我在花店學到的事

慟失摯愛後,年輕的她在別人的故事裏尋得慰藉
Alisha Gorder◎撰 from the New York Times

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Photo: Dan Saelinger

第一天到花店上班,我腳踩涼鞋。第二天,我知道腳趾得包覆起來才行,故穿了漂亮的牛津鞋。第三天,我知道鞋子最好別太花俏,所以改為紅色的匡威高筒球鞋。這雙Chuck Taylor款式的鞋是我特地為這份工作而買,乾乾淨淨的白色鞋尖,充分顯示我是店裏的新手。我得花很長的時間組合花束,還得費好大的勁兒用包裝紙裹住鬆散的花莖。得要包得好看,或至少拿得出手。

「其實就跟包嬰兒差不了多少。」有位好意想幫我的人告訴我,但我從沒對付過嬰兒。

在花店工作的夢想源自祖母的花園。她的花園裏永遠花朵綻放,我有什麼就採什麼,然後做成花束;但在花店工作有數不清的桶子要清理,指甲裏總卡着泥土,之前的經驗遠遠不夠。

尤其最讓我應接不暇的是人:一位男士每逢星期二要送三朵花給三位陌生人;還有顧客偷了感恩節宴請自己的東道主一把銀器餐刀後,要送一束花給主人。這些人的故事與我自己的交織在一起,每晚就寢後縈繞我心頭良久。

我最喜歡看送花時附帶的訊息。它們大多稀鬆平常,有許多「我愛你」和「早日康復」;「生日快樂」、「周年快樂」、「我想念你」也不勝枚舉,因此接電話的時候,我們會簡寫成「生快」、「周快」、「我念」。

但某些訊息格外有創意,例如「歡送舊的〔乳房〕,迎接新的梅根。」

有一回我接到一通電話,對方要訂一打黃玫瑰,卡片上要寫:「對不起,我是個大笨蛋。」

「就這樣?」我問。

「署名『你的鴨鴨』。」

「鴨子的鴨?」

「對。」

太過甜言蜜語、陳腔濫調、索然無味的訊息我會嗤之以鼻。如果客人連慰問卡該怎麼寫都要問,更讓我心涼了半截。但我也明白,要找到對的字句是件大工程,而有時這些字句恰巧就跟人人都會寫的一樣。

上班大約六個月之後,我看到一則訊息,坦率的內容擊中我的心:「有人過世,卡片和鮮花總會顯得無濟於事,但我們掛念着你,也希望你知道。」

這則訊息讓我感觸良深。

十八歲那年,和我交往兩年的男友在家中的車庫懸梁自盡。他是我的初吻、我的初戀、晚上入夢和早上醒來第一個說話的對象,直到那個十一月的晴朗早晨為止。我從睡夢中醒來,接到他母親的電話。

大家送來慰問的卡片,我不記得他們寫了些什麼,但真正重要的是心意。他們寫的可能是「謹致弔慰」或「節哀順變」之類的,但對我而言,其實就是同一個字眼:逝去。

男友過世後,我總覺得他的死和發生在我身上的某些事脫不了干係;因為我做了什麼或沒做什麼,他結束生命時心裏一定想着我。多年後,我才不再老是這麼想。

到花店上班的時候,我已經擺脫些許的憤世嫉俗和苦澀怨恨。我不再穿他的T恤睡覺。我不再追問不可能有答案的問題——大抵就是用各種方式不停地問「我是不是本來可以做些什麼?」每次我都覺得一定有,但其實根本沒有。我已經學會了接受現實。

我搬了家,畢了業,愛上了另一個人。我變得更能夠感受別人的痛苦和喜樂,過去這兩種情緒都讓我不快:痛苦是因為感同身受,而快樂則是因為遙不可及。後來,我開始對別人的遭遇感到興趣,隨着遇見更多生命的美麗與醜陋,我的心境也逐漸軟化。

花店的客人有單身男女;有不懂配色的父親帶着早慧的女兒;有新手父母、爺爺奶奶,還有叔叔阿姨;也有二十來歲剛訂婚的小倆口,和慶祝五十周年金婚的老夫老妻。我曾經送花給街友,而他們轉手又把花送給了身穿夏日洋裝的標緻女郎。有一回,我送了一朵櫻桃白蘭地玫瑰給「邊緣人小丑」;這號人物戴着紅色泡棉鼻頭,駕駛「奇幻車」漫遊俄勒岡州波特蘭市街頭,把音樂開得震天價響,並把猴子布偶探出窗外舞弄。人在戀愛的時候、遇到麻煩的時候,酒醉、難過、興奮的時候,都會買花,有時則無緣無故也會買。

只有在偶然的情況下,我會知道故事的結局。有一回,我協助一位年輕男子選購送女友的花,他說即將和女友一道出國旅行,他打算趁機求婚。我之所以記得他,是因為他想找如紫羅蘭、葵百合、晚香玉等最芳香撲鼻的花。

我花了十五分鐘陪他在店裏到處聞。雖然那時我已上了好幾小時的班,卻是整天下來頭一回嗅聞花香。

六個月之後,男子又來了。我再一次為他介紹最香的花,看着他把鼻子埋進花叢,同時聽他說妻子已懷孕。

顧客經常輕易就和我分享他們的人生,剛開始我大受感動,不過很快就習以為常。

我會問:「您送花的場合是?」因為那是我的職責。

「周年紀念日」、「生日」、「就是想送」,但有時會是「你可能沒興趣知道那麼多,但我在跟我的前妻約會。」結果,我就這樣和客人討論起跟前任配偶約會之事。

我把這些對話寫成筆記,替卡片訊息拍照,把最精彩的店裏故事說給同事、朋友和家人聽,但還是遺漏許多。我常忘記細節,有時越努力回想就越模糊。

過去我會因此惱火,覺得「真丟臉,蒐集了這麼多故事,卻讓它們像水從指縫中一樣流失。」但後來我體會到美好就在於故事源源不絕,而遺忘了也無關緊要。

我們為何送花?是為了彌補無形的東西?為了表達無法以雙手捧起作為禮物獻給摯愛之人的情感?無論是一打紅玫瑰、芳香的白色百合或長梗法國鬱金香,何以我們選擇的替代品轉瞬即逝?如果花留得太久,最後只會剩下散亂的花瓣、花粉和氣味難聞的水。

男友死後,我試圖做個了結。我寫了許多信,然後燒掉;我看了一位又一位心理治療師;我練瑜伽,嘗試靜坐冥想;我搬到科羅拉多州,又遷往俄勒岡州。我到過許多地方,卻走到哪兒,始終裝着他。我實在保留太久了。

我有一張他的相片,是我去念大學的前幾天幫他拍的。兩個月之後,他就走了。照片裏的他別過臉,避開鏡頭,但我會想像他臉上帶着微笑。

我還記得我們一起聽的歌、紗門外的蛙鳴、我踏在木頭地板上的光腳丫。珍貴的時刻降臨又消逝,讓一切更加珍貴。如今,我以當令的花木標記月分:七月的向日葵,八月的大理花,十月是玫瑰果與楓樹,十二月有松,三月是風信子,五月是人見人愛的芍藥。

我自己最愛紫玉蘭。在落櫻似雪的時節,紫玉蘭會在短短幾週內從蓓蕾綻放為花朵,花朵隨即又為草地妝點色彩。無常之美多教人驚艷。


What I learned at the flower shop

On my first day of work at the flower shop, I showed up in sandals. The second day, realising I needed something close-toed, I wore my nice Oxfords. The third day, having learned that less fancy would be best, I debuted a pair of red high-top Converse sneakers I’d bought specially for the job. The clean white toes of my Chuck Taylors perfectly reflected my newness at the shop – how long it took me to put together bouquets, how I struggled to fold paper around loose stems in a way that was pretty or at least presentable.

“It’s like swaddling a baby,” someone told me in an effort to be helpful, but I had never done that either.

My dream of working in a flower shop had its roots in my grandmother’s garden, always in bloom, where I made bouquets with whatever I could get my hands on. But that experience in no way prepared me for the number of buckets I would have to clean or the way dirt would wedge itself permanently under my fingernails.

Mostly, though, I wasn’t prepared for the people, from the man who handed out three flowers to three strangers every Tuesday, to the Thanksgiving guest who sent a bouquet to his hosts after walking off with one of their silver dinner knives. Their stories wove their way into mine and stuck with me long after I locked up for the night.

I always enjoyed reading the messages that went along with each bouquet. Most were what you would expect, plenty of “I Love You” and “Get Well Soon”. We got so many “Happy Birthday”, “Happy Anniversary” and “Thinking of You” requests that phone messages were written in shorthand: H.B., H.A., T.O.Y.

But others had more flair, like “Farewell to your old [breasts] and hello to the new Megan.”

Once, I took a phone order for a dozen yellow roses and a card that read, “Sorry I’m an idiot.”

“Is that it?” I asked.

“ ‘From, Your Duck,’ ” he added.

“ ‘Duck’ like the animal?”

“Yeah.”

I would scoff at messages that seemed too sugary, trite or boring, and it disheartened me when customers asked what their sympathy cards should say. But I understood that finding the right words can be a monumental task and that sometimes those words just happen to be the same ones everyone else is using.

About six months into the job, I came across a message that struck me for its honesty: “Cards and flowers seem so lame when someone dies but we are thinking of you and want you to know.”

I thought about that note a lot.

When I was 18, my boyfriend of two years hanged himself from the rafters of his garage. He was the first boy I kissed, the first I loved, the last person I talked to at night, and the first person I talked to in the morning, until one sunny day in November when I woke to a call from his mother.

People sent cards. I don’t remember what they wrote, but what mattered was the gesture. Maybe they said, “With our deepest sympathies” or “We’re so sorry for your loss.” For me, it came down to one word: gone.

After he died, I thought of his death as something that had happened to me, an act committed specifically with me in mind because of something I had or had not done, and it took me years to break free of this habit.

By the time I started at the flower shop, I had shed some of my cynicism and bitterness. I no longer wore his T-shirts to bed and had given up on finding answers to impossible questions, most of which were versions of the relentless “What could I have done?” There was always something, but at the same time, absolutely nothing, and I had learned to live with that.

I had moved away and finished school and loved someone else. I was more open to people’s pain and also their happiness, two states of being that used to equally irritate me: the pain because it hit too close to home and the happiness because it seemed so far away. I became more interested in other people’s stories, and the more I was confronted with life in all its beauty and ugliness, the more I felt a softening in me.

I have sold flowers to single men and women; to colour-blind fathers shopping with their precocious daughters; to new parents, grand­parents, aunts and uncles; to engaged 20-somethings and couples celebrating 50 years. I’ve given flowers to homeless men who have in turn given them to pretty girls in summer dresses. Once I presented a ‘Cherry Brandy’ rose to Extremo the Clown – a red-foam-nosed character who drove the Never Never Van around the streets of Portland, Oregon, while blasting music and waving a monkey puppet out the window. People buy flowers when they’re in love, in trouble, drunk, devastated and excited and sometimes for no obvious reason.

Only occasionally would I get to see how the story played out. I helped a young man buy flowers for a woman he was seeing, and he told me that he would soon be proposing to her on a trip overseas they were taking together. I remember him because he came in looking for the most fragrant flowers – stocks, stargazers, tuberoses.

I spent 15 minutes with him, walking around, taking whiffs of each flower. It was the first time I had smelled a flower all day, even though I had been working for hours.

Six months later, he came back. Again, I pointed out the most fragrant flowers, watching as he buried his nose in the blooms and listening as he told me about his wife, now pregnant.

At first, I was blown away by the ease and regularity with which I was invited into customers’ lives, but it quickly became the norm.

“What’s this for?” I would ask, because it was my job.

“Anniversary.” “Birthday.” “Just because.” But then sometimes “This might be too much information, but I’m dating my ex-wife.” And just like that, I would find myself in a discussion about what it’s like to date one’s former spouse.

I took notes on these conversations, snapped photos of card messages, and told my favourite shop stories to colleagues, family and friends, but still so much has gotten away. Details escape me, and sometimes it seems as if the harder I try to hold on to them, the more blurry they become.

That used to drive me crazy. Shame on me, I thought, to gather so many stories, only to let them go like water through cupped palms. But the beauty, I learned, was that there would always be more, and that made the losing more OK.

Why do we send flowers? To make up for what is intangible? Those feelings we can’t hold in our hands and present as a gift to our loved ones? And why is it that the placeholders we choose – the dozen red roses, the fragrant white lilies, the long-stemmed French tulips – are so fleeting? Hold on to them for too long, and you end up with a mess of petals, pollen and foul-smelling water.

After my boyfriend’s death, I tried to find closure. I wrote letters and set them on fire. I went to a therapist, then another. I went to yoga and tried meditation. I moved to Colorado, then Oregon. I went to so many places and carried him along with me to each of them. I have done so much holding.

There’s a picture I took of him just days before I left for college, two months before he died. His face is turned away, hidden from the camera, but I like to think he’s smiling.

I remember the song we were listening to, the chatter of frogs through the screen door, my bare feet on wood. Precious moments made all the more precious by the fact that they have gone. Now I measure months by what’s in season: sunflowers in July, dahlias in August, rose hips and maple in October, pine in December, hyacinth in March, crowd-pleasing peonies in May.

A favourite of mine is tulip magnolia, the way the buds erupt into blooms and the blooms into a litter of colour on lawns, all in a matter of weeks while it’s snowing cherry blossoms. How startlingly beautiful ­impermanence can be.

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