“You gotta stop watering dead plants.”
– Glennon Doyle
When my girlfriend broke up with me in December, I grabbed all the things that reminded me of her and shoved them into a box. There were Lucifer DVD’s, her bag of toiletries, the vintage Frances Burney books I’d never give her for Christmas…
One thing made me pause: a Kalanchoe plant she’d sent through a local florist on one of our anniversaries. It had since bloomed with deep red flowers which withered and returned several times. Staying alive against the cold winter light, this plant felt so innocent to me. I set it back on the windowsill thinking, “It’s not the plant’s fault that we broke up.”
I met my ex because of our writing, and it was through two of our original characters that we first fell in love. For months we stoked the flames of our romance by co-writing a novel, making up for the long distance by building a world of fantasy where we’d get lost every night after the kids fell asleep. We were over 150,000 words into a first draft filled with witches and pirates and whores and priests. I poured so much of myself into that story, the best parts of my creativity. Now all of it is gone. All that hard work was for nothing.
That story will never be written.
I had a vivid dream the other night. After weeks of not thinking much at all about my ex-girlfriend, I dreamt about our characters. Awoken by hungry children, I rose out of bed reluctantly, my back stiff as I pulled fuzzy socks on over cold toes. My mind slipped through fading memories of my sleep as I sat perched on the edge of my mattress. But the kids would not let me be. Pulled down the hall by motherly duty, I set the kettle on for tea, and my mind kept getting snagged on our story, on those characters, who had always been so completely alive, not like fiction at all. And here they were again, pressed up against the cold window of my heart.
As I cut up an apple and stirred it together with yogurt and granola for my girls, I contemplated writing this story on my own. The hunger to finish what I started gnawed away at me, an old hunger wetted by my recent dream. It wasn’t the characters’ fault that we broke up.
My therapist says when you grieve the loss of a person it’s easier because they have a body, but when you lose a character there is always that nagging reminder that you could bring them back.
But it is a bad idea. I never got my ex’s blessing to take our story and finish it. And, besides, I can’t imagine how hard that would be on me to give birth to something that started as a monument to a love that has since died.
The water boiled. My tea steeped. The kids ate, then I washed their dishes, then I cleared the counter. On my windowsill I noticed a fuzzy white mold and pulled my ex-girlfriend’s plant over to examine its decaying leaves. I was probably killing it with too much water when I should have left it alone.