On days when I could stomach a future in biology, I would think of becoming a botanist.
This wasn’t out of any particular love for the subject. Our botany lectures were fine albeit mind-numbing, and I hated introductory taxonomy as much as anybody. But there’s a material immediacy to biology that has always appealed to me, and botany seemed the best way to sink my hands into the pulsing heart of living things without having to wade through too much bone and blood and viscera.
I wanted to feel, you see, but I’d had enough of the messes that entailed.
Plants have always been easier than people.
When I was small and the first terrifying, incomprehensible fits of anxiety started, I would hide in the terrace of my grandparents’ house. I’d squeeze into a corner — hoping, maybe, that the pebbled granite would dig into my skin deep enough to give the panic somewhere to drain through.
Sooner or later, my grandmother would come to water the plants. Sometimes she took my hands, ran some water over them to clean up the scrapes. Sometimes she didn’t. Either way, at the end of her rounds, she’d pick me up and take me back into the house. Calmness, for me, still starts as shades of purple, like the bougainvilleas I’d watch her tend on the worst afternoons.
In the long summers during high school, when I had to learn and relearn how to be home, I’d bring in some calamansi from the tree outside and watch my grandfather squeeze it over the pancit he’d always have for merienda. He’d give me an extra fork so we could share, and I’d always decline because tiny decisions like that used to feel like the only way to bring my life to heel, but the offer would settle my nerves, anyway. Sometimes we talked; sometimes we didn’t.
When I think of the home we used to share, there’s still that skip and stutter, straight from the extra calamansi I used to roll across the tabletop, the leathery skin of it sticking a little on the glass. The settling, I think, I’ll have to relearn elsewhere.
I don’t know if I can do that here. This place is as far from blood and guts as you can get, but that doesn’t automatically mean solace, does it?
Sometimes I wonder about wandering, how much and how long before it crosses into an unsalvageable rootlessness. If not here, if not in any of the places that came before, then where?
Maybe it’s too early for an answer; maybe it’s too late. In any case, we visited the Gardens for the first time in months today, and it felt good to breathe in flowers again.