Who fears the flowers?
Who the Hell is Afraid of a Hollyhock?
Trigger warning: child sexual abuse
When I was small, I could see all the kids playing on the school playground every day from my backyard. Soon it would be my turn to enter first grade.
I could not wait to be a big kid!
It was the summer before school began, the time when plastic swimming pools lined the neighborhood and gardens were lush with ripe vegetables.
I was standing with a new little boy on the other side of the school fence, eating a tomato straight from the vine. We talked while his mom was inside the school getting his paperwork done to go to first grade like me.
I saw a man wandering into the playground. He came over and asked my new friend if he would help find his lost dog. Frightened, the boy ran away screaming. Then the man asked me to help.
It wasn’t long before he lifted our section of the fence and I scooted under it.
Of course, I would help. I was a helpful, empathic child who never said no to anyone.
After that, I only recall fragments. I can still feel the leaves under my legs, the sticks that poked my back, and the point of the knife. The next thing I remember was stumbling into my backyard.
I was dirty and my romper set was ripped. I staggered to the spigot, intent on washing up before my mom saw me. Leaning my weeping face into the water, I paused.
The hollyhocks were watching me.
Had they witnessed me being naughty by leaving our yard? They seemed to lean in, suffocating me with whispering words that I could not make out. I thought the hollyhocks were going to kill me.
I ran as fast as my little shaking legs would go, screaming through the grass to where my mother stood, rising from her lawn chair. I collapsed into my mom and then I remember nothing.
Many years later, when my first husband and I moved onto the farm, I woke one morning to a smell. It made my stomach turn but pushed me to remember.
I walked out and turned to where the scent was coming from. My gaze landed on the flowers my mother-in-law was weeding. She turned as she heard me gasp, and my body froze in horror.
Hollyhocks lined the side of our new home.
With the fury of a wounded animal, I began ripping that awful flower out by the roots. I had to exorcise the taunting plant from my home. After pulling them all out, I cried.
I wept for all the many years I didn’t know I was afraid of a flower. I wept from the pain that had been brought to the surface again.
So, who was afraid of a Hollyhock? I was.
It was then I started to admit I had been assaulted, by the man but also when my family decided to never talk about that day.
So next time you see me in the florist shop, remind me I love roses.