The amaryllis bulb sits on my husband’s dresser, in the lone sunny, out-of-reach, water-accessible corner of my house. Its stalk is lengthening, the green of new growth pale and hopeful. I’ve seen amaryllis blossoms before: they are an explosion of scarlet, trumpet-shaped exuberance.
Today I looked in between the thick blades of its sprout and saw a cannelini bean. A bean that wasn’t there yesterday. A very mysterious bean.
Was it the blossom? I wondered. I poked my pinky finger in between the shoots. The bean squirmed at my touch.
Not a bean. A slug.
I shuddered, pinched, and pulled the little beast from its hiding spot.
The pot had languished outside for a month after my mother made a gift of it to our family. One day, she smiled apologetically. “You know, that amaryllis probably won’t grow out there. Too cold. Not enough sun.”
I looked up, surprised. “Oh! I thought it was supposed to go outside.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I should have given you instructions.”
I brought it in, disturbing a horned, caramel-colored millipede in the process. I shook the pot firmly a few times, to unearth any other creatures that had found their way inside. And found it a new home.
Little did I know that in its heart it was harboring a parasite.
I’m not much of a plant parent. Not that long ago, I finally tipped a live orchid plant into our trash can. It had sat on our kitchen counter for two years, green and (usually) glossy. The instructions said water it every week; I averaged about once a month. When we got it as a housewarming gift, it had a coral colored sunset for flowers.
It never bloomed again.
I hated throwing it away. I knew if I tried, bought fertilizer, watered regularly, I might see those blooms again. What a triumph that would be, seeing the thin stalk emerge from the fat, contented leaves; the thin stem bubbling its buds on one end, then exploding them outwards towards the sun.
But see, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Ever. So finally, I decided to stop feeling guilty and threw it away.
It didn’t get rid of the guilt. Orchids can live for decades.
I was going to write this post about accepting my limitations, realizing I didn’t have to successfully care for plants. That it was okay to have a brown thumb in a family of gardeners; that my slight disconnect with the here and now can be frustrating, but is part of me.
And then my mom gave us the bulb.
I decided to try again. I brought it inside, found its home on the dresser. I open the blinds in the morning so can drink in the deepening warmth of the spring sunlight. I admire its paleness, the scars from the past snails that got hold of it, the way it keeps unfurling itself, everyday.
I’m not a good plant parent, but I am trying anyway. I am going to try to pay attention to its slow growth, admire the thick stalk with its crown of amaryllis when–if–it emerges. I am going to try to focus my attention this once, and see what happens.
There isn’t one answer. I can let go of the orchid and take on the bulb. I can mourn the loss of under-watered sage. I can smile in surprise when they survive the winter and flourish. I can let my daughter plant seeds and be all right when the sprouts falter. I can admire the amaryllis, vanquish its hidden enemy, and wait for it to bloom.