At the advent of fall, when the leaves are browning and the pandemic continues unabated, I join a bouquet subscription service. Birds of paradise, bold Hawaiian gingers, and green palms arrive bound in the first cardboard box delivered to my doorstep. Cutting through the cellophane and twine, the flowers and leaves unfurl, becoming a peacock displaying its plumage for courtship.
Delighting in God’s green earth began when my grandfather sang hymnals as he guided me through the paradise he had planted on a hillside in southern California. Each visit cultivated a love for the soil, for the petals of African violets, and for the open faces of luminous sunflowers in my heart. Frail vines reached out as I wandered these verdant grounds. Grabbing ahold of me, tendrils of dissatisfaction wound inside and caused irreparable injury. Heavy in me was a need to be adored like the flowers at my feet or the fresh-faced women in the black-and-white movies I watched on TV. I couldn’t grasp then that I wanted the preternatural florescence that these women and flowers possessed—I wanted to exist in bloom.
Japanese camellias, the roses of winter, brighten a crisp January day. Kelly green Bells of Ireland and cream pincushions keep them company. Light fills their glass vase at sunrise so that the slender stems rise from a sunburst each morning. Myrtle nestles in the heart of the bouquet—a reminder that the constant prosperity that I seek, the flourishing that I deserve, is nearby.
Naturally, when I received my first bouquet on my sixteenth Valentine’s Day, I believed this was an undeniable sign that I was loved. Once the bouquet died, and I tossed the dried rose petals in the trash, I finally acknowledged the hole growing inside me. People deepened it over the years; their suggestions that I needed a man (and his dick) to be happy became their wide-mouthed shovels. Quietly, I wrestled with their words as both a fallacy and a shadow of the truth. Residing in me was a rapturous desire to be worthy of the adornment that came with being loved. Still, I knew that I had to stop waiting for others to give me what I wanted and that I was really waiting on me. That I had permission to radically love myself the way that I needed. Uncovering this truth led to the continuous tending of the row of myrtle that I’ve since sewn in my core.
Vases brimming with Peruvian lilies, a rainbow of chrysanthemums, and the familiar ringing of the Bells of Ireland grace my bedroom in the spring.
When I open each cardboard box, I know that the flowers are not the catalyst for my self-love but a reminder of it. ‘Xactly how I reclaim this love varies from day to day. Yesterday afternoon, I found it in a luscious bouquet that reminded me of an Eden on earth, and tomorrow it might be in the tender way I care for myself.
Zinnias have not yet arrived, but when they do, I will welcome these blossoms of affection into my heart and into my home.
DW McKinney is an associate editor at Shenandoah Literary and a multi-genre editor at Writers Resist. She writes about graphic novels for CNMN Magazine, and her essays and fiction have been published widely. She enjoys gardening in Nevada. Say hello at dwmckinney.com.