The Throwaway Rocktrumpet
A year later, the throwaway rocktrumpet is blooming beautifully in scarlet red.
I took it home shortly before the March 2020 Covid-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration. It had survived winter in rocktrumpet-hungry Los Angeles without being wanted. I nearly tripped over it in the produce isle of my local grocery store. The 6” pot had fallen from the cart brimming with wilted lettuce. The plant looked dead save for one frail 4” offshoot with a handful of surprisingly dark and glossy leaves. The flower clerk would not let me have if for free, so I paid the discounted price.
That plant told my inner story, and I decided that neither one of us should be ground up alive. Within a day, the moribund bush was transplanted in an abundance of rich, moist soil inside a large, sturdy terracotta pot glazed cobalt blue.
Within three weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic shut me out of my workplace and shuttered me home and online alongside the convalescent rocktrumpet. We both spent some time in the sun and some in the shade, and as the rocktrumpet sprouted tentative new shoots, I sprouted tentative new plans. I would resuscitate the child I used to be. It was the only solution I saw to my fast-declining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
June arrived, and with that a telephone call from my native country across the North American continent and the Atlantic also. “Your mother had to be rushed to the hospital,” said the home health aide I had never met. “She is in critical condition. Can you please come?”
My father had no contact with his ex-wife, and I was my mother’s only child. The French Consulate directed me to the appropriate forms to fill out. There was one space left on the next day’s flight to Paris. Who knew if planes would still be allowed to fly after tomorrow? I paid the price and then figured out the details. My husband would take care of our son, who pleaded with me not to go see grandma because I could die from Covid. My husband and son would take care of our dogs and water the plants. I emphasized that the rocktrumpet would need special care.
Once gloved, masked, disinfected, and ensconced in my Air France seat one empty seat apart from the next passenger, the sudden realization of what I had just done threatened to sever me from any sense of progress I imagined having made while nursing the rocktrumpet. My son was right: I could die. It was too overwhelming to think of the damage that would do to him, still in middle school, so I focused on the comparatively irrelevant details: in France, I had no health insurance. In Los Angeles, I could lose my job. And if I had to self-quarantine upon arrival, would it defeat the purpose of my trip?
I could die for a mother who had never loved me and leave my son who had always loved me. That was wrong. To stifle cognitive dissonance, I quickly told myself that my mother did love me.
The Centre Hospitalier de Guéret was another three and a half hours south of Paris by taxi. I opened the door into my mother’s room: had she been like my rocktrumpet, I would have brought her home too. But there was something sinister about the thought, something wildly unsafe, like bringing home a dying viper without a vivarium to put it in so I could remain safe while the reptile recovered.
My mother was so surprised to see me that she cried, which made me cry because I hoped that, near death, she would finally change, like in the movies. But she did not. Coldly, she asked who had contacted me. I lied and said that it was her male neighbor so that she would not fire her well-meaning home health aide.
“Je t’aime, maman!” I pleaded, still hoping for a movie ending.
“I know!” she replied, willfully looking away, still as angry with me for being alive as the day I was born.
As of March 2021, I am not blooming in scarlet red because I am not a rocktrumpet, but I am nevertheless blooming.
It took an act of God for me to jump out of the toxic pot I had been born into. At first, however, that act of grace felt like a stroke of the Grim Reaper’s scythe. My heart skipped a beat then added too many. While searching my mother’s apartment for paperwork to get her admitted into the Résidence Anna Quinquaud nursing home in July 2020, I happened upon a white plastic folder about four centimeters thick that contained about fifty yellowed pages of legal proof that my mother had created a life for herself in which I had no chance to be born. I knew that she had thrown me up high on a trash heap and not noticed when I had fallen and rolled far past the Atlantic Ocean and the North American continent; and yet the unmasking of her secret wrapped in white plastic shocked me to the point of near death.
“So tell me a little bit about what brought you to seek therapy,” asked the psychologist during our first Zoom meeting shortly after the 2021 New Year, “and why you moved to America.”
“I nearly died from broken heart syndrome, but I want to live!” I answered. “And I need help.”
I needed a good gardener for my psyche. From what I had read on the web, the doctor seemed qualified and especially well-suited to the type of plant I was since she specialized in cross-cultural counseling and traumatic inter-generation family conflicts.
An outline of the shape of the pot that had contained my life took form under her line of questioning. Geographically, it stretched from the rural South of France to California and the American Southwest. Historically, it was harder to define as fractures blurred precisely defined periods. Certainly, even though I was born twenty years after the end of the Second World War, I was a direct biproduct of that conflict. My mother, the daughter of résistants, had married my father, the son of a notorious collaborateur. Love could not right intergenerational wrongs. Before my first birthday, my parents were no longer living together, my father was giving his ex-wife a pittance to raise me, and my mother wished that she could have aborted me.
Until finding and opening the white plastic folder in my mother’s polished oak armoire, I did not know that she had lived a parallel life in Tulle, an ancient town sixty miles from Guéret, where she worked and where I did my growing up while we lived in a rental. I was still in elementary school when she had bought land in Tulle and started building a house there. By the time I was in high school, she was renting it. And in the year 2000, she had sold it to buy the condo her home health aide had called me from in June 2020.
“I did not have a clue!” I told the psychologist. “She would often leave me by myself on the weekends, but she never told me where she went. And since I spent the school holidays far away at my father’s or grandparents’ places, she could live in Tulle in the house that she owned and not be unmasked. Since she had not been able to abort me, I guess she did the next best thing: create for herself a new life in which I would have no chance to be born!”
“What would you like your mother to do, at this point?” asked the psychologist.
“Say that she is sorry. She could do that, at least?” I replied, hopeful. But the psychologist told me that my mother was a narcissist and that chances were that I would never get what I needed from her.
By that time, I had watched enough YouTube videos on narcissism to understand that it would be in my best interest to cut my losses.
Easier said than done! And yet, I had decades of practice refusing entry to toxic chemicals in the landscapes I inhabited and just as many years bringing back to life the small animals who had been run over and left for dead on the sides of the many roads I had traveled. My 2021 new year resolution emerged from that kind of practice: I would become become to myself the ones I had rescued and cared for.
I threw away the toxic soil in which my mother had planted me and repotted myself with as much care as I had shown for my throwaway rocktrumpet, which by February started blooming in magnificent scarlet red.
As of March 2021, the first sprouts have emerged gold and orange from my solar plexus, and an emerald garland is gift-wrapping my heart.
Dominique Margolis is an emerging immigrant author whose native language is French. She learned English as a foreign language and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. Her prose is published in French in Anna Evans’ Communication Intuitive – Rencontre avec le Monde Animal (ALMP, 2004) and in English in Friday Flash Fiction, The Nasiona, The Centifictionist, and The Dillydoun Review.