onbruisedknees

"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Category: flowers

Safe

You know that people do things differently in the South. They even die differently. Still, love strikes you. You work in a floral shop up north where the names aren’t familiar and the addresses are foreign. But when you walk in the flower shop at home to pick out the casket spray, you watch your mama get a good forty-five second hug. Because she lost her mama.

You ruin your vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, clean-eating, low-carb diet because people bring you casseroles. And cupcakes. And coffeecake. Southern love is always shown through food.

You discretely throw away dirty underwear and wash the sheets she died in and cups she drank from. You find her eyeglasses on the table. You water flowers because you don’t want them to die, too. You clean the toilet. The washrags crusted with blood. “Bless her heart,” your mom says as her face crumples. “She was in more pain than she ever let on.”

And the collection agencies and bill collectors continue to call. The phone rings. It does not stop. The abrasive cadence to your cleaning as you scrub sinks, pull sheets tight.  Mom holds the telephone to her ear. Listens for five seconds. Throws the phone back onto the receiver. Mimics their fake professional voices, “No Ms. Fewkes is not available. Ms. Fewkes is dead.”

Her house, which used to have tiny walkways through trash she hoarded, is sterile clean. No pictures or Bible verses or notes on the refrigerator. No purses with mildewed receipts in the pockets. No clothes of all styles and sizes spilling out of closets. No termites, no spiders. A toilet that functions. A shower that’s sturdy. Shiny appliances. Attention to detail. A brand new foundation, un-sunk.  It’s nice. And clean. You’re in awe of the work and the cleanliness should be comforting, but it is not. The house is empty. Gone is every little scrap that frustrated and annoyed you and boiled your blood.

I do not cry during the funeral song. “Mama Liked the Roses” only reminded me of grandma impersonating Elvis. The way she bent her knees and posed, stunningly like Marilyn Monroe, grooved to bluesy melodies, called the king a ‘hunky hunk.’ And I heard floating memories of the song that was ours: “I love you. A bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around your neck.”

Silly, beautiful, loving woman. A barrel and a heap of crazy and kind and crazy-kind. And you are your mother’s mother’s granddaughter.

“You’re special,” she said two months ago on the last day you saw her. She tucked it between, “You look just like your mom” and “I like Ashley’s fiancé” and “I’m so glad Kaci didn’t get hurt in that wreck” and “You tell your sister to be careful goin’ to Evansville.” But you heard it—the thing you most needed to hear that day. And remember the rest of your life. You knew somewhere deep that those would be her last words to you. She validates you, still, just as she did after every awkward day of junior high school.

You do not cry until you feel the weight of her gray casket. Until the graveyard part of the service abruptly ends. The end? This wasn’t supposed to be the end. She was supposed to get more life to live. Better life. Better. You look back.  You glance back again, again. Gray casket. Red rose petals in your hand.

“Be careful,” you hear her voice. The tears roll. Finally. The relief. Because you realize she’s the one who is finally free from fear. She’s not merely pain-free.  She is worry-free.  She is safe. Safe and filled. With better life.

A Thousand Daughters

Love woke me up this morning.

Love and puppies.

And knowing at work today new plants would be delivered. I could get my hands in potting soil and roots and bulbs. And knowing I might buy an African violet and eat a slice of carrot cake from Stella’s.

You must find things to look forward to, he says.

I’d paint jars sunshine yellow and make a wreath in the shape of a square. Because sometimes it’s fun to be a different shape than what others expect you to be. I’m not a circle, am I. No. I have a lot of angles. I might be an octagon-trapezoid-isosceles. Something irregular like that. (I was never any good at geometry).

Funny things happened this morning while getting ready.

The first funny thing is I actually got ready.

And the second funny thing?

The sun was shining. Full on shinin’ instead of doing its little peepshow tease. Full on shinin’ instead of acting drunk in the sky. So I actually washed my hair. Actually applied makeup. And I wrote…in my head. I never write in my head. I’m a walking ditzy dum-dum until I have paper in front of me.

And while I painted a pop of peony-pink on my lips, thoughts swirled like yesterday’s snow. Jumbled. But feels so good.

To think again.

To feel.

That movement.

You know?

I started thinking about flocks and shepherding

and the quote that says, “I’ll live as though I have a thousand daughters.”

Sons and daughters, I had. Had a door to stick post-it notes of encouragement. A whiteboard to write quotes and song lyrics. Stories to expand to life. Characters we turned into humans. Heart-to-hearts about parents and dreams and relationships and lust and love and struggle and God and hope and being who we really are. Café days where they found their voices. An avenue. A stage.

A whole big flock.

I was the young one. And so they followed me.

My heart’s kind of sticky that way.

So what’s a shepherdess to do?

I tried to find new sheep when we had to migrate.

But they weren’t mine.

They weren’t mine to tell them it’s possible to be in the world and still not of it. Not my place to give advice. To tell them what worth and holiness are most certainly not measured by.

To talk to them like young adults. Or say they should be in school. They should get to live–at least a little bit–the way they want to.

It’s not up to me. This is not the same place as there.

I don’t get to tell them what to see. I don’t even get to tell them the place to look and let them decide what they see.

So I had to back up. Back off. Back away, far away.

Then found myself in a season where my own heart had to be tended to.

In that place again–

Made to feel like my truth is just not a good example.

Not a lifesong.

Ugh, better to be fake. To be reserved. Not the wild-hearted you that danced with abandon.

Oh, but the gritty and the grace. Your own deep truth, daughters.

That’s the melody. Makes the song worth singing.

Tone down good passions? I can’t. I just find other ways. I’m sick of the way we give into the lies that we are too much. And not enough.

When love wakes me up in the morning, I want to…write. Write again.

And tell all the daughters.

I may never get to have a daughter of my own–though I have named her.

But I will write for my daughters. I will write as though

I have

a thousand daughters.

Blue Roses

If roses were blue

If violets were red

If dogs were cats spotted instead

If fish had wings and very long tails

If the sky was yellow and jiggled like jello

If the grass was orange

Bright, bright orange….

Would it bother me?

Not a bit.

Melissa Knackmuhs, Age 8

My dad found this poem while digging through old photographs for his father’s funeral. I doubt he found many photos because I don’t remember the gruff old man smiling much (or ever speaking to me). I also don’t remember writing this poem.

But maybe these lines are more than nonsense because I was probably pretty deep and wise at the ripe age of eight. I don’t remember any anxiety at eight-years-old. I was probably my truest self. I’d like to somehow get back to her.

At some age older than eight, I began to have trouble distinguishing the right things I felt in my heart vs. judgment and opinions and wanting to constantly please people. The little girl who didn’t care what color sky and animals and grass are (because all colors are beautiful) turned into a control freak with worries and rituals and attacks of total dread.

I grew up hearing statements such as: They are too young to start a family. He shouldn’t buy that. She shouldn’t have changed her hair. They shouldn’t live there. She shouldn’t marry outside her race. He shouldn’t work there. She shouldn’t quit college. They shouldn’t do that.    

Granted, some of these statements were very true. Some were not. Regardless, people get to do whatever they want to do with their own lives. Why should we care if roses aren’t red? And who are we to judge a yellow sky, a spotted dog-cat?    

 I try to retrain my brain, wash it clean from parent opinions and good intentions and people’s expectations and stone-throwers and dirty looks and disapproving thoughts and narrow minds.  

And I keep thinking of myself, shut off, communication cut, curled in ball. Sick in stomach.  Droplets bleeding down my legs. Because the flowers were late. The roses not red. Angry stranger screaming. Banging down door. It’s Valentine’s Day. Not pleased. The flowers were late. The roses not red.    

My parents never listened to me. They said, “If we don’t like him, you can’t love him.” They said, “Honor your father and mother.” They claimed God told them we shouldn’t be together. I told them God shows me daily why he was chosen for me.

My dad said he thinks I’m not being myself, who I was raised to be. He says he thinks I’m going through a hard time. He will “pray for me.”

I want to tell him there’s a big difference between You’re being a bad girl so Lord Jesus let us pray

and what a precious friends asks when she gets out her notebook, asks how are you doing spiritually? How can I pray for you while you pray for me?

I want to tell him he’s never understood my relationship with my Jesus. And I don’t like when people think they know more about that relationship than I do. And I’d like to let him listen to this husband of mine with all of his faults as he holds my hands firmly and stops the screaming world and bows his head while I stare with all my faults into my plate and relearn how to at least be thankful for daily bread.

I have to tell myself it’s okay not to drive to a stranger-grandfather’s funeral because I don’t want to. It’s okay to feel no emotion at the news of his death.

I have to tell myself, Melissa, writer-woman-warrior, it’s okay to write the honeyed harmony of life and also life unsweetened. And they are both truths. Truths. Your birthright. You write. You’ve done it since you were eight. Child, be not afraid.

I have to hush their deafening voices as I squeak to my doctor about trying therapy because as moods shift and plans change and seasons swing and moves occur and the noise starts and relationships alter and violets go red and roses turn blue, I want to get to the point where I can say…

Would it bother me? If His plan is not my plan? If I simply cannot please them. If not everyone agrees, is pleased? If grass was bright, bright orange? Would it bother me?

Not a bit.   

Ironic

I was usually mistrusted in the education field. Too young. Too ditzy. Most parents didn’t trust me to educate their young adults. They didn’t believe I knew Shakespeare. Could quote it. Or that I held a hundred poems in my head, stories in my heart.

I like that I’m no longer second-guessed. In the flower shop, customers automatically believe I can make pretty things. They call and trust my soft and reassuring voice that I’ll deliver an arrangement to grandma that is special, lovely, fitting. And thousands of dollars in wedding flowers? Don’t worry about a thing, you gorgeous brides. I wonder when the secret will get out, the secret that I’m not-so-crafty. I’m not a natural. But then again, parts of teaching did not feel natural either. (Perhaps most of all the rules, the being in charge part). I’m not natural like my artistic sister. Or talented friends. Or my decorator mom.  

My mom always had the radio on WFIW in the mornings while we ate breakfast before school. Every morning we heard an ad from Melissa, Your Friendly Florist at Your Downtown Flower Shop. I liked her. She sounded super and had a squeaky voice like mine. Enthusiastic. Almost too energetic, like she was on speed. But most of all she sounded familiar. Comforting. Like sausage links and peanut butter on my waffle. She started out my day on a high note.

“You’re a teacher,” they all say. “Damnit, why aren’t you teaching?” He asks. “Why do I have to remind you to check the Regional Office of Education website and force you to send out your résumé?”
Because there are no teaching jobs. Because I’m twenty-six and still look like I’m twelve. Because maybe I look more like a person who can make pretty things. Because they never choose me.

Because I’m Melissa, your friendly neighborhood florist, and I love it. And I’m thankful. And isn’t it ironic.   

Flowers and Students

Flowers and students.

 The comparison has been mulling in my mind since I started working at the flower shop. The first contrast I noticed: Flowers don’t talk back. Flowers smell nicer than high school boys who have English class right after P.E. Flowers don’t produce heaps of papers to grade. Flowers don’t trigger panic attacks—well, not usually. But the similarities between flowers and students go much deeper than their differences.  

In a few days, I’ll have the privilege of catching up with a friend who is a young, first-year, full-time high school English teacher. She also has a long commute. She’s also a newlywed. And I would not trade spots with her. The term “zombie” comes to mind when I describe myself in those days. And currently, I feel pretty peaceful in this season and supremely lucky to work for and with the people I’ve met.

 I feel lucky to still create atmosphere and to create an experience (which was always one of my favorite parts of teaching).

I feel lucky to still put good ideas to use.

To still learn.  

 To come home and still have energy. (This concept is a new one).

 To enjoy my husband. (The best perk of it all).

 Lucky to have freedom and flexibility.

 To enjoy my “me” time. It feels like a selfish season, almost. But I will embrace it. I will store it up. I will remember it fondly when kids are screaming and I don’t have enough time to even take a peaceful shower. I will remember. As I walk around the shop and shower the plants that don’t talk back.  

I talk back to God’s plan, His seasons. What a trap. September and we’re so ready for autumn (my favorite, I admit) that we’ve dismissed the blessings of summer. So ready for autumn and so afraid of winter. And already dreaming of spring. Stop. Sip. Drink it in. Every season has its beauty.   

 But I’ll also tell my friend that what she’s doing—teaching– is the most fulfilling reward in the world. And that fulfillment still carries me. And when I visit my Memorial, too, while I am home—I will cry. I will cry the whole time. At the first regal sight of the building. At the sight of their faces. At the last hug goodbye. At God’s plan that I don’t understand.

Then I will return to creating. God creates beautiful flowers; God creates beautiful kids. Teachers and florists simply attempt to arrange, tweak, and enhance what is already there and already beautiful. Former students and current kids I tutor, you had it in you all along, loves. You just needed the confidence to become you. Teachers and florists pour faith into their “arrangements.” We pour love. Time. Creativity. Hope. We hope our arrangements are used for good purposes. Exciting ones. We pray they don’t wilt. We also know how much they bless others. They just have to get out of the display case and out of that big cooler in the back. We have to let them go. Go. To the hospital rooms of the sick. To the weddings. To the anniversary events. To the restaurant where the boy’s crush works. To the families of the grieving. To the business of the one who feared she was forgotten on her birthday. To your table. To splash a dark time with color. To say you’re sorry. And Thank you. and Just Because and You are Loved.

Purposes. They aren’t always used for the big things. But every purpose? Every season? Important. Perfect. Meaningful. Beautiful. Just as it should be.