In this personal essay, Fumble writer Lauren Rebecca Brown tells the story of a snake plant that taught her to keep going
My snake plant and I have become siblings.
I only bought it because I thought it would look nice. I was lying in bed faffing about on my phone and it had been a bad day. Nothing in particular had happened. I was just overwhelmed by a familiar dull gloom and, little did I know at the time, primed to latch enthusiastically onto the first thing that jumped out and shouted: “I’ll fix it!”
Sometimes it’s the sudden obsession with yoga I never actually end up doing, or a new eyeliner. Something inside me flips, a subconscious defibrillation of the mind, and this one haloed thing suddenly becomes the answer I am looking for.
This time, that thing was a plant. Scrolling through instagram pictures of light-bathed apartments excessive with potted greens, the flow of images like the long hanging arms of ivy which occupied them, I thought: “Yep, I’ll do that.”
The selection in Urban Outfitters, to be honest, was dismal. I walked around the island of options, nestled between homewares and oversized rain jackets, and eventually laid upon a thick-leaved plant whose skin looked thicker than mine. It looked like it could weather the neglect I already knew, deep down, I would end up inflicting on it. The buzz of the Thing wears off pretty quickly – hence the lack of yoga. When it’s back in my room, the Purchase, it usually loses its lustre.
But this plant had personality: a zig-zagged yellow breast edged out into a deep green. The type of leaf pattern that taunted: “Come on then, TRY and kill me. Just TRY.”
I can’t pretend it was love at first sight. I hate making decisions, even the ones as tiny as what to have for lunch. Every choice drips with the claustrophobic weight of existential perfectionism. Is this the healthy choice, Lauren? Are you living your best life? So the choice of plant had become pretty grim, and already I was losing grip on the frenzied certainty that This was the Thing. So I picked up my plant and took it to the check-in desk.
Bleach-blonde hair encroached upon by dark brown roots and a corduroy dress, the girl who served me was Cool. Shyly, because I had no makeup on and a greasy fringe so didn’t really feel much like talking to anyone, I asked her how best to look after my new plant. She picked up the brown plastic pot and inspected its bottom. The label didn’t have a name on it. She turned to her colleague, mumbled, and returned to tell me it was a snake plant. It didn’t need much watering, she didn’t think, and could live in partial / no sunlight. Perfect.
When I got it home I put it in a simple, ribbed plant pot I’d impulse purchased a few weeks earlier (the Plant as The Thing cycle spiked at times of especial gloom). I gave it a very small amount of water, avoiding the leaves like the girl told me to.
And then I forgot about it. It sat in the corner of the bedroom of my tiny shared flat and, lo and behold, was not the answer to all of my problems. It didn’t transform my small space into a verdant forest.
The gloomy days rolled by like clouds, broken occasionally by hints of sunlight. I bought other Things, earrings, makeup. Money I didn’t have.
But then one day after returning from work I noticed a change in my snake plant. I was overwhelmed. A tiny green shoot had emerged from the dry soil and was curving toward my window. I’d only watered it twice.
I’m trying to be more like my plant, which has blossomed from a putrifying reminder of my negative feedback loop, to a companion. Even on the overcast days it had, without me noticing, grown.
The problem with anxiety, and the Thing, is that they compress time. All of a sudden I have to go and purchase the Thing. Likewise, anxiety makes it feel as though I live the same short day every day, my alarm clock a sand timer whose trill prompts it to bow down, flip and reset.
Everything feels like it is happening right now and, as my counsellor puts it, I can’t see the forest for the trees. My new bud was OK with it being cloudy some days. With a bit of water it did just fine. If I was the plant, then I had been pouring all the water on myself everyday in a panic, trying to “live my best life” and make the most of every day. No wonder I felt like I was drowning.
Now when I wake up and check on my snake plant, I remind myself that if I just water myself slowly, over time, I might stop craving Things. My snake plant stretched out time.