Oscar

Helping a plant. And its owner.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISTINA HESS

She has been nearly dead for a while now. I am surprised that she has lived this long. But since we are friends and I can’t take any more grief these days, it’s time I do something about it.

So today, as a last resort, I will take my beloved 3-year-old hanging plant to my neighbor’s house.

We met Oscar one day on our way to Trader Joe’s, when I caught a makeshift sign leaning against the fence in an overgrown front yard. “PLANTS 4 SALE,” it read simply. I asked Andrew to pull over. We got out and introduced ourselves to the keeper of this charming estate, an older man named Oscar with a thick Mexican accent. He and his wife were as natural and full of life as his front yard.

He smiles softly and gently says, “Your plant is sad, I know why now.”

All of his plants were native to our Southern Californian air—the short and fat succulents, the kind with long goofy hats that turn pink, differently sized spikey guys (the very punk rock ones), and those lovely trees with all the pink and purple flowery leaves. Every corner of this little world did its very best to sing the song of nurturing and that natural mess is the answer. Every corner, alive.

What was more enchanting than Oscar’s keen ability to grow various types of plants was how transparently he loved them. Andrew and I became regulars, and on more than one occasion when we would choose a plant, Oscar very kindly and earnestly refused to sell it, deeming it “not quite ready” to relocate to a new home. He would say something like, “I can tell you are good to your plants, but this one may not be ready,” as he hurried over to another corner of his yard and pulled a more mature pot.

I understood what Oscar felt toward his little green babies. I had recently started becoming emotionally attached to a few plants in my own life.

It began when I felt a connection to a large bush behind my apartment in West Hollywood. She was a flirt, sprouting big yellow flowers. So I began to flirt back. When I arrived home in the evening, I said things like, “Hey ladies, you’re doing great!” or “Girls! I’ve missed you!” They started to look prouder and more lovely, and our friendship grew. It seemed they were excited for me to come home and pay them a compliment. And they would compliment me back: “See how beautiful you made us feel? Look at this dance we made up for you!”

Since my discovery that this sort of relationship could exist, I also grew attached to the hanging plant in my bedroom window. It was a standard green and leafy house-happy plant that hung lazily in the sunlight from a white Urban Outfitters macramé hammock. Perhaps because we were roommates for so long, I began to love her—even though she didn’t bear any big yellow flowers or do any dances. She did tickle my face while I slept.

Shortly after I started the new relationship with my hanging plant, I met Andrew. He and I met on set, and as we began writing together, short films turned to poetry turned to thoughts and ideas. His words seemed to make my sky wider; I wanted to swim in them.

What started as a wonderful creative partnership quickly became my favorite friendship—ever. As a friend, he saw me underneath, and encouraged what made me special. What he saw in me only made those parts explode, and I became better with him than without. Months of tumultuous and deeply exciting “will we-or-won’t-we’s” later, we gave in. I fell deeply in love. All other relationships kept existing, of course, but they were foggier.

My relationship with my hanging plant dwindled as my focus shifted to poetry, bands I’d never considered, and holding Andrew tight. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. My one. I shifted and grew and danced so much that my West Hollywood apartment felt like a pair of shorts I had worn in high school—no longer my style or size, and borderline inappropriate for the person I was turning into. I ditched it and moved to an apartment that fit a growing me a bit better. My hanging plant came with me, but became a forgotten secondary character in my new life in Highland Park. With him.

The next year and a half were an artistic renaissance—learn-ing that words, movements, and music force me awake. Being madly in love has you stuck in sort of a pink warm fog. Dangerous, if you don’t poke your head out every once in a while to nurture the world around you and feel its honesty against your skin. From my lovely fog, I noticed that my plant was beginning to wither, hanging by a thread. But I assumed she would bounce back.

When Andrew ended our relationship, I was left without bones. It felt as though it could not be that he would choose anything but me. My heart actually hurt. It was traumatizing to exit the pink fog so abruptly. To feel the bare world blow over me in full. To brave these harsh winds in my least favorite, almost unfathomable, way: alone.

I take the plant off the wall and drive to Oscar’s little jungle. To my relief, he is standing outside with his wife and their trademark “PLANTS 4 SALE” sign. Oscar looks at me with surprise, perhaps because I am alone, or because I am bringing a wounded plant to him. I walk up timidly, not sure if I am allowed to ask a favor of such an unlikely friend.

“Um, this plant…I really don’t want it to die, and it doesn’t seem like I can save it, but maybe you know how?”

Oscar, of course, takes this in stride and begins busying around his yard, picking potential nursery pot homes for my hanging-in-there girl. His wife brings out a small brown bottle of fertilizer she uses on her plant that is similar, telling me she has had it for 20 years and understands the “sadness of it dying.”

“We love our old plants,” she says in broken English. I nod, finding solace in another person who understands my attachment.

Oscar and I move to another part of the yard as he sets to work on my hanging plant. He asks me how my mom is doing, and I understand that he means to ask about Andrew’s mom, whom he had met a couple of weekends before. I quickly answer.

“Oh, I don’t know. That was Andrew’s mom that you met.”

Oscar says, “Yes, your boyfriend.”

“Well, no. We, uh, broke up.” My throat gets very tight in a way that tells Oscar that this parting was not my decision. He pauses for a long while with sadness on his face and finally says, “I don’t like that at all.”

My throat gets tighter. “Me either.”

I let him see my tired eyes fully, wind-burned from the rude awakening back into alone. He smiles softly and gently says, “Your plant is sad, I see why now.”

Knowing that if I try to speak my voice will crack, I remain quiet. I let my eyes fill with tears, understanding now that I am safe to be honest in front of Oscar. I take the bottle of plant food and pay his wife over Venmo. I thank him briefly, for more than the plant doctoring, and he understands what I mean.

As I walk back to my car, Oscar calls out to me.

“Don’t worry! It will grow back big and strong,” and he smiles sweetly. I understand what he means.


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