Aloe Song

Friday, March 2, 2018

I need no water
"No water," I say.
I am a desert flower after all.
But this dry summer lasts too long.
I wilt and crumble to the touch.

A few years ago my friend put out a message to her friends that she was searching for planting pots for her new garden patio. I happened to have a beautiful teal blue ceramic pot that was begging for some love. Inside it was a bunch of dirt and a single dead aloe vera plant. I told her she could take it.

When she picked up the teal pot, I apologized profusely for not emptying it out beforehand. "Just throw it away, I'm pretty sure its dead!" I said. She thanked me and took the pot home.

A few months later, we were chatting casually while our kids played at the park. In a quiet moment, she spoke up.

"Oh, Channing! I just remembered something I wanted to tell you! Remember that pot with a dead plant you gave me a while back?"

"Yeah! Sorry about that. I completely forgot to empty it out." I said.

"I'm glad you didn't. On a whim I decided to water it instead of throw it away. I couldn't believe when it started growing again."

"What?" I said, astonished. "What do you mean 'it grew again'? It was dead. I didn't water it for nearly 6 months."

"The plant re-grew, Channing. It looks like a baby aloe vera plant."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

When I first planted this aloe months before, I began to suffer from a very deep depression. I had a hard time taking care of myself. Things like eating and making sure I showered regularly were incredibly difficult during that time. My plants withered along with me. When I recovered, I assessed the damage to my succulent garden. Some had weathered the drought well, but most looked like this aloe had - dry and crumbling at the touch of my fingers. "Trash, trash, trash." I said to myself, just like I did when I was in the throes of depression. I didn't hesitate to throw them away.

We walked back to her house and she showed me the miracle plant. Just as she had said, there were tiny green leaves poking through the soil. In the following months I watched in awe as it grew from three tender leaves to a strong, mature plant. Every time I saw it I was pricked with guilt. I had given up on this plant. My friend's continuing love and care for an aloe that was beyond hope was its redemption.

The time came when my family needed to move out of the state for a while. I asked my friend to care for my remaining succulents while I was gone. When I returned, I saw she had cared for them as faithfully as she had the aloe plant. As I was leaving with the succulents, she handed me the teal blue pot with a gorgeous, thriving aloe inside.

The lower leaves spilled over the pot to embrace the earth while the upper leaves reached to pull down sun. Every inch of the plant was succulent indeed - filled with the soft, healing juices that are the aloe's birthright. This was a plant who loved the sunshine and drank the rain. It breathed promises of joy. It was alive.

"Are you sure you want me to take this?" I asked.
"Yes, Channing. It's yours. Thank you for letting me take care of it for a while." she said with a smile.
My eyes filled with tears. I hugged her.

"Thank you." I said in a whisper.

That was two years ago. The gorgeous aloe plant now sits on my porch with its other cactus friends, perfectly placed so I can see it from every window in my home. During the winter, cacti and succulents need watering only once a month or so. Around Christmas, I remembered I hadn't watered in a while. I put it on my list of things to do but didn't get around to it for weeks.

One day early in the new year, a flash of yellow passed by my porch window as I was in bed reading. I got up to see my four-year-old daughter holding a watering can above the plants on my patio. She struggled with its weight but found if she hugged the watering can close to her little body she could maneuver it properly. I watched her carefully water each plant. When she finished, she set the watering can down and knelt by the aloe.

In that moment, I remembered the day I stood before this dried up succulent saying "trash, trash, trash." I remembered the many times when I had stared into my own eyes in the mirror, thinking "trash, trash, trash." I remembered standing in the shower, washing my body with soap and tears. "Trash, trash, trash." I said, and meant it.

The hem of my daughter's yellow dress skimmed the concrete as she tenderly stroked the leaves of the aloe, speaking soft words of encouragement and love to it as she had seen me do many times before. It was her favorite part of the watering routine. As her small fingers ran along the ridges of the plant, I could hear her soft voice singing.

"I like you, pokey plant-y.
I want to keep you.
We can be friends forever if you want to."

We can be friends if you want to
the sweet melody echoed in my mind
and I wondered briefly if aloe plants can sing.

I looked at the potted aloe. "But I gave up on you. How can you want me still? I am trash, trash, trash." I said.

if you like that song, keep singing.
the aloe seemed to say.

Later that week I stood before the mirror as I was dressing for the day. My long wavy hair fell down my back. Pieces curled around my arms, caressing the scars that had formed over the cuts I made into my left shoulder with a butter knife ten years ago. "Trash, trash, trash." they whispered in my ear.

we can be friends if you want to
I sang

then cried.
my tears, the rainwater
for a dried-up desert flower.

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.