A Man And His Flowers

I don’t consider myself to be the manliest of men; I can’t walk around singing Gaston’s theme song with any sort of sincerity. However, I do enjoy many a manly thing. I have a love affair with steak, my dream car is a 1976 Pontiac GTO, I enjoy watching football and UFC, I love shooting guns at a range, and wrestling with my son is one of my favorite parts of the day. However, I’m not without a few…uh…less-than-manly likes. Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite films, I listen to some songs from Broadway in my spare time (not Rent! That show can burn. Don’t get me started on Cats…), and I’m building a collection of plumeria plants.

not this manly

I’m just not this manly…

As a Marine I was lucky enough to get mistakenly stationed in Hawaii. My first couple years were so busy with training and deployments that I didn’t get much actual time on the island. After my second tour in Iraq I finally had some time to actually live on the island alongside my newly imported Californian bride. We landed in a small apartment just outside of the base limits, so I had to actually commute to work instead of just living in the barracks. I ended up building up a habit of picking a flower from one of the hundreds of plumeria plants on base and taking it home to my wife for her to stick behind her ear. Not gonna lie, she looked pretty damn hot with a flower in her ear (as opposed to only being damn hot without one). So for me, the plumeria flower represents my first year of marriage; new, uncomplicated, kidless, free, sleep-filled, all-glass-ware marriage.

pretty pretty

I mean, ain’t that pretty?

When we left the island to return to California, we grabbed a few cuttings to bring home and grow our own little piece of Hawaii. However, my luck with the plants has been…well…non-existent. Of the three cuttings we brought back, two died from some disease after their first year here, leaving the smallest (like seriously, it’s really small. It’s like a stick pointing out of the ground) of the three to struggle to gain some sort of footing and consistent leafing. We tried supplementing it with three California-native plumerias, but had to amputate half of one to the same disease and none of them showed any signs of consistent growth or leafing, let alone bushels of flowers. Now, I understand that things can take a while to grow and mature, but all three California plants were guaranteed to bloom within a few months of when we go them. Not only did all three plants not live up to that guarantee, but none of them showed even basic signs of growth for two years!

I wasn’t happy about it. The plants only aggravated what was already the most difficult time (so far) in my marriage. Due to PTSD-induced social anxiety and depression I dropped out of college and gave my wife and I debt instead of income in order to pay back the GI benefits I had used. My wife got pregnant and I had no real job. Finding work for a former Infantryman with no other career experience was tough and only furthered my depression. I finally landed an inconvenient, but survivable-paying job just before my son arrived. Adjusting to having a small human being to care for while being gone for the second half of the day put a lot of stress on my relationship with my wife. It eventually got to the point where neither of us really wanted to be around each other. She needed me to help bring her some security and peace-of-mind, and she grew resentful that all I wanted to do was escape into another virtual world. Most of all, she struggled to understand that there was nothing she could do to help my depression. I needed her to be supportive of me and my problems, but it only got worse the more frustrated she became of being unable to help me.

I would come home from my swing shift well past midnight. The world would be asleep, as it well should. But by the glow of a single porch light I would come home, dreading the life that awaited me beyond that door, and by that light I would see these sad, incapable plumeria plants guiding my way. I viewed these plants as a symbol of my marriage. What were supposed to be beautiful bushes were sad sticks poking out of the dirt. There were no leaves to indicate health or growth. Instead of coming home to flowers and tropical scents, I came home to dark, empty air. The promises of how things should be were nothing more than cruel reminders of a reality too far off to see. I grew angry with the plants, as if they somehow were responsible for my current state. My nightly return from work only increased my frustration as I walked by the plants. I wanted them to give me the flowers I so desperately wanted to put in my wife’s hair, as if that would suddenly rectify all of my problems and return my marriage to a state closer to where we first started. As it turned out, these plumeria refused to lend a helping hand.

I instead stumbled upon a group of former military members while playing one of my many escapes and joined with their group for frequent play. I’ll save the details for a different post, but these fellow servicemen helped lay the groundwork for my wife to understand my issues, and for me to move beyond them. I helped establish a private section of our site called Battle Buddies. It was a place for members to go to vent in a safe environment where no one but other military members can see. I started the section with a long post about my own personal struggles. Here I could say the words I needed to tell my wife, words I could not tell her myself. Instead I simply had her read what I wrote. It seemed to help give her (and even myself) some perspective of what I was actually going through. I also nabbed a second part-time job that is both challenging and enjoyable. Both have aided me in bettering myself and completing my transition into a civilian life. It’s not a perfect fix, though. I’m in a much better mood than I was, though I’m not without my bad days. I am more motivated to improve myself, though there are still many roadblocks that bring my progress to a halt. I’m still constantly challenged to keep my marriage from stagnating like it had, and to continue helping each other as we grow together as a couple and as a family.

Finally, after almost three years…

I still come home most nights well after midnight, but instead of being greeted by sickly shadows of failure I get large green leaves and a colorful spike of flowers. After years of waiting, all of my plants have finally started to put some real effort into growing big and green. I was even gifted with not only one, but THREE of my plants putting up flower spikes. Only one has turned into actual flowers so far (see above), but I’m actually happy having a staggered blooming to extend the time I get to enjoy them. Unfortunately, this first batch isn’t the kind that makes good hair-dressing, especially with an active toddler and infant running/rolling around. I do enjoy them, though, and they’re a pleasant sight to see after so long. My wife loves to go outside with my son and smell the flowers. Even though I’m not around enough to put them in her hair, I’m glad to see that she still gets to enjoy them.

I no longer return home to reminders of everything wrong with my life, nor to symbols of success. Instead I come home to some beautiful plants that my wife and I both enjoy. No more aggravation. No more disappointment. Just flowers. I can be happy with that.

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