June 2, 2013

A Palm Grows in Brooklyn. ~ Alison Preece

Photo: cogdogblog

I sit in front of my potted palm, legs crossed, back supported. My breath comes and goes like the ocean’s waves: oxygen for me, carbon dioxide for my palm.

One long stalk is mostly healthy, with just a few tips of the long leaves drooping and brown. The only other remaining stalk is so small and dried up that I would have chopped it off with the rest except for the hint of brilliant smooth greenery peeking out from the folds.

I try to drop all thoughts of worry, concern, joy and hope. Releasing them as they surface, I focus instead on being present in the moment: the feel of cotton and denim on my arms and legs, the sounds of car wheels grabbing and releasing the road, the mild scent of soap and apricot lotion. Thoughts stilled, senses roaring, I commune with the other breathing entity before me, my beautiful, half-alive plant.

The Majestic Palm it’s called. I first fell in love with its smooth, decadent leaves and buoyant disposition at the Ikea in Brooklyn in early December. Fresh on the heels of another good man showing me his back, I fell back on my old hippie tendencies and decided to refurbish my bedroom. A new bed! Sexy curtains! A cozy rug! I would make my decor do the work my heart doesn’t seem ready for: nurture a vibrant love life.

In one of those turn-arounds my subconscious seems particularly fond of, I somehow entered Ikea via the exit. So rather than being greeted by the bright displays of living rooms and dens with the smell of coffee and Swedish meatballs wafting by, I started my makeover journey in the concrete warehouse section. Towering stacks of tightly packaged everything lined the mammoth walls. No pictures, mostly numbers and vague names such as Glivarp extendable table and Ektorp footstool.

Perhaps this cold, cavernous start left me particularly vulnerable to the luscious green plants that make up the first-last section of the Ikea store proper. I circled around and around, stroking their waxy leaves, imagining the whimsical yet hearty feel they would lend to my room. Fresh air! New life!

I chose one and slated it for delivery that same day, along with my purple-grey Hemnes queen-sized bed, deep magenta curtains, and a tall lamp covered in Chinese paper that looks straight out of Tennessee William’s south. Bumping along solo on the bus ride home, I conjured mental pictures of my earthy, soulful haven to come.

Spinning a long joint in my living room that afternoon, awaiting my new life, I got a call from a different ex, one that perhaps meant more at one time. Our break wasn’t as clear; we reached out to each other occasionally, “What went wrong? We should try again. Come see me this weekend?” He told me was coming into Brooklyn that evening for his sister’s tree-trimming party. I should come, he said. There will be eggnog, he said. Would I come?

The truck arrived at 8 p.m. Happily ripped; I had scrubbed my ancient hard wood floors and washed the walls in preparation. I laid down the world’s fluffiest rug and spent a moment face down in it, luxuriating. Then I set off to work, scoffing at the bed frame instructions’ assertion that this is clearly a two-person job. Who needs a second able body when you can work throw pillows and silk robe ties like some modern fem-MacGyver? By 2 a.m. I was zonked, breathing in the lingering scent of my new bulbous white candles and impossibly fluffy cream-colored duvet.

My roommate and I threw a Christmas party the next week and my lovely friends oohed and ahh-ed at my “very Zen” new space. Another week passed by and my family came to town, continuing the whirlwind of booze, Christmas cookies, and laughter, all with an energy both frenetic and warm. My heart was full, and my green plant was bright.

But mid-January the city is bleak for even the most love-filled lives, I assume. I didn’t go to the tree-trimming party and now no such invites are coming in. My friends are all wrapped in fleece throughout Manhattan, and my roommate and I share Indian food and watch HBO.

I was in such a state when my palm started to dry up, long, arched leaves breaking off, brown and brittle. It wrenched at my heart. The downhill spiral seemed to accelerate quickly, before I knew it, four of the fives stalks were brown and hardened.

Enter Google.

“Majestic palms can’t have direct sunlight, over and under watering can be equally fatal to this delicate plant, will only survive in 30-40 percent humidity, needs partial, natural sunlight on all sides, fresh air is necessary, I would never recommend this as a houseplant, particularly in cool, dry areas.”

I frowned my winter-cracked lips and made plans to toss the plant. A whimsical potted palm in the dead of a Brooklyn winter! What was I thinking?

But when I lifted her up, her crackling leaves brushing my skin, I barely noticed all the withered limbs. I saw only the one green stalk, green like a backyard lawn in the summer, friendly and calm and so very alive. To toss her out on Ocean Avenue, sitting amongst garbage, one long street away from the pampered and wise Prospect Park, it all seemed too cruel.

So I sealed my chapped-sticked mouth in determination. I moved my Majestic Palm a few feet from the big window, where I figured it would get a little light from the small window at the right times of day. I chose the warmest days to open my window wide, letting fresh air circulate and shake up the stale. I bought a mister.

And I started meditating with her. Now at the end of each day I sit on my still-fluffy rug, back to my Hermes bed frame, legs in lotus, fingers touching. I drop all comments, judgments and other thoughts from my mind. Again and again, as they resurface I drop them. I notice the vibrations of the subway, hear the neighbor’s dub-stepping, smell the city on my clothes and I feel the living essence of the potted palm as we vibrate together in our small nook of Brooklyn.


Alison Preece is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her personal essays look at relationships, New York living and the inner life. She has a fervent love of semicolons. Previous essays appear on Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood and elsewhere.



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  • Ed: Brianna Bemel
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