Flower Girl

I bought Mom flowers the other day. There’s a KaBloom kiosk just inside the train station. It’s been there for most of the summer, but I don’t really know how long because I’ve only occasionally glanced at it when I walk past.

Two weeks ago, I stalled in my journey to the train to sneak a peek at the flowers. Just inside were tall, clear glass vases on the lower steps of the round display, showing off the long, thick green stems of lilies, and the long, narrow shadows of the leaves they’d put in as decoration. They were just visible through the glare and the profiles of people walking around.

Maybe I should get Mom a bouquet, I thought as I kept walking.

Maybe later.

The next week, I told Boyfriend about the kiosk. It was in the middle of a story about how Big H now works at Lowe’s and every morning for most of the summer, she’s brought  home potted plants at a discount.

“They’re marked down because they’ve fallen over or because the pots are broken or something. Plus, she gets a discount because she works there. So now that she’s been bringing home flowers, and now that there’s this flower stand at the station, I’ve wanted to bring some home, too.”

Boyfriend smiled at me. “Why haven’t you?”

“Well, that’s the thing. I walk past it going, “I should get Mom flowers,” and then I keep walking.” Rolling my eyes, I shook my head at my own foibles. (Knowing what they are helps me with my self-deprecating humor.) “I swear, the day I decide to finally buy her flowers, the kiosk will be gone.”

Another two weeks went by without my looking even remotely at the kiosk. Life at work had gotten tense. People didn’t respond when they should’ve and it was holding us up. Internally, we were also being backlogged.

All this meant end of the month deadlines weren’t being met on time. I spent my walks to and from work glaring at the ground, thinking of furious orchestrals and grinding my teeth. Everything was setting me off. If I could’ve, I might’ve flung the slow-moving tourists who cut in front of me into the dirty harbor we all crossed to go home.

“What’s that look for?” Mom would ask when I got home, a semi-permanent angry-old-lady glare on my face. Even the dogs hid.

“People,” I said with poisoned vehemence. “They’re not getting stuff in on time and they keep apologizing, but when you don’t send your work in with your apology, the apology means nothing.

I shoveled my dinner into my mouth, barely tasting my food, and spoke between bites. “Today, I’m flying down the road and some guy pulls his car into the street. Now, it was clear he wasn’t going to make that left in time to beat both me and the car coming the other way.

“So what does he do? He just sits there. In the middle of the road. So I have to slam on my brakes until I can feel the things clunking and the first words out of my mouth are Jesus fucking Christ! And then, after a full two seconds of more not moving, I can see him saying, “Okay! Okay!” until he finally reverses back out of the street.”

“You sound like Dad,” Little H said, laughing at me.

“Well, he shouldn’t have just been sitting there! He should’ve either gone all the way or backed out when he saw me coming. I mean, I’m going forty miles an hour. How stupid can you be?”

That made up the rest of the week. Once the weekend got around, and I got a chance to unwind with Boyfriend and my family, I felt a bit better.

The following work week turned out to be nicer than I’d expected. Time went quick. Things were getting done and I’d made final decisions about my projects that I’d been waiting all month to announce. It felt good.

Walking home, I turned my face to the sky and reminded myself that whatever happened in the office could stay there. Once I left, none of it was in my hands.

I remembered the kiosk again on my way to the train. This time, instead of flying right past, I slowed down. Before I was even conscious of my decision, I’d walked over.

Roses burst from their clear plastic bundles. Medleys stood like tropical birds at the very front. Summer blooms with bold, audacious, opposite colors paired together separated the romantics and tropicals from the delicate buds in water-filled fish bowls, spaced in even rows on their low shelf. The sedate, minimalist lilies I’d seen had their own side of the display altogether.

Roses were my go-to, but as soon as I saw them, I wanted something different. Mom could have roses anytime. The flower medleys were nice, but some of the petals looked wilted and I wasn’t sure what combination she’d like best.

In the display of summer blooms were bouquets of sunflowers. I remembered Mom telling us at the beginning of the season that she’d wanted to plant a few of her own outside the garden. We just hadn’t had time to do so.

Picking the most stable-looking bundle, I bought the bunch and walked to the train. The whole journey after that felt surreal. I couldn’t believe what I’d done, but I guarded the flowers from the curious stares that I chalked up to people not seeing so much color in a crowd of tired business suits.

Flowers, it seemed, were alien.

All of a sudden, I got the idea to give the bundle away. To buy a bouquet and hand out each flower to the people passing me by. Not for any real reason, but because it’s so unexpected and people seem to appreciate things more when they’re not expecting them. Almost like they’re thinking, “Wait, you can see me? You want to do something nice — for me?”

And flowers are such a happy gift. They almost own smiles.

I didn’t hand out the flowers to anyone except my mother. She was just as surprised as the passers-by would’ve been if I’d just given them out.

I do like the image of the Flower Girl, though.

What kinds of unexpected gifts have you given people?

Ten Random Facts (About Me)

  1. I took swimming lessons for six years, telling myself I’d go to the Olympics and making no outside attempts to actually get there.
  2. I played viola for twelve years (thirteen, if you count a stint in college where I played in a pit band for a production of Sweeney Todd), again telling myself I’d go on to play in the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra), while making no actual attempts to get there.
  3. I’m bad at Scrabble, even though I like words.
  4. I started out as a cat person because big cats are gorgeous, but now, with two dogs and a cat, I’m not sure where I stand.
  5. I’ve tried my hand at making Xanga layouts. I learned mostly how to change the width of text boxes, how to insert background images, and change the colors of the backgrounds. I never actually learned how to make my own from start to finish.
  6. I like reading biographies about people who fascinate me. JK Rowling and Sylvia Plath are two such people. Unless I have an extreme interest in a certain part of history, I don’t tend to remember much of it. (I tried reading a bio about the Queen, and I just thought it was so boring.)
  7. If I’m trying to type fast enough to keep up with the words coming to my head, I’ll wind up switching the order of words like “the” and “and”. I do that with numbers, too.
  8. Eight is my favorite number. I also enjoy that it’s the infinity symbol turned on its side.
  9. I helped my mom install our most recent kitchen sink a few years ago, but when the faucet was having issues this past summer, I delegated myself to handing my sisters the tools to repair it. The job required literally bending backwards and I wasn’t very good at working wrenches from that position.
  10. I took wood shop in middle school because my parents told me metal shop would be useless around the house. I haven’t actually built anything since, but I still enjoy putting together DIY bookcases.

What are ten random facts about you?

If you want to contact me, but don’t want to post on the blog, feel free to email me: cl@clmannarino.com

The One Who Loves the Most

As I peruse the internet, passing headlines titled “Ten Things to Know About Men,” I pause. Another title scrolls past. “Ten Things to Know About Women.”

I said I wasn’t going to read any more dating articles. That was my intention, anyway, especially given how confused they made me.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t do this,” I say…and click the links to the articles.

I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t. It’s bad to do, going back on my word to myself. I feel like a smoker who keeps saying, “I’ll quit…after this next cigarette.”

I don’t quit. Cold turkey is harder than it looks.

There’s one saving grace to all this: I’m not looking for more information. Most of the tips and tricks and “you absolutely, definitely cannot live without knowing this”s are things I’ve already seen in past articles.

I find myself both relieved and disconcerted to realize there’s nothing new to read on these topics. The posts and pictures and facts about women (which are often by women, just as an FYI) are all cliches. They bounce off one another, the way those hot dogs from elementary school were said to do when you dropped them on the floor. Hell, a few actually did.

Like those hot dogs, they’re identical. They’ve been mass produced by romance novels and the daydreams of the young girls who sat on the swings and twirled their hair around their fingers.

“Kiss her in the rain.” “Let her steal your hat and keep it for the rest of the day.” “Tell her she’s the only one you want.” Etc. Etc.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. Actually, this advice is good. It’s specific, it’s relevant to what a whole lot of women want based on how universally it appears, and it’s obviously timely or nobody would be talking about it.

It matters enough to the girls/women who believe in it that they’ve spoken out about it, promoting what they love or what matters to them even when others wave them away. And it hones in on something that I believe to be at the core of every woman, from teens through elderly: the need to be desired by their partner. I applaud that.

The articles about men are only slightly different. They read the way I’ve often heard guys talk about what they want: with disinterest and a sharpened clarity that says, “Here’s the answer. There’s not much to it. Besides, what else could you possibly need to know?”

Men, they say, are simple people. This is the first, often repetitive response to the question “what do men want.” It’s especially true if a guy is writing the article. (This is also, admittedly, helpful. So thank you, James M Sama!)

Men love you, but they need space. They need to be guys sometimes. They need their friends. They’re not mind readers.

Good enough.

After clicking on these for a second or two, I get bored. Until the next day, of course. The next day brings an article about the secrets of happy, long lasting couples. I’m as intrigued by this as I’ve been by the articles about men and women.

The article, which I’ve lost and of course can’t find the actual title of, is a short story about a few interviews this journalist has done on the topic of how love lasts over time. The couples are all middle aged and happy, from the sound of it.

Some of what they said swam through one ear and out the other. It’s okay to fight. Trust your instincts. Don’t worry about time.

“My best relationships happened when I wasn’t giving them too much thought. I just looked forward to the next day that we’d see each other and not beyond that.”

This quote struck me as wise. I’ve always been the type who daydreamed and tried to envision myself with someone far down the line. Marriage, kids, house in the country, and the like. Just enjoying the time I spend with Boyfriend seemed almost novel by comparison.

And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with Boyfriend. In fact, he’s the first person I’ve ever done this with, short of wondering about what our planned adventures would be like. So far, so good.

But one piece of advice stuck with me. It was part of the last interview. The journalist asked a married woman what she would say to someone about being in a relationship. (Or something to that effect.) I remember there being a line where the journalist described the woman as taking a brief pause.

“Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most,” she said at last.

We can go into all sorts of details about how this advice doesn’t pertain to certain couples. (Those involved in abusive relationships, anyone?) Or how, on a more cynical side, this kind of advice just opens people up to heartbreak later.

Regardless, I think this woman’s onto something here. Yes, there will always be relationships where you, in retrospect, wish you hadn’t given your all. Moments where your memory rears its ugly head to remind you of times when giving made you vulnerable. Maybe even ruined things.

At the same time, I feel like that’s necessary. You can’t expect people to open up if you don’t. You can’t get close to someone without showing a few battle scars.

You can’t always escape from closeness unscathed, either. Couples don’t always agree. Those moments of disagreement shouldn’t be the only deciding factors for the future. (With a few exceptions: see domestic violence reference above.)

So don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most. Vulnerability is good here, just as much as support is. Even if it doesn’t work out, you won’t be able to say you didn’t try.

What do you think about dating articles? Advice on love? Was there any advice you ever took to heart?

Why I’m a Feminist

Feminism: (n)

1. a social movement for gender and sex equality — the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

2. a personal commitment to understanding and achieving gender equality in everyday life

Because of all these reasons that Laci Green listed and many more!

Food for Thought: Me and My Silhouette

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“I go through phases. Somedays I feel like the person I’m supposed to be, and then somedays, I turn into no one at all. There is both me and my silhouette. I hope that on the days you find me and all I am are darkened lines, you still are willing to be near me.”

Mary Kate Teske

Five Weaknesses

  1. Seeing my favorite books in bookstores or libraries/ rereading my favorite books. I love flipping back through the pages, reminding myself of what the dedication says, and revisiting the first chapters or favorite sections. It makes me want to buy additional copies of the book, but then I’d have too many copies and I don’t know where I’d put them.
  2. Being too easily swayed by others’ opinions of me. I want to believe I’ve gotten better about this, though. Maybe it’s because I’m more sure of myself than I used to be. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounding myself with people who don’t make their opinions seem like the be-all-end-all. There are still people whose advice I want to hear and whose opinions of me are things I want to be kept flattering, especially when it comes to family. I think, though, that this continual drive for being thought well of is a product of my fear of not doing things that they’d approve of. Most of the time, they come across as more self-assured and more knowledgeable than I feel about myself. When we get into conversations where they take definitive stances on something, I start questioning my own stance and wondering if there’s something wrong with the way I’m approaching an issue. What’s wrong about this is that I don’t question them and their confidence — I’m quick to believe that, if they’re stating something with conviction, they must be right. I’ve been getting better about reminding myself that opinions are just that. Now I have to learn self-confidence in my choices, no matter what other people think.
  3. Believing I’m not worthy. This goes for anything. I know I’m average. I know great things don’t happen to just anybody. I know you need to be an apprentice before you can become a master. I’m also coming from a place of huge self-consciousness and lack-of-confidence. I don’t get too excited when good things happen to me for fear of having them get stolen away because it turns out I didn’t actually “earn” them. It’s happened with just about everything, minus graduating from high school. (That was something I knew would happen if I colored by numbers to the degree that they wanted me to and stayed inside the lines in general. I figured it was a given. Where I come from, you didn’t not graduate high school if you came from a good home.) I wasn’t sure at all of myself when I signed up for online dating, nor have I ever been sure of myself when it comes to things like being a good enough friend, or getting my books published. I’ve gotten better, yes, at not feeling like everything’s going to be pulled out from under me, but only by a small amount. Now I’m cautiously optimistic.
  4. Thought-provoking movies. Mom, Little H, and I recently watched Blue Jasmine, the Woody Allen movie with Cate Blanchett. I thought it was incredible. I also thought it was sad. Halfway through, Little H looked over at us and laughed. “Your expressions are hilarious,” she said to me and Mom. Funny enough, Mom and I had been passing looks back and forth all throughout the movie, but specifically during the more pivotal moments. As you watch Jasmine descend into this awful spiral following her world’s total destruction, you travel down a path of borderline alcoholism, pill popping, and mental illness. We had a long discussion afterwards about forgiveness, costume design, and Jasmine’s character.
  5. Seeing the amount of road-kill on the street once you’re aware of it. I don’t like road-kill. At all. I’m not sure who does, but there’s something about it that makes me hugely sad. It’s right up there with harming animals. I don’t like it and it makes me wish people had bigger hearts.

What five weaknesses do you have?

Settling, but For Your Best

A baby mouse fell out of our ceiling.

Mom and Big H were in the middle of repainting Mom’s room beach blue. They’d been working on the ceiling when the baby mouse fell out of a hole and onto the plastic-covered floor. Big H managed to snatch it up before Beau could.

Now, when I say baby, I mean baby. It couldn’t have been more than a week old. Its back was gray and only slightly fuzzy. Its ears still stuck to the sides of its head. Its paws were so tiny, it would’ve needed ten of them to cover the first digit of my index finger. Its eyes stayed firmly shut and we could only just find the line of its tiny mouth under its fragile, translucent whiskers.

It was also covered in a fine layer of dust from where it had fallen in the paint Big H had sanded from the walls.

Big and Little H threw tissues into a shoe box. With trembling fingers and bated breath, they put the baby down into the bedding and ran to consult Google. They’d never rescued a baby anything before, let alone a mouse. The biggest irony was that, in the meantime, we’d been setting poison out for the rest of its family.

Big H went to the pet store to get kitten formula and a dropper. According to her searches, that was the best thing to use. Little H, on the other hand, suggested calling shelters and the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). She wanted to know if they could rehabilitate it. Mom said they’d probably laugh in her face.

“We’re not its mother,” was her logic. “We don’t know how to properly take care of it. We’ll be lucky if it survives the night.”

So Little H set up a schedule. Every few hours, Big H — who declared the mouse hers since she was the one who’d rescued it from Beau — would have to get up and feed the thing. After the feeding, she’d have to rub its belly and butt with a Q-Tip dipped in warm water. That was meant to help digestion.

By some miracle, the baby mouse survived the night.

The girls started talking more seriously about what they were going to do with the mouse once it was grown. We learned that it would take two weeks for the eyes to open up. We also learned the mother probably wouldn’t take it back if we left it alone. Both girls agreed to let it go when it was big enough, which surprised me. I’d thought Big H would want to keep it, given she’d made such a point of it being considered hers.

Later that afternoon, once they’d shown Boyfriend the creature and told him the story, Little H tried to feed the mouse more formula.

“Oh my god, I think it’s dead,” I heard her say while I made a smoothie behind her. “I think I killed it.”

I turned away from where I’d been making a smoothie and hovered over her. Little H’s eyes went huge as she looked from me to it and back.

“I think I fed it to much. It’s not moving. It’s not breathing.”

For a second, I couldn’t speak. A little flutter of panic moved in my chest. I didn’t know who I felt more sorry for: Little H or the mouse. I took the mouse from her, cradling it in my palm as I rubbed its belly with wet Q-Tips. The baby didn’t move.

“How do you know it’s dead?” I asked.

“Because I was trying to feed it and it wasn’t eating again and it did this weird jerky thing and now it stopped. Its tongue is even sticking out.” Her voice went a little nasal, the way it does when she panicks without knowing how much she should panic.

“Go get Mom,” I said. Little H dashed off. With her gone, I used the Q-Tip to pry open its mouth. There seemed to be a bit of film just inside and I tried to wipe it away, maybe clear its throat.

Mom arrived and took the mouse. She did the Q-Tip rub on its belly. When it didn’t move, she said, “Well, you tried your hardest. I’m amazed you kept it alive this long.”

Little H and I shared a look. “Could we maybe…not bury it until tomorrow?” she asked.

Mom started laughing. “What, just in case it turns out not to be dead?”

“Yeah,” Little H said.

Mom laughed again. When she saw we were serious, she shrugged. “If it’ll make you feel better.”

It did, even though I didn’t say so at the time. I didn’t want to look in the box again after we put the mouse back inside. I just wanted to go back in time and stop my sister trying to feed it again, maybe slow down the inevitable a bit. Little H stuck the box on a shelf for the rest of the day.

At dinner, she asked me to bury it. The look in her eyes, made bigger by the fact that she’d pulled her long hair into a ponytail, told me she couldn’t.

I did, but it took me a long time. I wanted to bury it somewhere it wouldn’t be too disturbed. Mom’s garden had upturned earth, but she’d be digging in there. Sooner or later, she’d find the tissue-wrapped body of the mouse.

Instead, I turned to our homemade pet cemetery. It took me two tries to wrap and bury the mouse. The dirt hadn’t been turned and the shovel didn’t like biting into it. I settled for a shallow grave and tried to be gentle.

I tried not to think about the mouse waking up — find out it was buried alive and not knowing what to call that. I tried not to think about other things coming and finding it. Of Beau disturbing its rest. I didn’t say any words, but I think I should’ve. I’m glad we didn’t name it.

When I got back inside, Mom was reminding my sister that she didn’t kill the mouse. That it wasn’t going to survive. That we weren’t meant to raise it because we weren’t its mother.

She then made a list of all the animals Little H has helped. None of them, Mom said, had needed to be nursed back to life. The fact that my sister had tried and gotten so far was something to be proud of.

“You did your best,” she said. “That should be enough.”

Have you ever raised an animal from birth? Have you ever tried to rescue an animal? Did you ever feel responsible when you failed?

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