I didn’t know the name for the tree, so many years ago, the ones with the purple blossoms, and round ear-shaped leaves. They are orchid trees; they are not orchids, and there used to grow a large one outside the drama room of my old high school. I do not know how it fared during the hurricane some years ago, but it would bloom in the Florida version of spring, just as the days started to feel like summer again, just as we began to expect the daily rains.
We didn’t have the name for the tree or its flowers, she and I, my friend from high school. I didn’t know a lot of things then– how to write a college academic paper, how to forge a knife, how to help when I suspected something was wrong in someone’s family, or how to recognize abuse from a boyfriend. He was smarmy. And I should have seen it. But I didn’t know what to do… especially when he could be so sweet on the surface. He could be sweet on the surface.
I don’t know if it was a rainy day. I don’t remember if she had told me that day what had passed between him and her, or if it was another. She and I were picking up the fallen flowers, trying to scoop up some of them before they were stepped on by students hurrying class to class. “Pretty purple,” I pronounced, mimicking a childlike tone.
With a smile, she named them: “Purple pretty.”
So they became purple pretties for me, before they were ever orchid tree blossoms. All that time since high school, all this time I’ve not known what’s happened to her, I hope the years have treated her more kindly than he did. I hope her dreams (and body and sense of self and soul and personhood and endeavors) haven’t been trampled like the orchid tree flowers lying in the grass next to the drama room. And it’s because of her that every year I wear purple pretties in my hair– it’s what I can do now, now that contact has been lost and I don’t even know if I’d be a welcome face. It is an act of hope.