When my advisor emailed me to say we’d be moving our in-person meeting to Zoom because of the atmospheric river that was heading our way, I thought she was simply flexing her creative lexical muscles. Nope. It turns out atmospheric rivers are real weather phenomena. They are about as pleasant as they sound, functioning to transform the faux, misting rain which Seattle is known for into fearsome downpours.

What has made matters worse, though, is that the gloominess of the rainy season has seemed to spill over into reality. Over the last month, I have felt as if my life has complied with literary conventions of setting, in which I should expect misfortunes to occur because an omniscient life narrator set up the chapter with billowing waves and cracks of thunder.

The misfortunes I am referring to are deaths. A car accident took the life of a friend’s uncle. A coworker’s daughter died of cancer. A neighbor passed away from back home whom I had gotten to know over years of small, accumulated front-porch interactions while taking walks. Plus, both my parents and my in-laws had to say goodbye to beloved pets of over seventeen years. When my mom called to tell me the news about the family cat, Smokey, I was relieved it was only the cat, especially considering the health of both of my grandpas has been the source of recent family concern.

Here in Seattle, as the days have steadily gotten shorter, darker, and wetter, the creeping presence of death, or at least frequent news of it, has seemed to constrict tighter around my periphery. While none of these deaths are in my direct orbit, the news of each gradually weighed me down. I’m the kind of person who is apt to hold things in, to let troubles simmer, and to push them aside and tell myself nothing is wrong. Of course, though, there is always a breaking point.

Mine came in the form of a long Facebook message from my dad—not usually a sign of good news—that arrested me from my homework on a recent Tuesday afternoon. His message said that a retired colleague of thirty years had just passed away. She’d gone into the hospital, contracted COVID there, and died. Her death shouldn’t have affected me any more deeply than the others. I never had a personal relationship with her, but her existence had been felt as a presence in my family for years—in mentions at the dinner table, in messages on the answering machine, in complaints my dad would voice about his work. Now she was gone.

The weather outside fit the scene: angry wind gusts, tree branches accosting the windows, the rain hurtling down in sideways sheets. I wanted to weep. But first a curious force seized me, an inner urging that said, “Before you sit in this sadness, go outside, walk through this foul, bone-dampening weather, and give it the middle finger.”

So, a few minutes later, there I was, walking defiantly up Sixteenth Avenue, my body forming an acute angle with the sidewalk as I fought the wind and rain, my toes wiggling about in now soggy shoes. Feeling more than a little foolish, I settled on going to Trader Joe’s to buy a chocolate dessert I could indulge in. My rebellious act would end in an anti-climactic concession; it would explode with a fizzle, not a bang.

Upon entering Trader Joe’s, though, my eyes fell on the colorful display of fresh cut flowers, their cheer and gaudiness simultaneously mocking my sullen mood while also inviting me in. The flowers were, in short, the most impeccable and fitting f*** you I could have imagined. I proceeded to pick out a bouquet of vibrant, yellow carnations, paid for them, and marched them home in triumph through the wind and rain.

***

“Oh, how nice, you got flowers today?” my wife asked when she returned from work. 

“Yes, I did,” I replied. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but this time these flowers are for me.” 

4 Comments

  1. Jon Gorter

    I loved this! Thanks for writing this Chad. TJ’s really is one big retaliation against the gloom…

    Reply
    • Chad Westra

      YES! With more space, I would have also sung the praises of TJ’s exceedingly pleasant staff and their candy/desserts, especially the dark-chocolate peanut butter cups.
      Thanks for reading, Jon!

      Reply
  2. Alex Johnson

    Oof. I’ve been having emotional conversations with a family who is walking through a lot of misfortune too—just thing after thing after thing—and it’s been weighing heavily on me. It’s so hard to allow ourselves to grieve the parts of life that don’t seem momentous enough or connected (to us) enough. And yet I love that you didn’t leave in that grief—I actually laughed aloud at your gumption walking outside that slide into going to Trader Joe’s.

    I guess I’m saying yes and I’m with you and thank you and I admire you and I hope the flowers brought you delight and comfort.

    Reply
    • Chad Westra

      You’re so right, the accretion, or momentum, of small, seemingly insignificant losses can weigh heavily. Thank you for sharing, and for your supportive read. I’m with you, too.

      Reply

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