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The love in buying and receiving flowers

<h5>The flowers in question.</h5>
<h6>José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The flowers in question.
José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian

I spent nearly 18 months buying myself flowers every two weeks. Starting March 2020, it had fallen on me to venture out of the family home to buy groceries. I took the solitary trip to Costco and Kroger — and occasionally another store, like the Mexican market shop — only once every two weeks. I didn’t go more frequently, at first because that was the longest that we could store fresh food in our fridge space, and then — once our initial precautions relaxed — because the habit had formed.

I remember the earliest grocery store trips were filled with great anxiety around getting sick, myself — or my family getting sick. I would start sweating in the checkout line, the most cramped part of the store and the slowest, most stationary part of the grocery shopping process. I still break out in a slight sweat in the checkout line occasionally — at least at those specific stores. I remember, too, such a strong feeling of everything lacking life. There was the illness and death, of course, but the whole world crashing down made it seem like life itself had halted.

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The grocery store flowers were one of the few exceptions. They sat there in buckets near the entrance to the store as one of the few remaining things full of life and beauty. Maybe such a description is a bit overly dramatic, but those early days heightened everything — especially the few specks of good and joy and beauty to be found in our dreary lives.

So I bought the flowers. I can’t remember exactly what type of flowers I bought the first time, but they were likely daisies — maybe carnations — and almost certainly white, but maybe pink or red. I bought all these types of flowers at one point or another over the months. I bought some white lilies as well. Yellow daisies and roses in countless shades were also in the mix. I fell in love with white hydrangeas; I would try to make them last for longer than two weeks.

I would get home with a minivan full of groceries — and always flowers. They were so unnecessary compared to the food, but that’s precisely why I bought them. When I started buying them, everything else in my life had been stripped down to the bare essentials: nothing superfluous or fanciful or unrestricted. Suddenly, buying unnecessary flowers became a way of holding onto life beyond the most basic of needs. It felt like a statement of life in the face of weariness.

Once all the groceries were put away, I would take the flowers to the counter next to the kitchen sink. Cheap plastic sleeves and rubber band ties removed, the flowers would spread across the counter, and I would detangle them, pruning excess leaves and sorting out any tragically broken stems. I would find a suitable vase — suitable in size and shape and style and the angle of its opening. And I would slowly cut the stems to length, one at a time, before arranging them in a weave of stems and leaves and petals.

There are a surprising number of ways to incorrectly arrange flowers in a vase. Leave the stems too long, and the flowers look like swaying spokes without a wheel; too short, and they’re lost in the vase. The angle of the flowers can be wrong, leaving them bunched too closely together or with awkward gaps between them. It is surprisingly easy to think that the flowers are finally perfectly arranged, only to rotate the vase and discover they’re not even close.

Working through an arrangement of flowers would make the world melt away with all the focus and delicateness the task required. There was peace and reassurance — even some escape — in arranging all those flowers. It was something that brought me great joy, and every time I’d walk past my flowers in the kitchen or in the living room or by the main entry, this joy would be renewed.

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These flowers also helped me keep track of time. As the months wore on, I started counting the time at home using grocery trips; I could distinguish the days by the drooping of petals and drying out of stems or the brittleness of weakening leaves. I know so many people who don’t like flowers because they die like this. I found some beauty in it, instead.

That flowers are ephemeral demands an act of renewal, for they are so intrinsically tied to a specific, individual moment in time. Every second I spent finding the right flower bunch in the store, every second I spent working to arrange them at home, was a second dedicated to something that would not last. I would give my attention and show my care to my flowers, to myself, to my home and family in such a temporary, tentative manner.

At any point, I could have stopped buying flowers. Instead, every two weeks, I chose to keep giving them to myself, to my home.

It is that act of renewal that made flowers so beautiful to me. Everything that flowers can represent — love, sympathy, admiration, congratulations, and so on — can all wane in the same way that flowers wilt. So to buy flowers a second time is to keep it all from fading; it renews everything they might represent; it affirms that love and everything else is still alive.

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So I kept filling the vases in my home with all my flowers.

I haven’t bought myself any flowers while I’ve been on campus. I have only been able to find too-expensive, pre-arranged bouquets within a short walking distance of my dorm. So all these months, the white carafe I bought from Ikea’s garden section last August has sat on my shelf, void of anything save my 2023 Pre-Rade pennant. 

I could say that this shows how challenging it can be to dedicate love and attention and time to ourselves on this campus. However, I think it actually made me realize my one disillusionment with flowers: rarely, if ever, has anyone bought me flowers.

As I counted the pairs of weeks spent at home with the flowers I bought, I slowly began noticing I couldn’t remember someone else buying flowers specifically for me. Not after plays I helped put on. Not on birthdays or graduations. There were balloons, at least, when I received my acceptance to this school. But no flowers.

At this point, it’s not so much a complaint as it is an observation. I think this recent realization might also be the underlying motivation to my writing an essay I’ve been trying to write for nearly a year. Only recently, however, did I find the words for everything the flowers I bought came to mean to me — for all I put into arranging them around me.

And only recently did I realize how much I’ve wanted someone else to do all that for me — to debate which shade of carnations, to carefully cut stems, to choose the suitable vase, and most of all, to say that it’s all for me. And then to say it again in two weeks. There’s a desire to receive from someone else the same love one has learned to give to oneself.

Maybe I finally found what to write about my flowers because there’s a hope that, one day in the future, someone finds all I’ve written while trying to learn my favorite type of flowers: Definitely buy me pink carnations on a whim, and then white hydrangeas I can try to keep for longer than two weeks.

José Pablo Fernández García is a junior from Ohio and Head Prospect Editor at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at jpgarcia@princeton.edu

Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect@dailyprincetonian.com.

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