I have never been a risk taker. Over the years with my small family, tight social circle and underwhelming achievements, I can safely say that I’ve grown a bit too relaxed in my tiny comfort zone. I became used to living in the fear of uncertainty. Fun times. My little bubble officially burst on my first day of classes at the University of Florida.
I transitioned from invisible daughter of Trinidadian immigrant, to Gator in one of the country’s largest public universities.
I swear the culture shock nearly sent me packing. So like any true Trini, I became a professional whiner. I missed my family in Miami, I missed my handful of friends and I missed my parents’ soft accents. I never felt smaller than my first time on that large campus—and it was all I could think about.
The isolation and loneliness began to get to me, so I became something I’ve never become before. I became impulsive.
If I’ve learned one thing at college, it’s this: There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sweaty palms, a racing heart and a small handful of dying succulent leaves while panickily speed walking out of the Walmart garden section on a casual Tuesday night. It really feels like getting away with murder. Yes, dying succulent leaves and yes, Walmart. College kids out here need to hustle, remember?
My big secret is out. I steal the dying leaf stems from the dingy floors of garden centers and then propagate them in my tiny college room. I am a thief. However, I personally like to identify myself as a prop-lifter. I think I’m kind of funny sometimes.
My Tuesday runs to Walmart soon became the highlight of my week. But don’t be fooled. I wasn’t just lifting any old leaves—I lifted ones that reminded me of home. I lifted wilting rosemary, just like the ones in my grandmother’s old garden. Or I recovered a damaged bougainvillea stem, the same color as the kind that make up my front hedge at home. I stumbled upon my mom’s favorite flower here, my dad’s favorite spice there. I wanted to recreate the fragrances and textures of my childhood in my bedroom. This new addiction soon rainbowed over my academic responsibilities.
To tell you the truth, I know it’s not really stealing. I always ask for permission, and I always make sure to thank the workers there. But do I still feel like I should be arrested on sight after leaving the crime scene? Yes. That feeling has yet to go away.
In all honestly, I just felt desperate for a glimpse of my life back at home.
My weekly trips turned into my guilty pleasure. My budding propagations became the only thing that made me feel connected to my family back at home. Taking care of those small plants and nurturing them into blossoming adults made me feel like I had purpose at college. I was making a difference, branching out and I was staying true to my roots while doing it (pun intended).
However, I was living in the past. Even though I worked hard to make these little reminders of home grow, I wasn’t growing as a person. My new comfort circle included my fertilizer, soil and ceramic pots. A real squad, am I right? I fell back into my old ways of refusing to challenge myself.
During this epiphany, I noticed a few of my mom’s favorite herbs began to wilt. I soon let the rest of my little “rescues” die off. They were coming along steadily, but it was time to let them go.
That week, I read about stress-induced flowering. Plants sometimes need to be challenged and shaken up a bit in order to inhibit some blooms. Just like people—and me.
I let my tiny tokens of nostalgia wilt away, one by one. Staying in my comfort zone set me up for failure. I needed a change if I wanted to truly flower and grow. The death of my mini garden from home was my first step in growing at college. I’m not quite there yet, but I hope that soon, I’ll flower.