It's weird how quickly a stranger's house can start to feel like home, so long as they're not around. This dawned on me as I fell asleep alone inside a fully-furnished apartment I'd rented in New York City. It was a comforting thought, but also reminded me that I wasn't actually at home. I was on my own, a stranger in a strange land inside an even stranger apartment. I suddenly needed to own something. I imagined ways to make this other person's home my own. I thought about peeing on the furniture, but ate a sandwich and hung a few photographs instead. I found a tiny, beat-up, old foosball table on the street and mounted it above a bookshelf. So, to be clear -- at 33 years of age, I made the conscious decision to nail a dirty piece of garbage to the wall of my apartment. I didn't own curtains and rarely wore pants. I was as single as single gets.
Following some advice I picked up from Sandra Bullock after she left rehab in that movie full of life lessons, I decided to buy a plant. I'd owned a plant before. His name was Leaf Erickson, and he courageously grew up a trellis I'd installed inside the window of my last apartment. Leaf wasn't a natural climber, so I had to manually feed his branches upward as he grew. I tried to boost his confidence, but he insisted on sagging. In that regard, he was a photosynthesized version of myself at the time. Eventually, I moved and my parents inherited him, along with the trellis. My mother and I looked like a couple of lunatics, maneuvering that monstrosity into her car.
This time, I wanted a tall plant, because, why not? I went to the Flower District, talked to a man who barely spoke English, spent way too much money and brought Fernando home. It turns out that Fernando wasn't a fern, he was a palm, but the name stuck because I was the only one around and he had no way to object. We grew close. He was was always in my line of sight, because I loved him, and also because I put him right next to the TV.
The thing about plants is that they don't tell you when they're hungry. OK, they kind of do, once everything turns brown and the soil dries up, but Fernando didn't grow in soil, he grew in a pile of rocks, and I won't be held responsible for the fact that rocks don't absorb the water necessary to nourish the plant I hastily bought without any understanding of how to keep him alive. So Fernando passed away. I unceremoniously took him down the service elevator and left him in that dark place where they tell you to throw out empty paint cans.
Honestly, though, Fernando had issues. Not long after he moved in, Emily entered my life. We decided to live together, and callously spoke of it right in front of Fernando. Other things happened right in front of Fernando, too, and while I wouldn't say I "starved him to death," I'm willing to examine the possibility that the anxiety he felt over the prospect of becoming a perpetual third wheel caused him to lose his appetite and die of malnutrition. That or I totally watered him wrong.
Emily surprised me with a new plant on my birthday. We named her Federika. I thanked Emily a thousand times, all the while thinking, Holy, shit, if this thing dies I am totally f*cked. Please, God, don't let this f*cker die.
I found Federika dead on the living room floor when Emily was out of town. She asked me to sing to Federika as I brought her to the basement and put her between the vending machine and the spot where I'd put that foosball table, whose fate, it turns out, was predetermined on the day that Emily was born.
"What song did you sing?" she asked. I didn't sing, but I went with my first thought and told her I sang the song my father used to sing to me when he tucked me in at night. I didn't even know the name of that song. I only remembered the first two lines, which, I'm hoping, are the only two lines my Dad knew, because I googled the lyrics and found out it's a Kenny Loggins song called "Turn Around," and the first verse goes like this:
Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you're 2, turn around and you're 4.
Turn around and you're a young girl going out of my door.
What the hell, Dad??? He always trailed off before the "young girl" part. So, for all those years, I was being serenaded by my father's terrible voice, singing the perfect song for that part of the wedding where the bride dances with her dad and everyone absolutely loses their shit and cries their eyes out, including the band, and now me, laughing over the fact that I've lived a life devoid of this knowledge. There's sadness, too, knowing that I'll never share this revelation with him.
My father passed away six months ago. It's crazy how often he finds his way into my thoughts, and it's funny how a story that started with me falling asleep alone became a story about plants, which then evolved into a story about a song that my father planted in my head over 30 years ago. As a kid, I'd fall asleep to it and hear it in my dreams. Turns out, he set up a slow burn to a pretty fantastic punchline, and though I'm sure he didn't mean it, I can tell you that, because of this, one thing's for sure: My next plant will most definitely be named Kenny Loggins.
My father with me, center, and my siblings, Vin, Chris and Nina. Behind the camera is my mother, Clotilde, who told me, in the eight grade, that I should be a writer.
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