Today I bought some plants. I know they probably won’t survive this, but there’s no shame in me trying to keep them around for a little while.
See, some things don’t survive in the wake of my presence.
When I was five years old, I found a little bird in my parents’ garden. Its wing broken, its body weak. I took it in and named it Oliver, after the lost boy of my favourite story. From this point on I would name every animal that got lost and found its way into my sphere Oliver.
Oliver was a small sparrow, fitting perfectly into the palm of my hand. I fed it cooked rice and ground beef that I stole from the fridge. I didn’t know anything about birds, but the ten-volume encyclopaedia on the large bookshelf in my parents’ living room taught me everything I needed to know. Looking back, I realise that I should have told my parents about Oliver; that I should have taken him to the vet, but I was on a mission to save this bird’s life.
Oliver died a few days later in the little box on my nightstand. I buried him in the garden next to my mother’s rosemary bushes.
This was the day that I learned that everything is bound to die.
When I was 11, I managed to sneak into a funeral. Everyone assumed I was the daughter of one of the guests. Pitch black hair, freckles on her nose and eyes so full of wonder and grieve that no one even dared to ask who I was with. When everyone had left the auditorium, I stayed. Touching the casket, trembling fingers stroking over smooth wood. I made up a story about the deceased. For me, this woman wasn’t a worrier, but a warrior. Strong and fierce. A firecracker throughout her whole life. An avid reader, a beloved friend, a heroine that hadn’t left anyone untouched. I was so sure of the story that I had made up that I convinced the funeral home employee to put a book inside her casket. It was my favourite book about a lost boy named Oliver. I haven’t read the book since.
That day I learned that everyone I would ever know would someday die.
When I was 16 my hand was holding on to my favourite boy’s hand. My hand cold and shaky and sweaty, his hand cold and still and dry. The hand that had once given me strength, now laid limb between my fingers. The nurse didn’t ask me to leave right away. Instead, she just kept watching me, holding on to the only hope I had ever known. I tried to say something, but my voice had left with him that day.
When people tell you that dying is like falling asleep, they are lying. Death never looks peaceful when it takes the young. It is harsh and cold and accompanied by dark circles under once beautiful eyes.
This was the day that I learned that sometimes dying doesn’t mean that you will stop breathing.
When I was older, I became the one to call whenever there was a funeral. The one with the morbid calmness concerning the dead. The one who never seemed to fear death. The one to remain steady when everything seemed to collapse into nothingness.
My curiosity has always gotten the better of me. I read every book about death I could find. Learning what it meant to burn bodies, how some parts of the body turn into ashes but some don’t. I flirted my way into a crematorium. Red lips shaking with curiosity when they put the body first into a box and then the box into a furnace. The box burned first, the body then followed. What was left were ashes and bones and death and dental fillings. And a life once lived. One day you are a person, then a body, then a few hands full of ash.
And that was when I learned that there’s a strange beauty in death. That death, like life, is a process. That the dead, just like the living, go through different stages.
For me, trembling in fear at the idea of death is rather pointless, given that it’s not the fear of dying but the fear of going before we’re ready to go that keeps following us like a hooded man holding a scythe. And just as with death, regret has become this enormous part of our lives that we are desperately trying to avoid.
So I say, live and regret rather the outcome of doing something than the never known outcome of not doing something. Thus I bought plants today. Because I liked the thought of having plants in my tiny flat filled with books, empty teacups and maybe soon dead plants.