This is the orchid that Free’s father gave me for one of my first mother’s days. I remember thinking how beautiful it was, how perfect a gift to mark the occasion. It’s the only mother’s day gift I ever remember getting from him, which doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t any others, but it was unusual enough to be surprised in this way that I was deeply touched by the gesture.
After we separated, I knew it would be the last gift I would receive from the father of my child. I brought it with me to the new apartment I would share alone with Free, and I gave it center stage on the tiny kitchen counter space that hugged the window. I had found the apartment after a search in which I had to face all my deepest fears of living on my own as a single woman. I had decided to separate from my ex after years of internal turmoil, after which I had decided it was the right thing and indeed, the only thing left for me to do. It had taken everything I had to make the decision to leave; it was an act of faith in the possibility of more for myself and of eventual healing for both of us.
The search for an apartment was tough; I had to go through all the steps alone and make a huge decision based on my gut, which had been tested too much and felt utterly exposed and unsure. I found one apartment that seemed to fit what I was looking for. It was affordable, clean, and close to work. It was small, however, and rather dark, and I would be tied closely to a lot of neighbors in the tight brick building.
I remember that when the agent left, I walked around outside trying to get a feel for whether this was my new home. I saw a young woman outside her apartment in the same complex. She carried a young child on her hip, and I spoke to her, asking if it was safe here for me to live alone with my child. I remember how sweetly she smiled at me, how we made our way slowly through the conversation because she was learning English, how she brought me inside to her home and told me I would be ok here. I remember relaxing with her, knowing that I would be, that I would do what I needed to do to take care of myself and my daughter, and that support would most likely present itself in unexpected places when I needed it, as it already had in my struggle so far.
A week later, the day before I was to sign the lease on that apartment, I saw one last place on a whim. I knew the minute I walked in that if the landlord would rent it to me, I would take it. It was one flight up from his apartment and had wood floors and bright windows throughout, as well as a dining room, a pantry, a front deck, and even a tiny yard out back. The walls were white and everywhere I looked was blank and bright, waiting for my imprint. I knew I could breathe here, and that no matter what came my or Free’s way, we’d have a place that was safe and sunny to come home to.
I stayed in that apartment for three years, and Free and I made a home there. Down the road in the local park is where she learned to ride a bike; our little deck became home to my first real (potted) garden. Newman was a frequent guest, but the home belonged to me and Free, and truth be told, I loved having ownership over it. It was small and humbly furnished; I’d felt so guilty in the split that I’d made sure my ex had everything he needed first and took only the leftover parts and pieces from our broken marriage. I enjoyed re-building, though, and I learned to relish the unpredictable spaces that opened up in the wake of the grief and loss that also marked that span of time.
I felt proud of myself, for one, for having invested in myself and figured out how to be on my own, and in my eagerness to reassure Free that she was safe and ok, I somehow convinced myself that I was too.
When I saw the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Change, I immediately thought of that orchid, which had brightened my apartment and consoled me in some of my darkest hours there. It bloomed only once a year, but it had bloomed every year without fail, and I had come to trust in its symbolic strength and resilience.
This is what my orchid looks like now. It did not survive the move to Newman’s house, but I have not yet been able to let go of it. When Newman pointed out gently (months ago) that he thought it was dead, I moved it into Free’s bedroom, kept it close to the light and watered it regularly, hoping it would come back in the Spring as it has for so many years. I know now that it won’t, and I know too that it’s ok.
Sometimes, change isn’t just tricky or difficult; it’s utterly wrenching and disorienting in ways that we can’t anticipate or map. We latch onto whatever tiny or sacred things present themselves as we try to ground ourselves and start to account for where we are, where we’ve been, where we might still one day get to. I am grateful for the gift that was given to me all those years ago and for what it became for me in the time between then and now. I am grateful, also, for the impulse behind it, for the moments when my ex was able to see and acknowledge me as a source of beauty and love in his life and the life of his child.
I am also grateful for the journey since then, in which I have learned to trust myself as a mother in the face of much doubt, fear, and the negative projections of others about the choice I made to leave my marriage. I am only beginning to know how that choice will impact me and my child, but I do know that I have not regretted it once. This is not to say I don’t miss many things about my ex and the family we once made, but I know that the space I now inhabit in my heart is a good one for me and for Free, and that I will carry it with me to whatever homes we create together.
Newman bought me this plant for my birthday. He gave it to me when I woke up, along with a beautiful card that told me how much he loved me. He said he hopes to build a birthday garden for me in our yard, planting something new every year. Whether he does or not, the gesture touched me deeply. I have always loved gardenias, yet I have never been given any before. Newman could not know how meaningful this gift would be to me when he got it, but I know I will enjoy watching this plant grow.
I will tend it carefully, and I will be thankful for its blooms.