A Small White Sunflower

I lost a friend. I lost a really good friend. Not really good in the sense that I knew him for a really long time, but good in the sense that his goodness emanated from him like a warm hug in a cold, dark room.

Yesterday I learned of his being lost at sea; they soon sent me home from work at the liquor store for being a wreck. Everybody wants to drown their sorrows, but nobody wants to buy beer from the guy who is more sorrowful than they are.

I served one customer at the growler shop. A man came in and brought a particular bottle, a blue bottle, which I traded out for a brown one, first asking him if he would like to keep his. “Some people are partial to their bottles,” I said. “No, not me,” he assured.

I filled the beer and gave it a second for the foam to die down, and he said, “Now, is that all the beer that you’re going to put in there?” “No sir, I am going to let the foam calm down and give it another go.” Ringing him up, he said to me, as though in a fit of regret, “You know, I guess I am giving up a particularly nice bottle,” as though he should have been recompensed in some way for the blue glass. I gave him the whole “It’s not the bottle, it’s what’s inside” spiel, but this did not assuage his fears.

After biking home through the madness of G-Day, which is not unlike D-Day in Athens, GA, except instead of soldiers 100,000 people and a maelstrom of misguided passions descend upon a small town for the sole purpose of a football game — nay, a scrimmage, which is comprised of only one team, UGA, which is to say there is only the winning team (who also, inevitably, loses) — I went to meet up with a small group of other people who knew Kelly Smith.

Most of all, I felt for his grief-stricken girlfriend, Meg, with whom he was so publicly and passionately in love it caused everyone in town a bit of dismay to be in their presence and not be madly in love with any given person or thing.

Some time ago my friend Lindsey had inspired in me the habit of cutting wildflowers and letting them dry in a small earthen vase; the effect was a beautiful, albeit austere, sepia-toned bouquet that would last indefinitely. Though all I had for a vase was a bulbous spice jar, I decided this would be fitting for the season of wildflowers, for a love and a life cut short.

So the dog and I departed from our house to find some prize bluebells, violets, agrimony. Springing out from the corner of a corner lot was a single, small white sunflower. It is a lot my dog and I have stopped at before, once to view the cardinals at sunset, only to be greeted by an adamant knocking from the inside of a window and subsequent “shooing away” motion from the woman who lived there, who apparently did not wish to share her sunset with a couple of passersby. Knowing full well this was the woman who lived there, I cut the sunflower and carried on.

Moments later she emerged from her house into the street, not missing a beat, to accost me.

“Excuse me. Excuse me!”

“Yes?”

“Did you just cut a flower from my yard?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And what makes you think that you can do that?”

“I thought it was a wildflower, ma’am.”

“I wouldn’t come to your yard and pick your flowers.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did.”

“Well that is you.”

I could tell it was an intractable situation, and I tried to explain what was really happening, that I lost a dear friend, that this would be some infinitesimally brief consolation for his lover, that — who the hell was I kidding — I just needed to do something in a time of spiritual crisis.

“Oh, give me a break! You could have knocked on my door and asked me. I don’t plant my garden so people can come and pick them for free!”

“I have money,” I explained. But this would not assuage her fears, and she returned inside.

We left at a stalemate, but what was done was done. I have had experiences with strangers at gas stations, on airplanes, on the sides of roads that were on the order of the cosmically aligned, replete with serendipitous sympathy, conversation and embrace at a time when we both needed it most, a breaking down of barriers that you’d have to pay top dollar for a therapy session — and then there was this.

What could be said? I knew the type of person I would invite into my day, into my life by cutting that flower. None of it was surprising. And yet, like the man with the blue bottle, I couldn’t help but feel that, at a time when I could shade no emotion in a normal tone, it was not me who was living in what felt like a foreign land but they — for these people had simply turned off the part of themselves that was in any way sympathetic to strangers, or even open to the possibility of such. They were simply too busy to be bothered with anything out of the ordinary, simply defending their turf like robins staring each other down with their blank, painted eyes.

It doesn’t matter. None of it does. I needed the sunflower. Needed it like Meg needed it. Needed it like I needed a hug. Like we all needed a hug. In the vase of yesterday, that cut sunflower is the crowning jewel.

Just like you, Kell.

Love, indefinitely —

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