June 22, 2008

The Elephant Topiary

Woman in Garden by Claude Monet 
I apologize for being absent but my passion for gardening has taken root again. Every spare minute has been spent cultivating my postage-stamp property, affectionately called an artist’s garden: digging holes, spreading fertilizer, clipping branches and eliminating stubborn plants refusing my Green Thumb Witchery.

I hope this sudden restoration of passion reinvigorates hope for anyone who wonders whether or not they’ll get their old self back again. You will. It might take longer than you care to know. But it will happen. And when it does, you’ll appreciate your passion for the simplest of life’s pleasures.

Unrequited love initiates grief; but only recently have I come to understand that my Green Thumb had a grieving process of its own.

Every home we ever lived in (and there were quite a few) was more beautiful when we left than it was when we arrived. From ranch-hand-housing to an executive’s estate, the property around our homes had never realized their true potential. Until our family moved in, that is. My passion for gardening had been evoked as a child watching my parents turn barren ground into fields of fat, green sugar beet leaves flowing into separated rows while the tassels of golden wheat stretched as far as a half-pint kid could see.

When my marriage ended without the predicted yield, my passion for gardening vanished along with my husband. Reaping this bitter harvest after three decades of marriage, dashed all my assumptions we could weather any storm threatening the sanctity of ‘family.’ It was devastating to find out everything I believed to be right and true was not reciprocated by my husband.

At the time, we were living in a home with a skylight-lit sunroom located on the other side of the kitchen sink. I had collected chenille plants and topiaries and various exotic plants requiring more time than cents (or sense as some folks told me). I peered into the garden room while washing dishes, eventually setting my sights on a topiary that had required years of dedicated attention and training before the sprig of ivy magically transformed into a whimsical elephant. How many hours had I spent clipping, trimming, training and feeding unruly ground cover before it became a much beloved elephant? Quite a few, but not nearly as many years as a marriage that only through the eyes of a gardener could have been considered potentially fruitful; and therefore, worthy of severe pruning now and then.

Maybe my orneriness was finally allowed expression, but I stopped nurturing Mr. Elephant in the topiary pot of clay. His roots dried up. His green leaves turned brown and eventually dropped in a heap on the floor---which I didn’t bother sweeping up, to tell you the truth. After two or three months (can’t recall how long the elephant sat on death’s row) he was reduced to a nasty twist of tangled branches with interior spider webs restraining his form. He looked ever bit as neglected as I felt; and ever bit as forlorn as my future seemed to be. I didn’t care anymore and assumed I never would again.

“Why are you letting the topiary die?” my family asked me. I had no answer except to say it was time. It was Time for me to stop taking care of everything and everyone; Time for me to give up nurturing; time for me to relinquish hope to something more realistic, like bitter cynicism and apathy. Mr. Elephant could take care of himself and if he turned into a gnarled knot of leafless branches because he couldn’t take care of himself, well I for sure didn’t care. Not anymore.

So he stood like a sentinel in the middle of the garden room, haunting my former self now deemed to have been naïve, foolish and worst of all: codependent. 

When my sadistic urges were finally satiated, Mr. Elephant was thrown in the garbage, heartlessly crammed between Oreo boxes and Häagen-Dazs ice cream containers. It took every ounce of self-discipline in my body, just to keep myself from jumping in the trashcan and stomping the living daylights out of him. That's when an eerie deathwatch on all my topiaries began. In some weird kind of metaphor, I was setting myself free by giving myself permission to destroy.

It’s been six years since Mr. Elephant’s passing and only this spring did my passion return with gusto. It’s as if I went to sleep a homicidal plant murderer and woke up completely exonerated of my crimes. A few weeks ago, I eagerly slid bare feet into ancient Birkenstocks while my brain whispered sweet-nothings in Latin. I realized the only thing I needed now was a snippet of Ficus Pumila and my passion would take it from there.

I now give myself permission to create.

To Hope.

To Believe.

To trust myself.

To envision a pile of twigs as only a green thumb nurturer can do. My heart is profoundly grateful that even the gnarliest of narcissists was unable to steal my passion. That even the most crushing loss a woman like myself could suffer, did not have the power to change me into someone I never wanted to be.

Rather than training another elephant in heavy clay pot though, it’s time to create a dove: wings spread wide and head held high above a translucent celadon pot made of nothing but the finest of porcelain.

Hugs to all,


  1. This is such a moving story. But 6 years? Oh, my goodness! Now I'm scared.

  2. Don't be. You put yourself back one piece at a time. Sooner or later that piece is going to be your long lost passion.

    Do we ever become the person we used to be?

    No. And be grateful for that. For getting the experience and possibility for personal growth that so many people never get.

    I now have a sense of self again. It's not the guy I was before I met her. Looking in the mirror I see a: strong, mature and self confidant person whom I actually respect.

    Life is good and I'm one step closer to becoming whom I want to be, every day that passes by. Life is a work in process. Learn to enjoy it. :)

  3. Hi KnoppS! You sound hopeful and positive! Do you have a blog where people can read about your experience?

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a lovely comment. When we're going through this horrible experience, we assume we'll always feel terrible. Always feel sad. Always feel the way we do forever and a day. But we don't.

    Just like moments of bliss: This Too Shall Pass.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...