Two guys clock me as I walk south of Hermosa pier. The spiel begins immediately.
Guy 1: Hey there, don’tcha know who this is? (gestures to portly Guy 2, who’s holding a surfboard)
Me: (shakes head, keeps walking)
Guy 1: Don’t you want his autograph? (looks incredulous)
Me: (looking back at them, eyeing the portly surf dude) No. Do you want mine?
Guys 1 & 2: Yes!
I laugh and keep walking, a spring in my step.
This morning I biked over to my favorite plumeria bushes. “Look at you!” I cried. They’re in full bloom, blossoms tumbling to the ground with abundance. Inhaling the heady fragrance fills me with something like God. Peace. Goodwill. I begin collecting the fallen blossoms, and handing them out.
“Thank you,” says the first guy, “have a wonderful day. God bless you!”
“Is that your garden?” says the second guy. Australian accent. Gah-den. Accusatory tone.
I shake my head.
“Why you pickin’ the flowers if it ain’t ya gah-den?”
“I’m not picking them,” I say, and turn away, face suffusing with heat.
I pedal away with a basket full of plumeria blossoms.
I feel terrible.
I am a bad girl.
After awhile it occurs to me: was that his garden? No. He did not say that it was. Why the shame and blame?
I compare the first response with the second — Thank you versus Fuck you — and notice which generated the bigger reaction in me. Thank you made me happy. Fuck you made me miserable. Made me want to stop engaging with any other human ever. Made me want to stop giving out flowers, which is something I enjoy. Made me want to hide.
Same action: giving a stranger a flower.
Two different responses, and two different reactions to those responses.
I don’t want to leave my emotions in the hands of strangers. Gives them way too much power. Neither man’s response had anything to do with me. Not a thing. I’d never met them before.
I remember the disparate reactions to Emmett, my big black Malamute mix: some folks adored him, others were terrified. But he was the same dog.
I continue pedaling north along the waterfront. When I see a sanitation crew, I hop off and give them flowers.
“Thank you!” smiles a young guy with a shaved head.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” says an older guy missing a front tooth, and immediately pins the flower to his uniform.
I leave plumeria blossoms in a Dockweiler Beach bathroom: one blossom in the soap dish of each of three sinks. They look stunning against the silver.
Shame eventually fades as I pedal along and watch the ocean. After locking the bike, I walk down the Marina del Rey jetty, and see a snowy egret and two harbor seals. Everyone’s fishing.
Maybe collecting fallen blossoms IS the same as picking them, in the eyes of whoever owns that plot of earth. (If anyone can actually own the Earth, but that’s another essay.)
It was the man’s tone that cut me: you’re a bad girl. Something I have believed for most of my life. But maybe John was always going to die. Maybe Mom and Dad were always going to leave, either physically or emotionally. Maybe their behavior has nothing to do with my inherent goodness or badness. Maybe it’s just the way things are. Maybe I don’t have to apologize for my existence.
I won’t collect any more plumeria blossoms from the bushes in Manhattan Beach.
I will buy my own and plant them in the sun near my home. And when they bloom, I will give the blossoms away to whomever wants them.
“No shame, no blame, everything’s beautiful,” said a dancer friend once during rehearsal. Exactly.