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It all started with a plant.
A plant, and a magazine article.
Before all the craziness, before DJ StrangeLove, before the Ten Commandments, and the Approaches, and the Kinesthetic Response Training, it was just me, my empty apartment, and a mid-sized PonyTail Palm.
It had been a gift, of course. A gift from a girl.
A girl with deep brown eyes and sandy hair, and a nose that wrinkled when she laughed.
Her name was Maggie.
At the time, she was the only girlfriend I’d ever had, and the first girl I’d ever met who actually chased me. Naturally, I was suspicious at first, since any girl attracted to me would have to be operating at some elite level of total derangement, but, at the same time, the attention was intoxicating.
By my own best assessments, I wasn’t particularly attractive.
I mean, I wasn’t the Elephant Man, either, but I knew I certainly wasn’t a stud. I had decent style, and enough sense not to wear black with blue. I had a functional pair of skate-shoes that went with everything. A collection of vintage t-shirts that were close to my size. Baggy jeans that were nearing the end of their lives. I was a solid 6/10.
In a rush of emotion, Maggie and I moved in together after only a few months. For our first anniversary, she bought me a potted plant. A PonyTail Palm, to be precise.
“Remember to water it, Ian,” she’d said.
Why she gave me a plant has always been something of a mystery to me. Plants were her thing, not mine. I’d always been intensely suspicious of vegetation.
Anything that sits that quiet and serenely has got to be up to something.
But, to my eternal surprise, I really bonded with this little Beaucarnia Recurvata. I cared for it. I got up every morning and watered it and positioned it in the window with the best sunlight. It had never occurred to me that I might form any sort of meaningful relationship with a plant. Especially not one with a name that sounded more like an unfortunate venereal condition than a species of flora.
But, by this point, my relationship with Maggie was getting pretty rocky. Things continued steadily downhill, and, as the months wore on, this plant became the only tangible evidence that our love had ever existed at all. By caring for it, and tending to it, it was as if, by extension, I was caring for her.
It bloomed the week she moved out.
By this time, in addition to the Ponytail Palm, she had purchased sixteen additional plants, which hung or perched in every available area of the apartment. The place had started to look like a rainforest.
Then, just like that, she was gone, leaving me with an empty apartment, a few pieces of furniture, and the Florida fucking Everglades. Without even asking, she just left me to care for her plants, and water them, and nurture them.
And the worst part of it is: I did.
I spent those first few weeks in a daze: a constant zombie-state of working, commuting, sleeping. Eating ice-cream straight from the container. Sitting in my underwear, taking bong hits, watching awful streaming movies on surfthechannel.com
Slowly, my affection for the Ponytail Palm turned into stark hatred. I began to dream of revenge, indulging in guilty fantasies about hacking it to bits with a kitchen knife, lobbing it out a third-story window, or tossing it into a big, giant pit of fire, and watching with private satisfaction as it slowly burnt to a crisp.
But I couldn’t do it. I was still so hung up on her that all I could do was water it, and care for it, and hope it would somehow bring her back.
Weekend after lonely weekend passed, and with it, a steadily-growing list of girls I was too afraid to talk to.
The girl by the window, with the plaid shirt and the nose-ring.
The girl at the checkout counter with the high-pitched laugh.
I wished I could have said hello. I wished I could have waved, or shared a laugh, or a smile.
Not only did I want to, but I needed to. My inability to come out of my shell was preventing me from doing the things I loved. It was crippling me.
It was an article in MacLean’s Magazine that ultimately drove me to the brink of despair.
And, for once, it wasn’t because of the quality of the writing.
It was one of those semi-annual sex-survey pieces, the kind that’s designed to tell you how much sex everybody else is having, and how much they’re enjoying it, and how often, and exactly what you’re missing for being a sissy bitch that you can’t speak in anything but vowels to a woman you don’t know. Next to the obligatory charts and pie-graphs, it stated that the average number of sex-partners for a Canadian Male was 23.
“Jesus!” I snorted, when I read it.
Who took this fucking poll?
At the time, I’d been involved with somewhat less than this.
In fact, it had been significantly less than this.
In fact, it had been exactly one more than one.
I tried to justify it.
I didn’t even want to sleep with 23 women. What I wanted was friendship and lasting affection– a relationship. I wanted to meet the love of my life.
Reading this, alone in my apartment, I came to a decision:
I’d been in exile for long enough.
I needed to get out.
I needed to meet people.
It was no longer a hollow resolution.
I considered it my Heroic Vow.
Granted, it probably would have seemed considerably more heroic if I hadn’t made it while wearing nothing but four-year-old sweat-pants, clutching a half-eaten pot of lukewarm mac-and-cheese, but it was the content that was important, not the context.
Suddenly, I was filled with purpose.
I rushed to the fridge, cracked a beer, and drained it.
Then, I jogged to the phone, and made a call.
“Leon, it’s me,” I said, “come over, fucker. We’re going out tonight.”
I hung up without even waiting for a response.
My heart was pounding. My head was swimming with excitement, and the slight buzz from the three rapidly-downed beers.
I was empowered. I was alive.
After more than a year, I was free.
It was at that moment that I caught sight of the Ponytail Palm, sitting quietly in the corner.
“Remember to water it, Ian,” she’d always said.
A smile crossed my face.
And suddenly, there I was, dancing around the apartment in a frenzy of abandon, tearing plants up by their roots, kicking over pots, pulling off leaves and letting them rain down upon me.
Then, I undid my zipper, lowered my pants, waddled over to the Ponytail Palm and, a song on my lips, gave the thing a little watering of my own.
It was at that instant that the door burst open.
Leon and I looked at one another for a moment, frozen.
Him, standing in the doorway, eyes wide.
Me, fists raised high, pants around my ankles, standing over a rapidly-wilting Ponytail Palm with an expression of triumph on my face.
“Jesus! What the fuck, Ian?”
Admittedly, not my best revenge.
There’s just never a big, giant, pit of fire around when you need one.