Last year at this time, my garden looked pitiful. It had been neglected since the summer before and the drought had taken its toll. Many of my perennials had died and most of the mulch had blown away in the spring winds, leaving large patches of dry, dead earth behind. My daffodils and tulips struggled to grow and bloom – succeeding every now and then – but their colorful blossoms only seemed to highlight the fact that the rest of the garden was such a mess. They only lasted a short time and soon the flowers withered and dried up – and the garden was back to looking like a wasteland.
After my husband told me last May that he didn’t want to be married to me anymore, I was a wreck. I could barely function. It was all I could do to get up in the morning and go to work – where I would often burst into noisy sobs if one of my co-workers had the audacity to ask me how I was doing. Or, I would cry silently in my cubicle, hoping no one would notice – I didn’t want to be that person – the one who was pitied and perhaps judged because of my weakness. Seeing my garden made me feel that much more of a failure – was it any wonder my marriage fell apart when I couldn’t even nurture a few flowers and keep them alive?
I didn’t even consider planting vibrant spring annuals or putting together my traditional hanging baskets for the front porch. The thought of tending to a vegetable garden or even a pot of herbs overwhelmed me. While the weather was sunny and hot that summer, my heart was like ice – broken into a thousand tiny shards. All I wanted to do was to stay in bed, in a warm cocoon of blankets where I could pretend that Doc would realize the mistake he had made, that he would tell me he was ready to work on himself and the marriage, that he would love me again.
As autumn and winter came and went, like the remaining perennials in my garden, I hibernated. I slowly came to terms with my new reality and struggled with anger, grief, and depression. It seemed like I was on a never-ending treadmill that would suddenly change from forward to reverse, leaving me struggling to regain what I had thought was my sure footing, before moving forward again. I still stumble from time to time, but now I’ve moved off the dysfunctional treadmill and I’m hiking with purpose in this new world.
Spring arrived and with it heat and sun. I spent my lunch hours outdoors, turning my face to the light, reveling in the warmth. My garden, hardier than I expected, surprised me with signs of life.
Yes, a few plants had not been able to withstand the lack of attention and cold winter temperatures, but most had struggled through. Some shrubs looked a little worse for wear, but they valiantly sported a few buds and new foliage amongst the otherwise bare branches.
Unlike the year before, I was seized with an urge to prune and tend – to dig my hands into the dirt and plant. New perennials replaced the old, with the promise of summer blooms. Annuals added an immediate swath of color to the otherwise dull landscape. Herbs and vegetables were planted in beds and pots, and baskets were packed with explosive hues and suspended from the ceiling of the front patio.
The yard was weeded, the sidewalks swept, and the planting beds tidied. The sun beat down on me with unseasonably hot temperatures, and I sweated and reddened and my mouth became dry – but still I was compelled to carry on, creating a masterpiece of life.
When I finished, I showered my plants with water and then took a long, cool swallow myself. I felt a sense of satisfaction and…relief. I hadn’t realized until just then that I had been afraid – afraid that I would never again want to bask in the sun, dig in the earth, and tend to my plants. Afraid that my ruined marriage would define me, keeping me closed off from peace, joy, and the possibility of new life and new love. But I’ve discovered, like my garden, I’m hardier than I expected, I’m full of surprises, and that I’m ready to grow and bloom.