I rush through the farmers’ market in downtown Boston, on my way to your apartment for dinner after work, when a table full of bouquets catches my eye. The florist is packing it in for the day and nods toward the blue mason jars full of sunflowers. They’re half-off, she says.
I know it’s absurd to transport a bulky bouquet of flowers on the Red Line train during rush hour—crush hour—but I just can’t resist these blooms. I picture you laughing at my foolishness when you open the door and I present my spontaneous purchase born out of the desire to surprise and delight.
Hustling to South Station, arms full of yellow petals and green stems, I feel the hot summer wind try to pick my empty pockets as I descend the stairway. The platform is packed with vexed commuters, and a banshee-like shriek heralds the arrival of the train and grinds our teeth to dust. I stand my ground against the current of disembarking passengers, then push my way inside until the crowd grudgingly absorbs me. My goal is clear: protect my foolish floral cargo from sharp shoulders and bulky backpacks for five stops to Central Square.
At Downtown Crossing, just before the train doors slam shut, two women manage to squeeze in beside me. I ignore them at first, which is how all polite commuters treat one another, until I realize they are talking about me.
One woman is blind and the other woman is her guide, the latter explaining how to navigate the transit system in Boston. The guide describes the scene in the crowded train car, and adds: “And there is a woman with a bouquet of sunflowers that she is trying to keep safe.” The blind woman and her guide smile at me, and I reply with a grin, “Desperately!”
We laugh together then, suddenly in on the same joke that we don’t belong here; we’re claiming space not meant for us. Me with my sunflowers during the hour of rush and crush; the blind woman learning a system not designed for her. At their stop, before they exit, the women wish me the best of luck. We three merry rebels shared a brief bond as we stood our ground—just like you and I tried to do a long time ago.
We met and became friends in our religious community when we were teenagers. But after a few years we both realized we could never truly be ourselves and belong there. They told me it was a tragedy I wasn’t a man because I was a good teacher and intelligent, but I needed to lean into my design to be a wife and mother. According to their narrative, God only calls a woman to lead and teach the holy text when he wants to shame the men into stepping up. As a woman, I was taking up too much space—so pipe down already. They reduced you to the one thing they found unacceptable in their space—being gay—and let that eclipse your kindness, generosity, your ability to ask thoughtful questions and lead great conversations. According to their narrative, God only wants straight people in his church and you need to be cured.
We didn’t wait to be evicted, but left quietly and then lost touch.
For fifteen years their rejection felt like a wound that would never fully heal. But now I am glad I was hurt just enough, condemned just enough, to propel me to leave and seek new soil for my roots. My wound became a map that led me out of a small faith and blinkered vision of God; it guided me into a more spacious world, and eventually back to you and your friendship.
When the train jolts to a stop at Central Square, I manage to disembark with only a few yellow petals lost in the extraction. As I walk down Massachusetts Ave to where you live now, dodging bikes and dogs and strollers the size of park benches, I see that my sunflowers are so much more than foolish floral cargo.
I bring these blossoms to your dinner table as a rebellious declaration that we will not be crushed by past rejection; that we will bloom in this new land not designed to weed us out. And if there is a God, I believe they want us to flourish and to know that we belong in this space just as we are.
Anneli Matheson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from City University in Hong Kong. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Other Journal, Hawaii Pacific Review, The Ilanot Review, Sweet Literary, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Connect with her on Twitter: @AnneliMatheson