How to Grow a Camellia

How to Grow a Camellia

Jenny Lu

The sky is just about to turn into swivels of cotton candy clouds. He did not wish for the serene colors to stop spinning their sugars, but it seemed that his mind stops to this particular moment in time. As if he could not forget already–

A peachy smile rises from his pressed plum lips blowing softly on her warm stomach. His arms swiftly lift her up and swing her light body around in circles; her giggles filling his ears, sinking their high notes into the cracks between his heart. He stops twirling around as her grasp on my shoulders tighten, her ballerina slippers settling to the ground.

They step on his feet as her arms hug his legs, one hand holding onto a freshly picked dandelion.
“Daddy, why isn’t mommy’s belly big anymore?”

His mouth hides his teeth as he glances at her eyes, which stare at his feet, possibly comparing them to her own little feet. They would not fit. She could not understand the liabilities she has brought to them by birth, for they were already poor. He gathers his breath and tells her a story.

“Catherine, mommy had a watermelon belly, a really big belly, and she tried and tried to make your brother stay in it and see you, but she couldn’t. Your brother was too big to stay, so he had to go somewhere else. Even mommy’s watermelon belly was too small for him to stay in and grow.”

He pats her head and parts the hand scratching her hair. He knows that it would be sometime soon when she would understand how selfishly they displaced the white seed that would have blossomed into a figure, just to be able to spare some shades of green for themselves. But it was not yet to be known soon. As the sun faded behind the mountains, the imprinted memory of his wife’s pregnant belly appeared as he patted his daughter’s back until she fell asleep, her hand holding the stem of the dandelion, the white specks and feather fluff having drifted onto the maplewood floor.


Tick, tock, tick, tock—Time just had to click irregularly against each fading heartbeat of hers, with each second hand scarcely touching the frame of the clock.

The last “watermelon” they had was a girl. She was ripe unlike the others, because they were able to tend to her this time. His wife, Shannon, worked as a botanist in a modest flower shop and a waitress at a high class restaurant, as he taught piano, violin, and guitar 55 hours per week while taking tests to become a certified accountant. He did not care if Shannon worked or not, because she brought more than just a paycheck home. He still doesn’t care, but he understands it is in her own will to push herself to support their family. Of the best that she has concocted in their small home was coke ribs, and a baby girl.

The day Shannon earned her dream job as a botanist was the day she realized the alternate existence inside her. She laughed out words that the baby must be someone special, as special as plants were to her. They gave her reason to be financially independent.

Catherine was a common name for girls, but it was not common in where they lived. Her environment was enriched with different minds, but Catherine, with her budding green eyes, was too small for her callow mind to gather in much substance. She had odd ways of doing things, but nonetheless, was accepted in her childhood roots. She earned deep concern by her second grade teacher, for when the class had to list what they wanted and was to send it to Santa Claus, Catherine wrote down “frendshihpe” and drew a picture of swaying grass. The rest of her classmates wrote normal and lengthy lists, while arguing that they would bake more cookies than the others, and ultimately receive the most gifts.

One winter, he left both his wife and Catherine with the wishful intent of supporting them better, especially with Catherine’s sudden interest in ballet dancing. He was offered a job in a bustling city with a much more promising pay than a music teacher. While he was away, Catherine continued to grow taller. They telephoned every other day. At 7, she was finally able to cartwheel three times, fly across the room with graceful agility, and smile with two missing front teeth. They emailed every once in awhile. She practiced dancing most of the time, while her mother taught her to write and read everyday. But it seemed that the less he visited, the more she practiced dancing, and the greater the distance she was from the truth. Soon enough his connection to Catherine was only through Shannon’s emails.


When her fourth grade teacher asked what everyone wanted to be, Catherine was the last to speak. The teacher smiled, waiting for a naive response with all the students– a firefighter, wilderness explorer, fourth grade teacher, and Santa Claus’s helper were a few. Catherine looked at the ceiling and held her eyes to her dream.

“I-I would like to be a princess, if that’s okay?” She questioned her teacher. The class bursted into laughter, as two rowdy boys teased her deliberately upon her silly dream. At first, Catherine was silent, wondering why no one would also like happy endings. Raising her brown eyebrows, Catherine forced herself to laugh along.

Catherine grew to cherish the remnants of her memories, especially the ones when we had a sign in front of our house that read “FOR SALE.” On the humming screens of her parents, the numbers were red and negative. The keys could not stop clicking. Each phone call ended with one hung up line. One day, when Catherine was skipping on the streets of her home, she stopped to sadly stare at the changed sign. Never did she realize after all the times passing by this dreadful sign, that she would actually leave. She found herself upset with each passing day, and daydreamed of having abnormal muscles that could pull the sign off by its weak impermanent nails and run to her neighbor Jerry to recycle the sign off for him to use as scrap wood. Despite those wishful efforts, she moved to California.

In her attempts to find another moment to relish in and look forward to, Catherine searched for things to do. She picked up the flute and decided she liked it. But the feelings she had when she danced around the room, as waves of emotion spilled over bowls and augmented her parents’ fights, were gone.

She had a gnawing loneliness as she practiced playing her flute while keeping the windows ajar. Catherine everyone else was absorbed in their own lives, and while her parents were often gamblers by night and apathetic drones by day, checking in on Catherine only to complain about her lack of efficiency in schoolwork and logic in mathematics.

Specks of dust appeared in light, as vain attempts for a collectivist to be like others, to be accepted, was made. One evening, when Catherine was blowing softly on her flute, the door knocked. Catherine met Esther, a neighbor who welcomed her to the apartment and claimed to have moved more than the number of her age. Although the open-minded extrovert and Catherine became friends for six months, it was only piece by piece that Catherine began to think so.

We were at the park for the first time. I remember begging my dad to take me to parks. It was a nice nostalgia, but my averted eyes awakened to Esther asking me another question.

She was swinging herself slowly to touch a bit of the sky. “Cathy, tell me about the silliest dream you’ve had!”

I hesitate a little, but decide to tell her. “When I was little, I was so naive that I wanted to be a princess. Literally.” I laugh a little too loudly, and start swaying my legs as well.

What’s wrong with that?”

Oh… It was just really… naive. Tell me about yours?”

Ahaha, an astronaut. Hey, what do you want to be now?”

Not a computer engineer.”

Let’s pick up an interesting habit this weekend and work on it to see if we like it. I think it’s better to work for something you love, rather than something you’re good at. So let’s find something we like, okay?”

With Esther by her side, always telling hopeful stories, Catherine was enlightened of something she never knew before. She began to write about the stories she hears, and the people, blinded by capitalism, that she wished she could change.

They had insightful, meaningful, substantial conversations, and they did not include the shallow distractions of modern society. They whispered to each other, whenever Esther came for sleepovers, of why the water flows, and why there are four seasons, and why people wish on weeds and not flowers, and what kind of plants they could be based on their personalities.

Once, Esther said, “Maybe you are a kerria— having been in the wild when you were little, growing as you would like. Then, you were pulled out of your homeland roots and placed upon a competitive climate, and it changed you so.”

And Catherine asked with interest and doubt, “Are kerrias really like that?”

“No, I just made that up.”

They were the epitome of friendship, always searching for pieces of their identities in their worlds. But as Catherine realized that the flaws of society were greater than the amount of stars in the sky, something inside her stopped growing. Perhaps it was similar to what she was trying to figure out about herself, and the oxygen around her. There was that very first moment her eyes sprouted open and the warm summer air surrounded her limbs. The smog obfuscated the sky, so all she could see were vast buildings of many geometrical shapes, with neon lights flashing every now and then. She was carried in a light yellow suit, gazing at the dark background speckled with a few faint lights.

The parents who carried her were consistent beings. Time was important, they said. Everything needs to be exact. Everything needs to be quick and critical. Catherine had to finish things efficiently, but what they really expected was a quick and concise process of production. There were things she was expected to do, and they forced her mentality into an abysmal darkness. Emotions were no excuse for the application of being perfect. Catherine’s emotional state seemed completely ignored by her parents as she labored over her to-do lists. It was the coldest autumn in human history. The sunshine could not be absorbed in her leaves; happiness and hope could not catch her this time. These plastic hearts and metal parts have done no good, absolutely no good. Catherine, a particular ingenue perhaps, but a warm soul who acknowledged Esther as a friend, was numbed to the degree of being frozen.

She was bored by the sameness of the people surrounding her, frustrated by her inability to express herself. She desired to write until the ink bled dry, with the continuing uncertainty resting in her mind. Her hair flies against her face, her eyes cannot close quickly to stop the tears, her ears vibrate of the natural abuse that flows out of people’s mouths— a living doubt.

It was ironic for the man to think his new job would support his family. He began to attach himself to his business trips and formal negotiations, with numbers being the only factor keeping him awake. When her parents celebrated the man’s job promotion and his lucky opportunity with the stock market by releasing fireworks and holding a huge party, Catherine only thought of how such huge explosions in the sky could form such emptiness.

If Catherine were a plant, she should have grown more by now, despite the parents with fading aluminum eyes. Perhaps there was too much sunshine chasing after Catherine, so much joy that it absorbed all her vitality and thus made her feel at home to the raindrops greeting the roof. Before, Catherine could not thrive well in the soil provided, the soil that all others had seemed to prosper in. It was not until she was 15 when she adapted to the environmental conditions and anchored her vulnerable heart.

With her changing dark blonde hair, Catherine finally blossomed when she found her real passion. After all the dreams she wandered through, it was her ability to write that gave her air to breathe. She eagerly told her parents about what she held dearly onto, but only to get rushed responses and an irrelevant question about her priorities. A petal was carelessly plucked, and left to wrinkle on the pavement.

Catherine came to the conclusion that the gardener of her own planted soul, is herself. Although her parents were not as poor anymore, they became quite sensitive to the future they calculated for her. Catherine did what she had to do. She adapted to them, to their harmful carbon dioxide, and hinted characteristics of the two adults through her writing. Although they provided no emotional support for her, Catherine was able to harvest their ignorance as her own oxygen.

But as of now, Catherine was filling in scantron circles in a room with closed windows, and outside was a wind whispering furiously and the sky sobbing tempestuously. Even professional botanists like Shannon could not determine the nonlinear growth of a plant (moreover, a human being), as both Shannon and her husband could not invest in an emotional manner, ever since the beginning with their decision to abort her brother. Inside the cold room, time was clicking irregularly against each fading heartbeat of hers, with the second hand scarcely touching the frame of the clock. Here is another cycle of water, another day of Earth’s rotation, and yet another period of time to broaden one’s horizon.