head is brand new and in no danger of caving in, whatever may be buried in the ground beneath my feet.
Still, planting seems like a reckless act. Waving a flag to the world: Look at this hole in the ground, look who thinks we’ll all be here in April.
I covered the bulbs with the soil, with the brick, with the rocks and sand, and patted down the earth. Not hyacinths, but red and white and purple-blue tulips. That’s what the package promised, anyway. I once ordered some flowers for my mother for her birthday, or maybe it was Mother’s Day. Purple ranunculus, beautiful in the photograph, but when the flowers came up they were reedy, orange and red, not what she expected at all.
Who knows what will come up in the spring?