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before L. wore a white wedding dress, veil and all, in the joshua tree desert. before she nested in the little duplex and painted on her walls and cabinets. before she became the mother of one curly-haired boy, then a bright-eyed daughter-- L. had gone to chinatown one year for chinese new year. and she had thought of me.
on their drive home, L. and future-husband C. had stopped by the craftsman house on el molino street. they'd walked up the stairs on the side of the house to my 2nd story apartment. and on the straw doormat in front of my door, they'd propped up the foot-long stalks of leafy-green lucky bamboo. two of them, wrapped at the bottom in wet paper towels, covered in tin foil, with a handwritten note from L.: i thought of you today.
plants speak a language that i've struggled to learn. i understand animals and children without much effort. but somehow my mother's gift to make life sprout from even seemingly dead plants (mine, mainly) has passed me over. i dare not hope for plants that grow fat. and flowering is pretty much out of the question. but i always thought i should at least be able to keep them alive. so i bring plants home, i water them--they die. i place them in the sun, then the shade--they die. i carefully follow their white-stick directions, get advice from green-thumbed friends, feed them and love them and you guessed it--dead.
but the bamboo was different. the bamboo was magic. as soon as i returned home that day, i placed the lucky bamboo in a vase and they started to grow. for 6 years and 2 apartments they grew. i finally found a lopsided, handmade ceramic vase at the flea market just for them--and they stretched out their legs. even as the days grew longer and longer between my visits to L., the bamboo grew to nearly 6 feet each, with their orange stringy roots tangled together in a wiry ball. all i had to do was fill the vase with water every now and then. and they were perfect. tall, strong, and lush. green leafy life.
when i first noticed the drying stalks a few months ago, i felt sick. the long, luscious leaves were turning brown and bent. i desperately added water. then more water. but the passing week proved it was useless. they were simply content to die. so finally, like severing a gangrened limb to save a life, i cut off the only remaining green tips from the once 6-foot-tall bamboo stalks. i placed what was left in two, small glass vases. and in the following weeks, looking at the few sad inches floating in the clear water, i thought of my friend, L., and the lost time between us.
i don't know if i'll ever understand how to make plants grow. and sometimes i worry that i'll never fully know how to be a good friend. but i know i'll always try. and yesterday, inside the small glass vase, i noticed several new strings of bright orange roots emerging and curling from one of the salvaged stems.