On Wednesday evening, I was hungover. I struggled through a three hour theatrical imagining of the end of capitalism. It was titled, ‘It was easy (in the end)’ and, truth be told, it wasn’t easy at the beginning, middle, or end. At least not to my addled, over-stimulated, sleep-deprived slump of a brain who was trying to craft sense out of sentences and stay awake long enough to look engaged. Arriving home a mere 16 hours after I had left its comfort and safety that morning, I couldn’t think of anything more beautiful than the unconscious slumber that surely awaited me. Except.
Cursing my way through the dark, bike-strewn hallway, I was accosted by the most wondrous smell – something completely alien to our home. Sorry, housemates, I mean my part of the home. Turning on the light, I found the most exquisite bouquet of pink lilies waiting provocatively on our hall table. Weirdly, they were for me.
Was anyone else aware people other than your mother (and even that is a fortuitous stretch) could send you outrageous bouquets? And yet, someone did.
This isn’t to brag, or to showboat the wonderful person capable of so much generosity (ur gr8 btw), or to romanticise a social construct that I generally think causes more harm than good to relationships (the politics and motivations of flower-giving in general). The flowers are reclining decadently around the house now (in my head they have the persona of exotic concubines but like, you know, real elegant ones, saved only for royals and the mega rich) and the thing is, every time I enter a room and catch their sweetness, I am so beautifully reminded of the powerful effect and potential we can have on other human beings. I don’t think it’s celebrated enough so, rather than prepare my school bag for another week of faffing around, I want to, quite literally, stop and smell the flowers.
Except, this isn’t really about the flowers at all. This isn’t even about the person who sent them, the romance they symbolise and consolidate, the feelings attached tentacle-like to their petals. This is about the power of friendship and the profound impact we all have on the world around us, whether we recognise it or not. So often, when we send or receive gifts, it is the initial moment of giving that is promoted, championed, celebrated.
The shock of a spontaneous bouquet, emerging from behind someone’s back, or an unexpected knock on the door, or even yes, the slap of floral pong that assaults you in a dark hallway. That is what we are told is the aim, the thing to strive for, the impetus for transferring credit card details in exchange for flagrantly overpriced hot house hybrids over the phone. The advertisements, the ludicrous movies, the media spin, always choose to capture this solitary act of giving. Yet, to me, that’s the least important part of it.
It’s the ripple-effect happiness they evoke in the days after, as they sit propped, eternal reminders of kindness, on a kitchen windowsill, table, bedside locker. It’s the subtle but lasting change they wreak in a room with their colour, their scent, and the aching sweetness of what they symbolise – belonging.
The first thing I see in the morning, the last thing I see at night, they are no longer a mere bouquet, they are a reminder of my connection to another human being, a glowing emblem of feeling that has passed between two souls, even when oceans might seem to separate or sever it.
Every bloom is a testament, a memory. Their smell is a soft and floral remembrance, an intangible hug from the beyond. The person who sent them has no idea the seeping and expansive nature of their gesture, or maybe they do. Maybe that was their conniving intention after all – to insert and superglue themselves into the rooms they can no longer enter. If so, well played, master manipulator. Very How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (not Kate Hudson) when she sprays the perfume on her disinterested lover’s pillow so he’ll miss her when the scent disappears. I’m assuming you’ve all also seen that movie 5,672 times so you know exactly what I’m talking about – aren’t we loving the way she looks, all? Peekaboo! Love fern! I’ll stop now.
Anyway, this is what friendship is, this is the wonder of my friends to me. This ripple-effect of joy that resonates within me even when we’re no longer together, or even talking. Social media has birthed within us this insatiable need to simulate perfect bonds in capsule moments of Instagrammable perfection.
We put so much value on that tangible immediate – the physical bouquet, the capturing of the photo, the public testamaents of connection – but it is the unseen ‘always’ that is the gatekeeper of genuine partnership.
We talk about random acts of kindness and their instantaneous effect on someone’s happiness in real time but I don’t think we realise the long term ramifications of those simple gestures.
Paying forward a coffee, for example. Putting aside a coffee for a stranger is such a beautiful idea yet when we do it, we think only of the immediate reaction to that action. We don’t think how that one, simple gesture might stay with the receiver long after the dregs are drained, caffeine buzz wears off, addiciton sated. We don’t think of how, every time that person orders a coffee thereafter, they might someday be reminded of that kindness, of how that initial happiness occasioned in one act might continue to live, and pulse, and affect that person in the limitless longterm.
I am someone who grieves a lot. I grieve at the end of every delicious meal (and, let’s be honest, even the not-so delicious ones). I grieve – and used to infamously cry as a younger but still too-old child – whenever I outgrow clothes and can no longer wear them. Whenever I get a really good haircut, you know those ones that in that moment you feel you’ll never get sick of, never ever want to change (hindsight and photographic evidence of your delusions are class, ain’t they?), I immediately begin to miss it. Almost before beginning to enjoy it, I am already mourning its loss, knowing how quick the hair will regrow, how intangible and ethereal (how on brand of me) this moment of seeming perfection is and how, no matter what, I’ll never be able to recreate it. Yes, that was a metaphor for falling in love and relationships – good grief, you’re perceptive!
Like everyone else, I grieve for the world and everything happening in and to it but if I start to talk about it now I’ll never stop and this is still just supposed to be about flowers.
I grieve for things that never were.
Every time I visit a new city, or connect with someone as they pass, fleeting, another ship in the night, I feel the loss of them.
The parallel versions of myself refracted in those city streets, that person’s eyes. The people never met, experiences never had, lessons left unlearned.
And people. Most of all, I grieve for people. I feel real heartbreak when I think of my friends or family not being in my life anymore. Sometimes – because I’m neurotic and weird and far too fond of melodrama – I imagine that inevitable darkness and I cannot breathe the loss is so deep. As a general rule I don’t go to funerals because even the death of strangers or acquaintances is too much for me and I am mortified by the earnestness of my tears for someone I didn’t know when I am surrounded by those that did and no longer can.
In love – romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting – grief is as constant for me as that onslaught of something more profound than connection and more intense than infatuation. Anyone that has ever impacted me is as much a part of my waking present as they were my past. Ex-boyfriends are ghosts I carry around with me eternally. Friendships forsaken to time or circumstance or geography or the flurried onslaught of the present are talismans I take to breakfast. These friendly poltergeists who I continue to miss and love and wonder about from afar, as invested in the minutae of their day as I was when we were ‘we’, ‘us’.
I grieve, sometimes, now these things are done (for now) and in the past (until the future) for the lack of relics I have of these momentous loves of my life. It is a running joke that I have little to no photos of the people closest to me, simply because we’re too busy and the extraordinary nature of our friendship too ordinary, to constitute comment, evidence. It sometimes worries me that without these physical, tangible, pick-upable, pointable examples, I will someday forget how much they once meant, or the intricate details of our knowing that drew us so close together. I used to get so scared, any time I began with someone new, that they would replace the old until I couldn’t remember the small intimacies that once consumed me. Meeting friends I lived with several years ago recently, I was inordinately upset by the fact I couldn’t remember specific events they unerringly did, or small – but, to me, vital – details of our lives then. To me, it seemed to symbolise I was in the process of forgetting the friendships themselves as well as the part of me that now only exists in the memory of those relationships.
Everything moves too quickly, there is never enough time to harvest it all, the beauty of all the moments, before the tsunami of the new and dazzling strikes again and I am riding some other wave or infatuation or city-living experiment.
And then, these flowers arrived. From half a world away and with no explanation other than a ‘better late than never’. A metaphor for that relationship, and indeed, all relationships. He thought that it was the giving of the bouquet that was important, that it was only when he was physically beside me that I was stirred to think of him, that I could be moved to feel for him.
He thinks, I know, that I’ll get used to the smell in my room so that I no longer notice it, so that I won’t even acknowledge its absence when the time inevitably comes to throw the lilies out and replace them with an inevitable new bunch.
I know he thinks this because it’s what I used to think. That the second I stop being in physical contact with friends, boyfriends, whoever, is the second I cease to exist for them. That I, and our connection, is only real when I am. There. That it is the flowers that are the love, the photo that is the friendship and, without them, they are somehow obselete or unfounded.
The whiff of these flowers is a gentle – but potent – reminder of how wrong I can very occasionally be. We have no idea of the billowing power we exert on the world. Like fresh sheets flapping in the wind, we think we’re too common to be noticed. But oh my, I wish I could show my friends the beauty with which they dance through the breeze and gleam brilliant in the sun when they think no one is watching! I wish there were words to tell this flower-giver the lasting effect of this one, solitary gesture, the same way I wish I could express the constant awe, laughter, and inspiration so many people in my life evoke through the ether of social media, or a voice message, or an idle conversation.
Why does nobody realise how utterly fantastic they are? Why don’t we talk about it more?
And so, in conclusion, because I’m already overrun with emotion and unapologetically losing the run of myself, I think – can never be sure – what I was trying to say – trying being the operative word – is never underestimate the simple value you bring to this world. Of the truly incredible ability we all have to make someone’s day better and, when we’re really lucky, our ability to change someone’s life in whatever seemingly small, insignificant way. I will never see pink lilies without being reminded, not of a bouquet, but of you and everything you are to me. And, by you, I mean the person reading this, not bouquet dude, it’s a metaphor guys and I’m not that gross yet. Jesus.
You think you’re not seen, you worry about not being loved, or noticed, or valued but you are endlessly captivating and, once seen, you can never be unseen. I think that’s it. Just a light homage to romance, love, generosity, kindness but, most importantly, friendship. And a not-so-subtle announcement that I really like receiving flowers, particularly when hungover, so please slide on into those DMs for address deets.
Also, I feel this image accurately sums up how I felt writing this vs how y’all must feel reading it. Hint: This is the one and only time I can legitimately compare myself to Kate Hudson.