by Tracy Grinstead-Everly
Tracy Grinstead-Everly (she/her/hers) is a social justice attorney and intersectional advocate who has dedicated over three decades to activism and community leadership, primarily in intimate partner violence and reproductive rights. She is a changemaker with many “firsts” on her resume. She has been honored to support myriad survivors reclaiming their voices and pursuing safety, one court case, legislative bill, systemic change, policy implementation, and courageous conversation at a time. Tracy is the proud Sephardi Jewish mother of two amazing adult children whom she loves beyond words, and she adores that her wonderful husband of 28 years doesn’t remove her feminist bumper stickers when he drives her car, even though they are magnetized to provide that option. Tracy’s favorite holiday is Halloween and the best introduction she has received to date as a public speaker is “This woman is as fierce as her shoes!”
It's Not About the Flowers
I grieve for my battered garden bed. But it’s not about the flowers.
We recently experienced a destructive hail storm. Despite having grown up in the Midwest and living through my share of tornadoes and the preceding hail, the magnitude of this one, amplified by enormous stones, strong winds, and torrential rain, all pounding on walls of windows at our lake house, rattled me. Our yard was covered in hailstones the size of my fist. The roof was totaled, our house siding damaged, glass patio tables smashed into shards, my husband’s car riddled with deep dents and a four-inch hole in the back window, despite being covered. But the storm was brief, no one was hurt, and we are well insured. We cleaned up the yard, swept the decks, blew off the driveway and sidewalk. We located items that had been blown a few houses down, made phone calls and started lists for the insurance adjusters. Several trees were damaged beyond repair. Neighbors came with chainsaws in the immediate aftermath to help clear the road, and professionals came shortly thereafter to fell and haul the remains and grind the stumps into dust.
After everything had been returned to its new normal, I checked on our front corner flowerbed. My breath hitched. My hand flew to my heart, tears filled my eyes, and I stifled a sob. It was a large area previously overgrown with weeds, dormant under the shade of ancient trees, neglected, in need of intense care and long-term nurturing. My husband and I had just completed renovating it, a carefully designed labor of love for our forever home. We purchased new paving stones, which my husband leveled, re-arranged, and laid by hand in elaborate tiers. We researched which plants and flowers would grow best in the light, heat, and soil conditions, scouted out options at local nurseries and even had some of the plants shipped cross-country to make it just so. We arranged and planted it all ourselves, interspersing local rocks, rearranging the lighting for nighttime interest, rerouting the sprinkler system to ensure proper hydration, and topped it off with landscape fabric and a thick layer of dark mulch. My husband and I sometimes went out in the evenings to check the growth of the plants, to envision how they would continue to fill the space in the coming years, remarking on the striking contrasts and compliments of the colors, discussing what we may add in the future, watching bees and butterflies flit between blossoms. It was lovely. Now it was bathed in sunlight. Which sounds nice, right? Except for the part where everything was especially chosen for the light conditions. When there were giant trees providing shade for that whole area. Trees that are now reduced to sawdust. Yep. Now you’re with me.
Before my voice is drowned out by a refrain of “it’s just plants” accompanied by a very well-intended and robust chorus or two of ideas of how I can replant those flowers somewhere else, fill that area with other choices, perhaps put up a shade or plant new trees (trust me, my mind has already raced way ahead of you), please hear me out: It’s not about the flowers. It is critical that you understand that point. The brilliant LGBTQI+ advocate George Takei explained “It's not about bathrooms... as it was never about water fountains.” Similarly, I am very well aware that the profound grief that struck me when I saw the condition of those plants had very little, if anything, to do with the flowers, and everything to do with me. The sight shook me to my core - because it was my soul that I saw withering under the unforgiving southern sun.
As my eyes landed on that now blindingly sunny patch, my knees locked, my head dropped and time stopped. Then slowly I began to nod my head. “I see you,” I repeated internally, over and over, and then aloud quietly, as the tears came. The plants had survived tornadic winds, being pounded by sheets of baseball-sized chunks of solid ice falling from the sky, and having hundreds of pounds of solid oak fall on them. They deserved to live in peace now, to flourish. Instead, they will die slowly, scorched by the elements of nature, ravaged by that which should, in moderation, nurture them. Just when they thought they were safe, they are most in danger. And they are just stuck there. Fuck. I feel that. I feel it in my core. I have lived like that. Fuck. I tried to protect them and I failed. No. Worse. I put them there and told them they would be happy - and now they will die. Fuck-Fuck.
I am instantly whisked back decades to when I started treatment (aka forced to deal with my shit in a healthy way, as opposed to my previous myriad methods of denial and self-harm). My personal theory is that the human psyche can only deal with a finite amount of true horror (read: terrible shit that you ignore but really need to address) at any given time. For some people that means that you deal with your issues and then move on to a happy, or at least better adjusted, life. For others of us, that means that once you deal with some stuff, more stuff (usually somehow (HOW?!!) much worse shit, in my experience) rushes in to fill the void. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you either deal with all your shit, give up and go back to denial/self-harm, or die. Which brings us back to the Flowerbed of Tracy’s Dying Soul. (I’m a big fan of calling it like I see it.)
Once the earth resumed spinning, I explained my pain to my husband, who knows me and gets it, which is a gift. We went out to the flowerbed (literally, the real one) together and walked around it slowly, discussing where we can move the existing plants to shade them, and what new ones we can add, now that there is more light, different possibilities. I am choosing to accept this as an example of nature shifting the landscape, a little realignment. Sometimes we all need reminding of what we can withstand. My flowerbed weathered this storm – it just needs some tending. It’s in the right place. I have weathered far worse. Looks like I actually have a little Garden of Resiliency in the front corner of my yard. Of fucking course I do.