How raising cacti helped me grow

I was packing up everything I owned – or everything I could shove into two suitcases – for my room across the country when my mom walked into my childhood bedroom and said, “I got you something.”

I was in one of those moments of transition that makes everything feel like a huge deal. I’d just graduated from college. I was on my way to graduate school. And I was moving all the way across the country with my girlfriend. Everything felt new, a mix of terrifying and exciting that went either way depending on the minute. My entire life was in the air.

Things got even more out of my control the previous day when my girlfriend and I crunched numbers and realized that driving from east to west coast would be way cheaper. Just like that, our plans had shifted – we were going to make the trip, some would say, of a lifetime.

Now, my mother stood in front of me with something else new in hand: a cactus.

I laughed and reached for it, careful not to be pricked by the many spikes. It was a little round thing the size of a tangerine. I placed it on my desk, no longer awash with feelings of anxiety and panic, packing temporarily forgotten. I thanked my mom, and she smiled, leaving me with this new creature.

My girlfriend arrived on my doorstep two days later. We spent the next day loading and unloading her car and trying to make all of our stuff fit. Some things were left behind. Tears were shed, but not over things; my mother wore sunglasses to mask her tearful goodbye. We hugged, she hugged my girlfriend, and then we were on our way, tiny cactus swinging from my wrist in a paper bag.

On the last night we had together in our hometown, my best friends named my cactus Tabitha. I accepted the name without question. This would be my way of keeping them, and my mom, with me. All through the drive from coast to coast, Tabitha sat in her pot inside of a paper bag and shoved between the passenger side door and suitcases. When we went into the hotels, I brought her with us. From Pennsylvania to Illinois to Utah and then, finally, to California, Tabitha stayed by our side.

I could say that we laughed, cried, and rejoiced when we finally reached the west coast, but the truth is simple: it was nice to have something to take care of to distract from the massive shift that seemed to be so quickly happening in my life.

Now, Tabitha sits on my writing desk alongside her sibling, Glenn. One of my best friends has an aloe named Glen. We’re strange like that. Connected. Our other best friend has plants as well. We all panic when we think they’re dying. We all talk about them like they’re our children.

There’s something about suddenly being thrust into adulthood that makes a plant comforting. It’s not a huge responsibility, like an animal. It doesn’t take a lot of time. But it gives you something low stress to look forward to every morning – get up, check on the plants. Drink tea. Take a shower.

When I’m at my most stressed and exhausted, it can be difficult to get out of bed. But I have things to do, things to take care of. I rise, and they do too, gaining new spikes alongside new flowers and serving as constant illustrations of what it means to grow.