Love and Marriage and Plant-icide

loveYou know what they say: love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Yeah, right.

I like to think of myself and my husband, Grey, as two sides of the same coin. On Grey’s side is a gentle, loving soul; a natural caregiver, a steward of Earth and Mother Nature’s happy soldier. When Grey leaves the house, he welcomes the world with open arms and birds swoop down to perch on them; squirrels bring him their precious acorns, bees deliver pots of honey, and oh, the flowers! One look at his green thumb and the flowers stand up straight, their petals turned adoringly towards him, foliage as carefully coiffed as Liberace’s pompadour.

Then there’s me. On my side of the coin is a born city slicker; a cab-hailing, rush hour-enduring pounder of pavement with superior sidewalk passing etiquette and a well-cultivated immunity to New York’s infamous “summer trash smell”. When I leave the house, I crouch like a running back, ready for the inevitable onslaught of mosquitoes looking for their next meal. Pigeons buzz dangerously close to my head, just for kicks. And oh, the poor flowers. I can kill a plant from a thousand yards, blindfolded. The result of this yin-yang, however, is a mostly pleasant city marriage: my husband decorates our apartment balcony with plants of every shape, color and provenance, and I stare at them as one might an abstract painting, between reading salacious entries in the New York Post’s crime blotter.

Our urban location and Grey’s natural empathy for all living things means that he often augments our garden with curbside flora: neglectful New Yorkers leave for dead their unwanted or sickly houseplants with the rest of the garbage destined for pick-up, and he rescues them, brings them home, and restores them to health and vigor. This winter, he plucked a small potted tree from a barren sidewalk, its leaves shrivelled and its soil bone dry. After a few weeks of Grey’s patented magic — and the welcome respite of a climate-controlled indoor convalescence — the brown trunk sprouted new, green shoots, and several clumps of fresh leaves blossomed forth. The tree was saved; another life was spared; and our garden family had another happy member.

Then Grey went away on a long trip. A few days after his departure, the late winter gave way to early spring, and I decided to bring our newly happy tree onto the balcony for some unfiltered sunshine and warmth. I casually mentioned this to Grey while we were on the phone later that day. The following conversation ensued:

ME: I brought the tree outside to get some fresh air.

GREY: Ok, but be sure to bring it back inside in an hour or two.

ME: Why?

GREY: Because you can’t just take an indoor plant — especially a sick one — outside and leave it there! The sun will be too much for it to take! It must be slowly acclimated to outdoor living, or its new leaves will burn.

ME: [dripping with incredulity] Oh come on! It’s a tree. It’s supposed to live outside. [heavy sighs, audible eye rolls]

And with that, I promptly moved on, completely forgetting my husband’s advice. The next morning, I stepped out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air, and through my grogginess I saw the tree. The leaves, verdant just the day before, were blackened. The fresh sprouts were limp and dry. What God hath wrought and (my) Man hath re-wrought, I hath murdered with well-intentioned neglect. I panicked–what would I tell my mate?! Could I bury the evidence? How much does it cost to rent a wood chipper in Brooklyn?

I stalled for days. Soon, Grey would be back, and he’d see the devastation, and he’d fall out of love with me and find someone new — someone who would listen to him, someone with respect for his brilliant planting skills and sage garden wisdom. Then I would be alone, surrounded by withered ferns and drowned cacti. I mustered the courage to call him.

ME: Hi honey, I love you!

GREY: I love you too. How’s everything at home?

ME: [long pause] … I love you!

GREY: … What did you do?

What could I say? I confessed. I apologized over and over. I begged him never to leave town again. I promised that I would follow his gardening instructions to the letter. I offered to scavenge the streets of Brooklyn for other deserving plants that needed resuscitation. And he, being the loving, caring side of our marital coin, forgave me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Before I hung up, I whispered once more, “I love you.”

He cooed back, “Don’t touch anything.”