Gillian is a pothos, the hardest plant to kill, or so they told me at the nursery. Her ample leaves have sprouted from little buds that have multiplied into profusion since the omicron wave began. She sits on my desk, reminding me that life exists outside of the bipedal and cerebral, her gleeful, cascading curls a testament to nature’s levity.
Gillian does not demand much, yet she provides evidence of the outdoors, reminding me to go outside and water myself like I would a plant. She takes the occasional shower in my sink, sitting there all tippy and waiting for the water to drain. But most of the time, she lives on the top shelf of my bedroom’s desk as a sturdy monument to the passage of time, during the pandemic or otherwise.
This room is where I have lived during all of COVID-19, or for the vast majority of it. The time here has extended as though stretching months into years, until the beginning of college began to seem like a hazy smoke trail in the distance. Now, I can hardly remember life before the omnipresent masks and hand sanitizing, which can make life feel a bit clinical. This is why Gillian is necessary; she replaces a quality of life that can perhaps be made up for with the presence of some greenery.
On campus, though my interactions are germ-deprived, they are also distant. Instead of hugs, we show we care through gestures like bringing a meal to a friend who is feeling unwell and quarantining to be cautious. Through texts and Zoom meetings, we gather in cyberspace. This is the world: interconnected through radio waves and electrical cords, yet separated from our humanness in our everyday lives.
I have gotten used to the quiet of campus; it is comforting sometimes. We pass each other in the hallway, masked and only unmasking when we get to our rooms, as though peeling off a second skin. We are all orbiting each other, keeping a safe distance, and never entirely knowing each other. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be someone else, and that thought keeps me company as I traverse the solitude.
Gillian has thawed something in me that was suffering, something that needed to heal. It might seem quirky or strange to have a plant as a friend, but for me, it has been an intuitive choice. She has imbued me with greater compassion, which I believe is our making and unmaking: making us send out shoots toward each other, unmaking our solitary lives and connecting us with others.
Back home, there are plenty of plants. But here, Gillian is my own. Now she is joined by two other leafy friends, positioned with care so that they can drink in the late winter light that puddles in my room. Thanks to the nursery specialist, I am confident that I can care for them as I do for myself, with tenderness and a green thumb that I know can make living things keep on living.
My conviction is that we are more capable than we believe and more tender than we know. It can take a plant to realize this, and once I did, life became a little bit more beautiful.