They Bought Me Flowers
One day in early April, when the flowers were just starting to blossom in New York City, I walked by the bodega on 82nd and Amsterdam and was draped in the sweet scent of lilies—like Easter and weddings and childhood. It was like getting smacked in the face with the pleasant sting of nostalgia. Every day since then, I’ve walked by those flowers and breathed in, longing for that sting to transport me back to childhood when I had no worries, when parents stood between me and scary things, when I knew I’d be taken care of.
As an adult, I forget how desperately I want to be taken care of. I’m so accustomed to taking care of myself—making doctor’s appointments and paying bills and trying to remember tampons and toilet paper—that I end up smelling flowers and never buying them.
A few weeks ago my parents came to town. They don’t like New York, and they’ll tell you that. They don’t like that I live here, and they’ll tell you that too. But they love me. No matter where I am or who I am, they love me. I understand that a little better after this weekend.
They stayed in the Lucerne Hotel on 79th and Amsterdam, right around the corner from my apartment. We ate dinner at Nice Matin, a restaurant I’ve wanted to take them to since I moved to the Upper West Side. We visited a jazz club in Harlem, absorbed the Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, explored the Penguin Random House offices, and consumed more food than our bodies could process. I was relieved to have them here, but all too aware of the money they’d spent on plane tickets and the hotel. My dad paid for every meal and dessert and glass of wine and cab ride. I was thankful, but I felt like I owed them.
Plus, I was determined to change their minds about New York. I wanted them to see what I saw: a magical city, a bustling community, a tangle of humanity. I wanted them to fall in love with this city that I had chosen. I wanted them to see me thriving. I wanted them to go home and tell all of their friends that they don’t worry about me anymore.
So I hustled and smiled and told stories and asked them how they were doing, but by the end of Saturday, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to make any more plans. I just wanted to be with my parents. I wanted to lay in bed and watch a movie and be a child, but I didn't know how. I didn’t know how to show them I was okay if I wasn’t going and doing and showing and telling.
And on Sunday morning, as we were getting coffee before church, my mom waved aside this hustle and said: we want to do what’s life-giving for you. No more showing, she said, no more telling. We love the activities, but we want you. Whatever puts love and energy into your soul, let us do that for you.
And I cried, bubbling out a thank you amidst snot and tears and relief and embarrassment.
They took me to get my nails done and to get a massage; they bought me new bras because those are the most boring and un-fun things to buy for yourself; they supplied me with groceries and toilet paper; and they got me flowers.
Take us to the bodega, they said. The one where you smell the flowers.
They bought me an $8 bouquet of lilies, so cheap and so priceless, and I learned about love that day. Words that I’d heard a million times finally shimmied their way into my soul and locked themselves in—love is given and not earned.
Love is something I want with all my heart but push away. Love requires vulnerability, opening myself up to be known and, therefore, hurt. Accepting love means accepting what I didn’t earn—a gift.
I’m comfortable with love when I know I deserve it, when both sides of the equation are equal. But that isn’t love. That’s a wage. It was hard for me to accept my parents’ generosity because I did nothing for it, but I’m learning that to operate transactionally is a self-absorbed, miserable way to live. It may be fair, but it’s loveless.
I tend to view God this way too. And friendship. And don’t even get me started on romantic relationships. If I’m not careful, nearly every area of my life slips into striving for approval of others, because if they don’t approve of you then what are you worth?
But, and this is pathetic to admit, I’m learning that people actually love me for me. I don’t think I’ve allowed myself to believe this until now.
I don’t exactly know how to let God and people love me yet, but through the love of my parents, I’m starting to embrace the humiliating relief of being known, being vulnerable, and being free.