Mimosa Pudica

On the back deck of my childhood home, sheltered and shadowed by the heavy green limbs of the woods behind our house, was a potted fern. I sat there on my heels, hands folded close to my stomach as I watched my dad plant it, patting the dirt until his hands were wet and sooty with soil. I was still wearing my watercolor blue-and-pink dress from church, so I waited patiently for him to finish before I could run inside and change into something I could wear to run around outside and play.

"Watch this," he said once he was done, and he reached out and touched the center of the thin, soft leaves of the fern.

In a lazy ripple, the leaves folded in on themselves. It closed for a minute or two before slowly opening back up again. He did it a second time, to another leaf. It did the same thing, closing and opening.

"Try it."

With the gentlest manner an excited five-year-old could muster, I reached out and stroked the leaf, letting the fern curl around my finger for a second before letting go. I laughed, half relieved it didn't snap closed on me like I'd imagined Venus Fly Traps did -- catching prey in its mouth and digesting them whole -- and half thrilled with the fact that a plant reacted to my touch. Fern Gully being one of my favorite movies at the time, I could think of no greater excitement than having a thing of nature recognize me.

The little fern had thin, sensitive leaves, as soft as that robin's feather I'd found a few days prior. Immediately, I was mesmerized. I spent hours that day, sitting on the splintered deck in my dress and white buckle shoes, petting the plant. I gave it a name, though I can't remember it now. What I do remember is wondering if there would be a time when I could touch the plant and not have it close up; would we eventually reach a moment where the leaves would no longer feel the need to hide themselves and realize I was a friend, not predator?


The plant was a Mimosa Pudica, though I knew it by the less-scientific names: the sleepy plant, or the touch-me-not. It was the brightest green with small, almost translucent-purple bursts of flowers, and I loved it more than all of the colorful geraniums, impatiens, and marigolds that lined the railing, buzzing with fat little bumblebees. Even though it only lived on the deck under my bedroom window for one summer, it is one of the memories of the dewy months of May-June-July I remember most from my childhood.

Recently, I found myself thinking about it again. Out of nowhere, those leaves. The nervous plant that I felt some strange kinship to nearly twenty years ago. It's an apt and timely metaphor, as I've been fighting back some stubborn anxiety these past two weeks. It's been a stressful time, and like the mimosa pudica, my instinct is to fold up, close myself off from potential harm.

Panic disorder is an incredibly skilled liar. It sends a signal to some primal part of my brain that there is a perceived threat, a predator before me. The alarm for fight or flight sounds, and all I can do is react. Sometimes I have a sense of control over my reaction (mainly, sitting there, still and silent, waiting for the panic to pass because -- guess what! -- there's usually no real threat before me and, with time, my brain might finally react as such). Other times, I have no control. I fold.

There's this article I read about the mimosa pudica and how it evolved in such a way to differentiate between threat and non-threat. The way it folded in on itself whenever the sensitive spines of the leaves were touched prevented it from being properly watered. It would rain, and the plant would seize up. Something that was good was perceived as dangerous, and the possibility of a threat was enough to send it into its natural, ingrained reaction of closing. But, eventually, it learned not to curl up when rain drops landed on it. Scientists aren't sure how, but the plant's reaction changed.

The plant learned.

The plant opened up.

That sticks in my head, this little amazing plant. The times my anxiety wins and the fear in my head steamrolls over all other thoughts, I start to fold in on myself. Slowly, though, I'm reworking that reaction. I don't want to close down, to shelter myself to the point of being counterproductive. It's not protecting me; life is going on without me as I peel myself out again and realize there's no danger, no predators waiting. I'm unfolding. I'm evolving. I just have to open up and let the rain drops fall.

Thunderstorm

He walks around like he carries 
a thunderstorm 
in his pocket. 

 Whenever clear skies are 
too much, he
disappears into 
his rain.

He holds his anger like
a gift.
For what else
could a lightning bolt
be?

Fear no fate

I have three tattoos, and depending on the weather, at least two are predominantly visible.

My first was a set of delicate quotation marks on my wrists, right over my pulse points. I was twenty. I lived in a world of fiction. Books -- writing them, reading -- got me through a lot of tough years. I wanted to keep that peace with me and be able to look at it every day and find it again.

Last May I got my latest tattoo. I was twenty-three, my sister was twenty-one. On the back of her left heel, she got the sun and I got the moon on my own right heel. I remember not being nervous, and I remember how brilliantly teal the walls of the tattoo parlor were with the early summer sun glaring through the windows. My sister means the world to me, and even more than books ever were or could be, she is my happy and bright, no matter how dark the nights.

But my favorite tattoo was my second. I was twenty-one, almost twenty-two. The days leading up to it were spent deciding where I wanted the tattoo placed, how big I wanted the lettering, which script was right. It was my sister's first tattoo (a quote from Rent across her back, in typewriter lettering). I wore my Ramones shirt. I had a panic attack on the drive there, making the tattoo all the more appropriate afterward.

Photo by Sarah Culver Photography

"fear no fate"

I decided I wanted the small quote to sit just under my left collarbone, a few inches above my heart. I wanted it visible; I wanted to see it every time I looked in the mirror.

Usually, the tops I wear cover at least part of the tattoo. (I noticed once, at work, that only the word "fear" was visible. It made me laugh, and then think about the importance of the two words that followed.) So, naturally, because it is a tattoo that is partially visible -- as in, visible enough to see I have a tattoo, but maybe not clear enough to make out what it is -- I get a lot of questions about it.

"Fear no fate." It's a line I cut out of my favorite E.E. Cummings poem, [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]. It sits at the top of the second stanza, and in full, the sentiment reads reads: 
  i fear / no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)

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