Tulips in California-the winters are not cold enough. But the obsessive among us, the true lover of flowers, of garden, earth, and growth persists. Women mostly, women like my mother, know that tulips will not bloom unless they have six weeks of cold, yet they persist. My mother simulates the growing conditions: she places the tulip bulbs in a special drawer in the refrigerator. A drawer empty but for tulip bulbs, resting, maturing for six weeks long. During these six weeks, my father is periodically chastised for placing softening apples in the refrigerator so they will not rot on the kitchen counter. Chemicals released by apples stunt the maturation of tulip bulbs and prevent blooming.
"How many times do I have to tell you? The bulbs will not bloom with apples!" my mother screams at my father, when she discovers a bag of apples in the adjoining drawer. He knows this-he has watched the thwarted growth of her tulips time and time again. He refuses to waste good fruit, and he will sacrifice a year of tuliping for the sake of saving.
And my mother goes to the nursery and buys another bag full of bulbs. "I have to be on constant look out for those goddamn apples," she says to me over dinner. It amazes and befuddles me, that my mother, who does all the grocery shopping, who chooses all of the fruit, buys apples and only apples, apples in great numbers and different sizes. It is a war they play over and back to each other-wasting money by saving money, wasting fruit by saving tulips, buying more apples to replace the lost fruit, wasting tulips to save the fruit. And so the battle goes-sacrificing to save and saving to sacrifice.
It is like this with everything, with everything with my parents. They love each other very much. They are furious in their love-it is an uncontrollable, full-blown process, like the blooming flower, one I will never fully understand. My father goes into fits of depression; he furls his brow, he turns inward, and goes crazy over things like overflowing garbage cans, unfolded laundry, shoes left in the center of the living room floor. His head shakes and his eyes muddy-you can see the pressure and smell the mood. Then he explodes.
She stands there and watches him, my father burning like a branch, with her finger pressed to her temple.