Updated: Dec 31, 2020
I’ve scrolled through the Instagram posts and Buzzfeed articles making pitches for the “Best Plants for Apartments in 2018”. All of them tout tiny sweet-looking plants with soft leaves. On my smartphone, the succulents are displayed in front of blank walls. A startling emerald in the midst of empty space. I look to the caption, boasting, “the most convenient plants for a modern aesthetic.”
“They’re impossible to kill, bring one home today!”
These plants promise that a little bit of your attention every other month will suffice. And hardware stores rode on the bandwagon of efficiency and convenience. I push my cart past shelves of succulents, lined up like modern little soldiers. And I wonder, if we have fast food, does that mean that they’d be fast plants?
Fast plants have to be patient because the wait is slow and long. Trends come and go, and month after month, they’re still waiting. Out of pity, I stop my cart and pick one up. It’s lighter than a hope in the midst of empty space. The soil has shrunk until it’s hugging its shriveled roots.
It’s nothing but air, but its leaves have yet to droop. It doesn’t ask for much, so the world forgets to listen.
I can’t blame the world, it’s hard to know just what succulents need if they never tell you. The ivy in my bedroom corner droops, frowning pitifully for my attention when it’s a little parched. But, succulents never droop. They sit all the same, nothing changes as months and months go by. They keep themselves busy in their space, doing their own little thing. Their fine root network reaches into every nook and cranny of dry soil they have. They have evolved to thrive upon what we perceive as nothing at all.
I can’t blame a clumsy human either. But, I worry that I harm with the best of intentions. When I was scrolling one day, I read a poet say, “Lord, I worry that love is violence.” (José Olivarez) I thought of another succulent that I bought from a hardware store. I brought it home and it grew comfortably in its pot. Until it drank a little bit too much love, and I thought it might like a larger house.
I didn’t know then that what I thought would be good for it, would hurt it. If you tear a succulent’s roots while repotting, you have to give it a few weeks to recover before you water it. I didn’t know that then, and my little friend withered away from the inside out with no indication of what went wrong.
I knew then, that they were all wrong. The internet and stores and rest of the world were all wrong. Succulents are seen as strong because they are quiet. I think everyone forgot, and I never knew how fragile they are.
I’m still waiting in front of shelves of neglected plants breathing in the darkness. They were right, you are strong. I’m just sorry you have to be strong on your own.
You hold memories of the desert within the water inside your leaves, from a time when your kind felt only hot sunlight instead of tactless fingers.
I hold the weightless succulent in my palm, there’s nothing home can’t fix. I may not speak your language of silent trust, but I’ll sit with you, and I’ll learn.
Michelle Dong is 14 years old and is from New York. She loves programming, design, art, and music. Her passion for website design and research led her to qualify for nationals at NHD, which is situated in Maryland. As of 2019, she won the Lowell Milken award grand prize for her website about an unsung hero, Caroline Ferriday. Her hobbies for art and music have led her to become a late-night doodler and an avid earbud breaker.