I didn’t get to sleep until 4am. Humidity sucks. It’s actually so hot that we put a bucket of water in the living room for the cats to play with. They like standing in it.
Obviously they thought it needed decorating though, because this evening they brought in a live frog. If you’ve never heard the noise a frog makes when it’s in distress… well, it’s deeply unpleasant. Like a squeaky toy that never stops.
However, I was reminded that it’s important to be grateful for something every day. I’m not especially grateful for the frog. Today I’m grateful for yellow cosmos flowers. Because I got out of the car, spotted one at my feet, and it instantly made me smile.
The weird thing is: I didn’t plant yellow cosmos in this garden. I actually planted it in my last garden and it never grew.
See, up until last year we lived on a rural property outside of Hamilton. Our landlord was very relaxed, and the section was fairly substantial, and nobody minded when I got planting. When we moved in there originally, the section was a blank canvas of lawn. Three years later, I had rose gardens, big veggie gardens, shade gardens, rock gardens, and no less than 17 fruit trees. In so many ways, my garden was full of my children.
There are some plants that I think I shall always have in my garden, because to me they carry the memories of those I have lost. For my old dog, Gus, I have the cordyline “Stud Muffin”. It’s so him. For my first cat, Turtle, I have columbines… because she used to play amongst them and I planted them next to her grave. Viggo (above) used to use the jointed wire rushes for camouflage. But wire rushes prefer damp ground and the warm, dry spot outside our old bedroom window (where I buried him within sight of my side of the bed, because he loved his momma so much that we had our own special bedtime ritual) was much more suited to cosmos. Cosmos is also surprisingly tough, and just keeps coming back year after year, so I figured it also suited his personality. He’d had cancer for 8 years by the time he died – multiple surgeries, and he took it all in stride. He lived a good full life, completely in spite of his illness. He was very much my big, drooly baby.
However by that point my garden was extensive enough that I’d started to colour-theme the gardens so they looked a bit more organised and a bit less like a messy salad. Viggo went into a garden that at this time of year was vivid orange, red and yellow – all well and good for a ginger cat. It had gazanias and gloriosa lilies, nicely touched off by acid green gladioli. It was a sunshine garden.
I’d wanted to add cosmos in part because it is so tough and easy to grow… the only problem is most cosmos flowers are shades of pink or white. So in the winter of 2014 (just a few weeks after he died) I tracked down some rarer yellow cosmos seeds on TradeMe, scattered them over Viggo’s grave, and waited for them to grow.
… And waited… and waited… Eventually a couple of seedlings popped up – just a couple out of 100 or so seeds. But still I tended to them studiously. I kept them watered and mulched. Yet still they withered and died without flowering. It was all most disappointing.
When we had to leave that house in 2015, there was a huge and miserable rush to try and take some of my garden as well. It wasn’t meant to be a big hurry – the tenancy was being taken over by Rob’s sister, who had previously said that we were welcome to come and transplant the garden gradually over winter since it was a better time to move things and it was just too much garden for her to take care of anyway. But… well… things didn’t quite work out that way.
Both Rob and I were commuting to Auckland for work by that point, and we managed to take three days off in April (Mon-Wed). My parents and Rob’s sisters were going to join us for a day or two, with the idea of shifting the big stuff first while we had the truck and the manpower and then gradually going through the following two weeks packing up the smaller stuff and shifting things in our cars as we travelled up for work. We’d pre-paid rent on both houses to cover the following two weeks.
On the Saturday prior, Rob managed to bring a few boxes up to the new house in Auckland, even though we technically didn’t have a key yet… and got told by his sister that we needed to be out by Tuesday as she was moving in. I was at work, as I am every weekend – so I crawled home late on Saturday, got up early on Sunday, and only then learned of this new deadline as I got ready to leave for work. Rob was frantically doing everything he could to try and pack up the house… but I had to go to work, and two days really wasn’t enough time to complete a move that we were expecting to take two weeks. He called his sister and said that they were being unreasonable, and perhaps we could have most of the big stuff gone by Thursday… and got yelled at and told he didn’t understand how hard this was for her and that he was ruining her life.
That Sunday night was a full event pack-down for me, so I started at 9am and left work just after 5am on Monday. I drove home slowly, carefully, but finally had to stop on the side of the road in Huntly in order to take a nap and ensure I didn’t drive off the road. I grabbed 20 mins sleep right there in the car , and got home just after 7am, falling into bed by 7:30. My parents were due to arrive with the truck at 9am, so I was up again at 9am and ready to move furniture. Needless to say, it was miserable and both Rob and I were zombies. Needless to say, Rob’s sisters didn’t turn up to help us move.
Monday and Tuesday poured with rain, and all of us (Rob, my parents and myself) were being too hasty and suffered an injury of some description. Rob cracked his head open on a window and bled everywhere, my dad buggered his back, my mother re-injured an old hip problem, and I tore the cartilage in my knee. After three days we had gone from being zombies to the walking wounded. Everybody was stressed and confused and terribly sad at the same time. It was like suddenly becoming a refugee.
Rob was back at work on Thursday morning, but I didn’t have to go to work until the afternoon, so my mother and I stayed in the old house on Wednesday night – packing and scrubbing until literally collapsing to sleep on the floor at 2am. Rob’s sister reappeared on Thursday morning to collect her key. We weren’t done. I begged her to let us leave stuff in what was to be the spare bedroom, and told her that we really needed to finish cleaning in order to get our bond back.
Initially she was quiet and huffy, but then I made the added mistake of suggesting that we talk about this and “clear the air”, she screamed at me about how we’d had weeks to get our stuff packed and out of the way, and she couldn’t understand why it was taking us so long. When I pointed out that we’d been working (and commuting) and the plan was that we were starting the move on the week we’d secured the new house, she said that she’d been working too and she’d manage it (she was moving 1 km down the road, not 120 km away). She added that we’d had the whole of Easter to get moved… which I had to point out was technically before we had tenancy of the new house (so nowhere to move to), and that both Rob and I had worked across the Easter weekend. In fact, I’d been averaging 60 hours per week for the whole year so far, even without the added 3 hours of travel each day. She said she was sorry that she obviously worked a “pretend” job, and that I was just just being a drama queen “as always”. Her parting shot was that she’d be back at noon and we’d better be gone. I just burst into tears.
I sobbed through most of the next couple hours, even as we gave up on cleaning and kept on packing. My mother (bless her) is about as useless with other people’s feelings as I am, but she still gave me a few sympathetic smiles and said that she really couldn’t understand what we’d done wrong. As I said to her, the one bit that hurt the most was the last bit about being a drama queen. Rob and I had been together for 8 years. Up until then, his sisters had seemed to love having me as part of their family… only it was now apparent that they’d always had a low opinion of me and had just been pretending to like me. I was always the new kid in school, and met a lot of that through my school years (people I really liked later turning on me and saying they’d always hated me). It never stopped feeling cruel. That particular day, it reduced me back to a seven-year-old walking home with grazed elbows and gum in her hair.
I had to call Rob and tell him that I’d made a horrible mistake and tried to talk to his sister. His response was “she can go fuck herself!” I had to call the landlord and say that we were terribly sorry but we wouldn’t be able to get the house clean for a bond check next week, as we were having to leave early. He said it was news to him that Rob’s sister was moving in, and that she hadn’t signed a tenancy agreement yet!… I left them to sort that one out between themselves. As we drove out, just before noon, I checked the mailbox and found a letter from the IRD… for Rob’s sister. Obviously she’d told the IRD some time ago that she was going to be living at that address from that week onward… She just hadn’t told us. Or the landlord.
When it came to the garden… well, Jesus, I just begged. Rob contacted his sister the following week and told her we were coming back to take stuff out of the garden. He was firm and didn’t give her a choice. I begged several of my friends for help – explained the whole horrible situation. I think it’s hard to explain to people why anyone would want to move a garden though. As I said earlier: my garden was full of my babies. And I was terrified at the thought of what Rob’s sister would do to the babies of that awful woman who got in her way and who couldn’t pack up a three-bedroom house in 48 hours. I just couldn’t leave my plants there… except I knew I couldn’t move them all either. It was a Sophie’s choice of what I could take and what I’d have to leave behind.
If the weather was bad for moving the furniture, it was even worse when we came to move the garden. The rain was sideways. A couple of my friends put in a valiant effort and came to help. Rob’s sister stayed inside the house the whole day, and we never went inside – plugging away in the mud and the weather with reasonably good humour. There was just so much I had to sacrifice though. Most of the stonefruit trees had to stay. So did the grapevine and the big apple tree. The cherries and apricots and pears I’d tended so carefully – that really hurt. The lilac that was growing for Spenser. The hazelnut bushes that marked Scooby’s grave. The rhubarb that had been passed down the family from my great-great-grandmother’s garden. Even the trellis panels that Rob had given me for my birthday (but I managed to rip out the sleepers that my parents had bought me for Christmas). It was horrendous.
There were so many bulbs – bulbs I’d completely forgotten – that at least I could smile at the thought that the garden would be showing reminders of its previous carer for many years to come.
… But not the cosmos. There was no yellow cosmos to transplant since it was all dead. I didn’t even bother to dig in that part of the garden because I was careful not to disturb Viggo.
What we probably did do though was shuffle some dirt around and use it to help fill the baggies we were using for the plants we took. And there were clearly still seeds in that soil – live seeds.
And today, Viggo decided to pop through the weeds on the edge of our new lawn, and say hello. Nine months after we moved. 21 months after he died.
… I wonder whether it makes other people sad (or maybe just a bit weirded out) for me to talk about the plants I carry with me for those I’ve lost. But to me, since the plants are very much alive and also very loved, it is just a continuation of the same relationship. Any physicist will tell you that energy never dies – it just changes form.
Love does the same thing.