Every year, the tulips on my front lawn grow. Even after we cut down the small, short tree with the hanging arms of leaves you could climb underneath, and even after we covered the dirt where Grandma used to sit with us on Sundays to plant flowers (small pink and orange garden-ready ones and tulips, mostly), the tulips would bloom. They’d poke out from the grass in early spring, their stems emerging awkwardly like a bear stretching its arms after a season of hibernation.
Tulips are perennials. Grandma tells me this in the fall, when we are planting the bulbs (do this around six to eight weeks before the first hard frost so they have enough time to establish their roots before winter). She’s brought a few bulbs with her (select firm ones) and begins scooping into the earth. I first watch, ready with my ladybug printed gardening glove gripping my hand shovel, then mimic her digging (a hole three times the height of the bulb—around six to eight inches deep). The arching branches of the small tree behind us brush against our backs as we prepare the beds for each bulb (each about four to six inches apart, allowing ample sunlight and partial shade). Grandma shows me which way to place them into the ground (the narrow, pointed side facing upward—if you’re unsure, plant them sideways, and they will find their way up).
Tulips are perennials: they bloom in the spring, go dormant during the summer, then return to bloom again the following spring.
This past summer, M and I spent a lot of time together. We would sit on my couch or next to each other in the garden of a museum or on top of the neighboring building’s roof. Stop by on your way home. I’ll walk you to the bus station. Come eat your salad here. My journal remained closed for the most part, and pages remained unfilled. I was probably just processing my thoughts out loud with people (i.e. M) instead of through the pages of my notebook. Or maybe I was just not having that many thoughts.
The latter scared me more. If anyone was going to have me rambling about every single opinion, worry, hope, and theory in my mind, oversharing and untangling in real time, it would be M. But in the summer, she’d ask what I was thinking about, and I would search and search and find nothing to say.
By the end, the realization of my sudden loss for words became a subject of conversation that I, of course, unpacked with M. My conclusion was that maybe I was just in a season of Not Feeling Much, Not Thinking Much. It was the season of sticky humid days, of ice cream trucks and rooftops chats; it was the season of other things too.
From February until August, I didn’t touch my violin. I didn’t touch any instrument for that matter. I made the decision to bring as little as I could for my semester abroad, so before leaving, I carefully put my violin case in the corner of the office closet upstairs. I zipped up my guitar cases and propped them up against my bed, neatly coiled up my cords and unplugged my amp—it felt like meticulously making a bed and fluffing the pillow before leaving for a holiday trip.
I left the dreary and cold winter season in New York, flew across the world, and found myself suddenly basking in hot summer sunshine, finding reprieve swimming in crystal-clear lakes and drinking New Zealand’s clean running river water. I made a good friend named Morgan and together, we explored the South Island. We backpacked through glaciers, camped next to natural hot springs at the top of mountains, and bought wetsuits so we could go surfing even as the green leaves slowly turned orange, then brown, then fell off the trees. We seldom had phone service, so the sounds surrounding us became our music to fill the silences: light rain hitting our canopy, water gurgling through a nearby stream, someone zipping up their tent and clicking off their flashlight. My fingertips went tender and soft, and my nails grew long.
I returned to New York in June, shedding my four layers of thermals for a tank top and shorts, thankful that it was summer in this hemisphere again. I was exhausted from traveling and starting work the next day, so I packed what I could carry and made one trip from home to the apartment I’d be staying in for the next couple months. It was closer to work, but home was also an easy train ride away, so a small carry-on suitcase would suffice for a few weeks. I filled it with clothes and stuffed shoes in totes and hauled Mom’s grocery bag of ‘essentials’ up to apartment 3B. My violin would wait until next time; Dad could bring my guitars and amp next time he drove in.
I went home less than I thought I would and always forgot to tell Dad to bring my guitars. Instead, I spent the summer baking a lot, and my tender hands kneaded dough for scones. Holly recently moved back to New York, so I walked to hers everyday after work and hung out like we hadn’t been able to since she left for college six years back. If flowers can go dormant for six years then emerge more robustly and wonderfully than ever before, this summer, they bloomed.
If you asked me to describe my semester thus far in three words, my answer would be: I / don’t / know. It is (already) the end of October, and it feels like no time has gone by, but also like I’ve been here forever. Maybe a house takes longer than a dorm to make into a home? Have I been away from campus for too long? I sit at my computer and want to pour my heart out using words, and I watch my cursor blink back at me like a steady metronome, going nowhere. I open my black journal to write, but instead I am clicking my pen and twirling it in my right hand.
Other things have remained the same and feel as though I have never left campus. I am playing the violin again. We just finished our orchestra concert and tomorrow I have chamber rehearsal. My Tuesdays and Thursdays are once again long days. I cut my nails before I start practicing and pick at the calluses on my fingertips.
Tulips bloom, then go dormant, then bloom, again, and again.