The plants in my apartment show signs of a hard early life. The palm against the sofa, for instance, has dried tips, cracked and yellow-brown. The base of my philodendron is empty earth. All of the leaves that first started there I plucked when they turned not only yellow, but wrinkled and thick, too. My orchid is across the room. Its twisted spindles once supported the many-months-gone flowers. Experienced plant givers learn to trim these away to help the plant growth. I left mine to fossilize. Whether it's the half-brown and broken base tendrils of my windowsill succulent or the denuded trunk of the balcony tangelo tree, my plants display how they once suffered at my hands. I won't strip them away, because damaged parts as they are, they are part of each whole plant.
In bungling each plant's first weeks, negligence wasn't the culprit. I didn't hurt them out of misplaced anger. I didn't overwater them for science, or leave them thirsting because I rarely came home. I brought each plant into my home with intention. Then I let ignorance and affection go to play.
When I noticed the earliest signs of my malpractice, I panicked. What had I been missing? I tried to guesswork solutions to revive each plant. Move it to a different spot. Water it twice as much. Stop watering it for over a week. Dust the leaves. Sing to it. As you may imagine, these constant shifts in treatment did not help the plant. The yellowing worsened. I pricked and preened so frequently that only one option was left: to take a hands-off approach.
Then each plant had time to grow some roots. I started testing the soil moisture. I watered it two times a week, small amounts. And the whole picture of each plant is mostly green. They thrive. They're lush. They support their weight well. But the signs of their early stresses are all present, if you know how to look. They suffered, once. Before I learned to listen to them. When they didn't know how to be understood.
And if my history, inept and embarrassing, is displayed for all to see: so what? At least it shows I'm growing. At least it shows the plants are growing. We've all survived a bit of a messy backstory. We're all still going.
Sometimes, maybe that's enough.