The wind caught the gowns and furled them to their hem’s end. The taut white cloth snapped like the flags across Lake Eola. After Memorial Day, the flags still hung at half-mast in mourning of so much loss. When the lake’s fountain plumed its spray, masked family members took pictures of the gowned people. The graduates from Orange County high schools smiled despite their auditoriums remaining closed.
I watched those wonderfully tenacious families capturing the unprecedented moment of gathering in small groups outside. I knew a photograph wouldn’t keep a memory, though. I wondered if those grads thought about how for the past year they believed they would hear their name called in a crowd, walk across a stage, and receive a diploma and a handshake. A year later, nobody touched anybody without doubt, physical mementos weren’t given without a bleached wipe-down, and names were mostly said behind screens.
Then, I thought back to nearly a year ago on Flag Day and my birthday. I had thought I would always hear my name called, walk to the woman I loved, and receive a kiss and hold her hand. The last thing I kept from L. was a card had given me where she had written and underlined at the end you’re my always and forever.
I wondered when had always changed to not anymore. When did L. change how she felt? Had I changed?
I remembered the week after L. had told me she didn’t want to be married anymore I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test at work for professional development. In college, I had taken the Myers-Briggs and typed ESFJ—extroverted, sensing, feeling, and judger—a popular, diplomat. When I retook it, I typed ESTJ—extroverted, sensing, thinking, judger—a manager of people and things.
When I moved from our apartment to my studio, I took a potted bromeliad. A bromeliad is an air plant that looks like a cactus’ flower made of aloe fronds. My bromeliad’s floret cup once looked pinkly and lovely.
I had bought my bromeliad in the arid Southwest to remind me of humid Florida. When we returned to Orlando, the bromeliad shot up “pups”—little offshoots that could grow while the center’s floret would crisp and then fall off. I separated one of the pups into a pot. I took the pot with the new pup with me.
I knew I was a Gemini—an air sign. The Gemini are twins. There are two sides to a Gemini.
Perhaps I had only known one side of myself.
The birthday card L. had given me shows scenes of two married bears living throughout their routines. The husband bear clinks a mug with the wife bear. The husband bear wraps his arm around the wife bear on a loveseat. The husband bear holds a cellphone to his furry ear and smiles. The husband bear and the wife bear embrace. The wife bear gives the husband bear a wrapped gift. The husband bear and the wife bear bonk snouts.
When I looked at the card now I saw what I hadn’t noticed then. The husband bear grips a briefcase ready to go to work, leaving the wife bear behind. He holds a remote control. He thinks in a heart-shaped thought while taking a call from the wife bear. He closes his eyes while fully accepting the wife bear into a hug. He opens his arms wide ready to receive the wife bear’s gift. The wife bear holds her paw on top of his, able to let go.
I remembered how I would leave early and return early from work not seeing L. except in a rush and then in an exhaustion. I would want to watch what I wanted and not just sit with L. for a movie or a show. I wouldn’t keep my phone on me for responding to a simple how are you doing text and I would never answer a call from L. at work. I would pat L. on the back when she needed fully embraced. I wondered if L. let go of me because she didn’t feel me gripping her anymore.
I knew L. was a Pisces—a water sign. The Pisces are fish.
Perhaps I hadn’t known how fluid L.’s feelings could change.
At my studio, I watered my bromeliad like I always did. Water flowed over its floret cup, but its base wiggled. I touched the bromeliad and it toppled out of its pot. Its roots had rotted with too much water.
L. had taken the Myers-Briggs and she typed INFP—introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver—a dreamer of dreams. L. and I typed exactly opposite of each other. I read that INFP and ESTJ are the most combustible paired types.
It seemed like I had nothing in common on the Myers-Briggs with L. I was either serving or exacting, while she was fantastically emoting. However, we had the exact opposite sides that the other didn’t possess.
I knew a combustion was an explosion. Later, I considered that combustion was also something that powered things forward if it was contained in an engine.
H20 is water.
O is oxygen.
H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide.
Concentrated hydrogen peroxide has been used as a propellant in rocketry and could be used in missiles.
After the bromeliad died, my mom gave me some sort of succulent in a new pot. The pot looked reconstructed from broken blue pieces put together with white grout. The pot looked like an inverted American flag’s stars and sky.
The succulent didn’t need a lot of water. I wondered how long the succulent could survive without water. I never tested it.
I watered the succulent when I paid the rent. I paid more for one room alone than I had paid for half of two rooms with L. I didn’t have to pay in the same way for water at my studio.
Before Flag Day, my studio was flooded with air. Masses of people yelled while holding signs that read I Can’t Breath or else they remained silent in riot gear. Protesters and police viewed each other as a virus that would spread person to person and kill freedom.
The actual virus that threatened us all would fill up lungs. Lungs that needed air, not water. Lungs that needed to expel spent air if they could first breath.
Only a few blocks away, canisters of tear gas huffed. Gas—between air and water—made the people both police and protesters shout and cry. Eventually, they all dispersed.