A Petunia By Any Other Name

I don’t have a nickname (unless you count “Stef,” which I do not). I’ve been trying to make “Scully” happen for years now. Alas, just like “fetch,” it’s not going to happen.

But when I was very small, I was my father’s Sweet Petunia. And it suited me then, all chubby cheeks and giggles. I’m pretty open about the fact that my relationship with him was complicated, and this nickname represents a big part of that. Long after he lost any right to call me anything at all, he still persisted in using this nickname, and it infuriated me. When I finally cut off all contact with him, I dumped Petunia, too.

Enter Alice Walker.

This sounds far too hokey to be true, but I first encountered Walker’s poem “Revolutionary Petunia” painted on the wall of a building down the street from the office where I saw my first therapist.

Yes, really.

Painted huge on a brick wall, in purple, the words adorned with flowers:

The nature of this flower is to bloom.
Rebellious. Living.
Against the elemental crush.
A song of color
Blooming
For deserving eyes.
Blooming gloriously
For its self.

The first time I saw it I stopped dead in the street, gobsmacked, and I thought, “Oh yeah? Fuck you, Alice Walker.”  I gave it the finger every time I passed it, through 2 years of therapy. Then I switched therapists and didn’t have to see it anymore.

I think what made me so angry was that I couldn’t possibly imagine a time when I would bloom gloriously, least of all for myself. My whole life was elemental crush, and I had been lying there taking it for so long, I truly didn’t know that I had it in me to do anything else.

This past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about Sweet Petunia, 6 years old, with a curly mop of hair and tremendous brown eyes. Full of mischief, full of love. I know it has everything to do with Emerson being 6, and coming face-to-face with what 6 knows and feels. She fascinates me, this younger self, in the the same way photos of the Titanic before it sailed do. I want to yell down the years at her, and warn her where the ice is.

But life is full of surprises, and here’s what’s most surprising of all: somewhere along the line, I reclaimed her, this small girl with her heart and hopes intact. She used to be inextricably entwined with my father, but I’ve found a way to pry her out of his arms. She’s mine now, and she’s brought with her a fresh peace, pale green, with sturdy roots and the smell of rich earth.

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