My sunflower seeds started talking to me last month. I couldn’t believe it; I’d been lonely for such a long time. It felt good to have friends. I bet it was my mom who asked them to keep me company. I miss her terribly.
The clearest memory I have of Mom was when she told me that all the beauty in the world grows from something small. I was helping her in the garden, and we’d just planted sunflowers. My favorite. A couple days later, she showed me the tiny, burgeoning sprouts that would eventually become the towering, yellow flowers I loved so much. She repeated what she told me about beauty. I remember being amazed. I’d wake up every morning and head outside and check their progress. Each time, they were a little bit bigger.
Then there was an accident. A bad one.
After that, I didn’t have a mom anymore.
Dad and I scattered her ashes in the garden right when the sunflowers were at their most radiant.
It took years for me to realize how much Mom’s death had affected me. I just thought I was a sad person in general, since I’d known the feeling for so long. It didn’t cross my mind that I’d been traumatized and might need help beyond basic counseling. By the time I considered it, I was pretty far gone.
The sunflower seeds started talking at an important time for me. I’d lost all hope of being happy again. Dad and I didn’t speak. I had no friends. I spent all my time alone in my bedroom, wishing I was anywhere else. Anyone else.
I’d developed a bad habit of using a pushpin to make small cuts and punctures in my arms and legs. They made me feel just a little bit better, but I still cried whenever I did it. On that special day, after a particularly painful cut, I heard the chorus of small voices coming from the table:
“Don’t be sad.”
I jumped. I was alone in the house. Dad was working his first shift and still had another one to go. He wouldn’t be home for another 14 hours. Again:
“Don’t be sad. It’s a beautiful day outside!”
A small package of sunflower seeds sat on the surface of my desk. They were a snack I’d bought on the last day of school. I’d eaten a handful that afternoon and forgotten about them. They’d been sitting there for a week.
I wiped my eyes and stood over the desk. Inside the plastic, I could see all the sunflower seeds standing up.
I jumped again. The seeds wiggled in their bag, almost like they were waving. Confused curiosity overcame my alarm. I assumed I was going crazy. Sunflower seeds don’t talk to sane people. But they were talking to me. There was something comforting about them, too. Something familiar. I felt a wave of bittersweet nostalgia.
The sting of the cut on my upper arm brought me back to reality. It was about as deep as the pushpin was long. A thin rivulet of blood drooled down to my elbow. It was so ugly.
Almost on cue with the thought, the sunflower seeds began to comfort me.
“Oh Rachel, it’s not ugly. It was just a mistake!”
“Don’t worry – it will heal and you’ll forget all about it!”
Their kind words were in stark contrast to the wound. Its edges were puffy and red, making it look angry. And it hurt. A lot. I didn’t know how something so small could be so hideous. From the desk below, the seeds continued their praise and support.
Amid the voices and my own considerable confusion and discomfort, an old memory resurfaced – one I’d kept below the surface for over ten years.
“All the beauty in the world grows from something small.”
The sentence echoed within my mind, bouncing and twirling and floating, as I considered its meaning and implications . The sunflower seeds watched my contemplation in silence. A minute later, I knew. I reached to pick one up as the rest of them burst into cheers of joy. I inspected the seed for a moment, then pushed it into the puncture as far as it would go.
A sensation of blissful contentment unlike anything I’d ever experienced suffused through me. My eyes closed. Behind my eyelids, I was four years old again. Mom stood in front of me, beautiful and tall in her shorts and tank top and gardening gloves. Her smile shone down as she spoke her poignant, memorable words, and pointed her gloved fingers at the barely-visible sprouts pushing out of nourishing soil.
I lifted my eyelids to the sight of a plain, gray seed poking from the raised edges of my puncture wound like an engorged tick. Before I could tell myself how ugly it was, I stopped. I remembered what Mom said. The seeds on the desk cheered louder.
Two long, summer days went by. I spoke to the seeds and they spoke back. We made plans together. We talked about the future. I’d covered the one in my arm with a piece of gauze. On the morning of the third day, the seeds asked me to take off the bandage. I did with trepidation, which turned out to be entirely misplaced. Inside the swollen, wrinkled edges of the puncture, a tiny, fragile sprout lay curled. When the light from the room hit the sprout, it slowly stood. It was indescribably beautiful.
Feeling better than I’d ever felt, I stabbed the pin into myself over and over and over. Arms, legs, belly, shoulders. The only tears I shed were ones of happiness. I planted each seed with diligence and care. Days went by.
The hundred-or-so holes in me grew wider as the seeds sprouted and grew. I sat on my bed in front of the window to make sure they got enough sun. I heard Dad come and go from his jobs, leaving food for me without ever knocking or saying hello. I was grateful; I didn’t want to be bothered.
Seed-sized holes became fingertip-sized holes. Fingertip-sized holes became quarter-sized holes. They all leaked, and none smelled particularly good. I remembered how Mom had used fertilizer in the garden that smelled terrible. It was always worth it.
I stopped keeping track of the days and only concentrated on the sprouts. They were all healthy and growing. All but one near my navel. It had turned brown and was wilting. The other sprouts told me it couldn’t be saved. I’d have to remove it or else they’d all get sick.
I started the process of pulling the foot-long plant out of my abdomen. I felt and heard ripping sounds as the roots were torn from within. The pain was immense. When it was all done, there was a shallow hole in my belly the size of my palm. It was streaked with white and yellow paste that smelled terrible. I spent some time wiping it away. Afterward, all the sprouts thanked me.
Another long period passed by. Maybe a month. I woke up today to the first blossom on one of the sprouts. It was the tallest of them all, sticking out almost three feet from my shoulder. All the days leading up to this, I felt excitement. Today, though, I’m too weak to feel anything.
It took almost an hour for me to get out of bed. I looked at myself in the mirror. I was home to nearly 80 healthy plants, all between one and three feet tall. Root systems under my skin ran in complex patterns, bringing nourishment to the heavy, healthy sunflower stalks. We had a long conversation as I sat, barely able to eat the breakfast Dad had left for me. We came to an agreement.
I’m using the last bit of energy I have to write this. When I’m done, I’ve agreed to go out and sleep in the garden. I can’t believe I spent years feeling sad. Feeling ugly. Feeling like I didn’t have a purpose. Even though Mom died when I was young, she’d told me all I needed to know in one, perfect sentence.
Now I’m going to go out and sleep in the same soil she used to bring beauty in the world. The soil where she’s slept for the last ten years. I get to be with her again, and the world gets a new crop of sunflowers. Beautiful things that grow from something small. Just like me.