You asked me why I planted irises, why every spring I long for their arrival, waiting patiently as they burrow up through the skin of the earth, shooting up and sprouting open with aplomb. The easy answer is they are my favorite flower, but when is affection ever easy?
I fell in love with the iris at the age of 10, when a boy that I crushed on gave one to me, asking if I would date him. He was two years my senior, and he had a thin mustache and wiry, wavy, black hair. We lived in the same neighborhood, approximately 1.5 streets apart, and I had just moved to the concrete jungle of the city from a rural, small town. My mother, pregnant, had remarried, and my stepfather’s house on the slowly crumbling Northside of Pittsburgh became our new home. I met Chris that summer, and he was quickly one of my first friends. He was smart, funny, and we would spend hours taking shade and talking, escaping the heavy heat that swarmed the city.
He confessed his affection a few weeks after we met with a glimmering, periwinkle iris wrapped in a single sheet of tissue paper with a yellow, curling ribbon holding it together. I can still hear the crinkle as I peeked inside and felt my heart blush. It was gorgeous, with three small petals reaching their arms outward, and three curled inward to shelter the center. I was so excited that I went home to share the news with my mother, who was less than thrilled. I was instructed in no uncertain terms that I was too young to date, and that it was forbidden. Her concern was centered on what he ‘wanted’ from me, not how he might feel, or what he might see.
When I broke up with him the next day, my heart was dragging in a puddle on the floor. Chris was the first boy who truly saw me for myself. As a thick, curvy girl who struggled with her weight and image, it was one of the few times during puberty and the middle school years that I ever felt wanted. Despite my heaviness, he thought I was beautiful, and gave me a flower to prove it. I kept that iris, perfectly dried, until it crumbled and shattered into dust.
A small piece of my soul faded the day I had to turn away his genuine affection. It twisted my heart into a confused blob that didn’t feel I was worthy of endearment. As I matured, I continued to struggle with my weight, and a constant voice that was quick to list the ways I was in inadequate, or why I did not deserve the happiness that seemed to flow easily for others. Mimicking the iris, I always held back a part of myself to protect the inner sanctuary of my heart, where I feel most tender and insecure.
Yesterday, I came across an exhibition of iris at the mall and spent over 30 minutes just walking flower to flower. The color palette was astounding: gold, virgin white, violet, magenta, pink. Some petals where divided by color, some were integrated with stripes or flecks. My favorite had ochre petals stretched to the skylight, with deep wine arms, delicately ruffled and flecked with white near the center of the bottom petals. It was the similar in shape and width to my fist, and I thought it ironic as I drank in its beauty how it rivaled the size of my heart.
Like the iris, I am hardy and reliable, and love butterflies and hummingbirds. In spring, with its promise of rebirth, I look forward to watching the world in the midst of revival, feeling I have the same opportunity for resurrection, and the chance that maybe this will be the year when I will wholly bloom. It is this perennial reassurance the iris brings that signals hope that one day, I too, shall completely unfurl and open everything I am to the sun.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...