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A quarterly international literary journal

When You Used to Love Me

/ Second Place, 2023 Plentitudes Prize in Nonfiction /

And on a day when I most desperately needed hope, when the sorrow fell on me like a cold, winter rain, I sat on the ground in the bare yard with a hand trowel and broke up the hard dirt into large clumps. I hacked and watered and hacked and watered until I barely recognized the transformation into fine soil.

Reaching into the wildflower seed packet with my thumb and forefinger, I pinched the tiny beginnings of life between my fingers, rubbing them together and scattering the seeds onto the damp, loose earth and covering them with a thin veil of soil. Later, I peered down into the garden from my upstairs window, looking, but not finding evidence of my day’s work, as my thumb caressed the blister on my palm.

* * *

And on a day when I most needed respite, when the heaviness crushed me like a Death Valley sun, I sat in the garden and watched the wildflowers that had seeded themselves this year, swaying in the coastal breeze. California poppies the color of a September sunset, blossoms that would close into a tight bud as soon as the light faded, now held their open-hearted faces towards the sun, their cool silvery leaves contrasting against the orange. Forget-me-nots sporting clusters of tiny, pale blue flowers stood up on tall, sturdy stalks humming about faithfulness and a promise to always remember. Cosmos sprouted up randomly, their soft, symmetrical petals in lavender, white, magenta and red, named for harmony in an orderly universe. Off-white yarrow, stems curved from leaning towards the light had been hailed by Achilles as medicinal, lacey daisy-like clusters of flowers as delicate as a finger lightly skimming down your back.

For a few hours that day, I breathed.

* * *

But on a day in another year, when his words swirled in my head on repeat, the kind of words that could not be unsaid or unheard, the grief came on like a summer hailstorm and relentlessly pelted me. On this day, I entered my garden and all I saw was what was past its prime or didn’t belong. So I set about the task of pruning and deadheading and pulling and telling my mind to stop it already.

The pulling was the most satisfying. I would grab the prolific weed with both hands, down low where it met with the soil. Squatting, I would press my feet to the ground for leverage and tug up as hard as I could, falling back as the stem snapped. As soon as I thought I had uprooted them all, I found another, and another, my gloveless hands raw and red, and me grateful for the physical pain. The more I pulled and the more I hunted for the next one, the more quiet the ruminations in my head. And when it finally turned to silence, I seized my hands around the dandelion and it spoke to me.

You seem so angry with me now, cursing my steely determination, my ability to feel at home anywhere. You despise how I put my roots down in unlikely places like sidewalk cracks. My very existence in your space makes you disconcerted, as if I am the one that said those words.

I try to hide under your sweet alyssum. You lift back the delicate purple and white canopy and frown. You gather your fingers underneath my newly found home and violently rip me apart. I may stay unseen for a time, while I gather my strength, but I’ll be back.

I do remember though, when you used to love me. You sought me out when my shine was gone, and it seemed I was dead. You gathered your small fingers around me and lifted me to your face. Between your lips you drew in the warm summer air, noticing all that was left of me, my skeleton of soft, white, connected parachutes, sparkling in the sun, my dark seed topping each one. You closed your eyes and sent that sweet forceful breath into me, scattering me into a hundred pieces, each one floating down to connect with the warm sweet earth, where I would grow again.

I remember when you used to love me. I remember every wish from your tender heart.

I gathered all the garden waste into the can, cut a small leaf of aloe and put away the tools. Inside, I washed my hands, and dried them gently with a soft cotton cloth, cut open the aloe, and spread the soft healing gel across my palms.


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