How a sunflower changed my life.

I don’t know why I went out drinking last night, my head is pounding. Why did I agree to an early morning hike? Why am I up so early? As I drive to fetch my students a feeling washes over me, I have to go on this hike. The students pile into my car and begin to chatter. I can honestly say that I don’t want to be here but I must interact, I must make the best of this situation. I can see that one of the girls is not herself today; I wonder what the problem is. It’s a 3 hour hike, I am pretty sure we will get to the bottom of it.


We park the car and find the trail. It is another immaculate day in this city that I live in, I am hugged by the warm air and my skin is kissed gently by the morning sun. As we round the first corner of the hike I look up from monitoring my footsteps and there it is, there is the reason I live here, there is the reason I get up early even with a hangover…for kilometres below me I see an impeccable shore line and an eternity of ocean.


Melanie is walking in front of me and I can still sense that something is wrong and in an attempt to cheer her up I casually ask her how her boyfriend is. She stutters through her words and finally tells me that they broke up. My heart hurts for her because I know what it is like to be so young and not understand the intensity of your first love leaving you. I walk and listen, there is no better space to express yourself than in nature and I let her start the grieving process. The entire time she was speaking I kept thinking about my first love, she was beautiful but the agony that she left in her wake was destructive. I could relate to Melanie.


As I was listening to her, I concentrated on my footsteps; I was wearing a cap and couldn’t see what was ahead of me. I looked up briefly and my heart sank, my mind raced and everything happened in a split second. There she was, how could this be? Does she even live here anymore? She recognises me immediately and I her, how can you not recognise a soul that you have loved for an eternity.


I began to shake and we gingerly greeted each other, a little small talk was made but I was eager to move on. I could not let my students know that a nuclear bomb of emotions had just gone off inside of me, I must remain calm. So she said goodbye and continued with her run. I turned to Melanie and said “And there goes the girl who first broke my heart”. It was an eerie coincidence that my first love was standing in front of me on a random Saturday, at a random time, on a random path, on a rather large mountain.


The rest of the hike all I remember is Melanie’s voice in the background, every so often I acknowledged what she was saying but the rest was a blur. I was shaken; I kept running the encounter in my head. Around and around she went. After the hike and once all of my students had left, I found a spot to think and regroup. A flood of memories came back to me and I sat in my silence and let the tears roll down my face.


Weeks went by and still her presence haunted me, I could see her running on, still holding that piece of my heart that she took with her years earlier. She was my first, it was for her that I came out and consciously changed the course of my life. We had a strong bond but a volatile relationship. I realised that I had never really let her go and during a day dream I toyed with ideas of how to get over her and all I saw in this day dream were sunflowers. Beautiful sunflowers with their vibrant petals that resonate a feeling of hope. I used to buy her sunflowers when I could. In that moment I decided that every month on the same day I would return to that hiking trail with a sunflower and place it next to where we had bumped in to each other and I would take 30 minutes to reminisce, I would do this until she no longer haunted me but made me smile. My plan was to truly remember, to let myself feel and to find a way to leave the beautiful and the haunting memories on the mountain. So here is how the sunflower changed my life:


Month 1:


I was nervous today because there was a real chance now that I could bump into her again. I couldn’t let this deter me though as my goal was clear, it was time to let go, for me. I placed the sunflower and put my hand on the soil, I felt that if I connected to the earth that somehow the universe would sense what I needed, I needed to leave her there. I sat down facing that view I love so much and I took a deep breath and let my mind wander.


Memory is a wonderful thing and mine took me to the first time I bought her a sunflower. We were still students and money was limited but I had to show her what she meant to me, I had to give her something tangible. I purchased a single sunflower and her favourite chocolate. After class I walked some distance to her house, placed the sunflower and chocolate on her doorstep and left. I often wish that I had been there to see her face, I also wonder if the beautiful surprise meant as much to her as I intended. In that moment, on that mountain, I let those feelings I had then wash over me. It’s like watching your favourite movie again, its familiar and it’s warm. I looked down on the city below me and I was grateful that once in my life I had the opportunity to love deeply and that I had the means to show it.


Month 2:


Vivid dreams had plagued the month that had just passed. She danced through my mind on more than one occasion and it had left me tired, but I had to continue. Off I went to the same spot, I looked around, and there was no evidence of the sunflower I had left a month ago. I thought to myself, what if she was here? What if she saw the flower and took a moment to remember me too? Was that my intention all along?


Regardless, I followed the same ritual as before; I placed the sunflower down, put my hand on the soil, closed my eyes and asked the universe for a moment of peace, a moment of clarity. I leant up against a tree and watched the clouds come over; rain was on its way. Rain. Cleansing, purifying rain.


How many raindrops fell while I loved her? I remember one evening we went out, it had been raining all night. At two in the morning we looked onto the street and saw that the road had been deserted: no cars, no people, just puddles and rain drops. I asked her to dance. We made our way onto the street; I held her hand and pulled her close. A scent, a touch and a warmth I knew so well. I did not feel one rain drop that night but I can remember the laughter, the twirls and the freedom as we danced our way down the street.


As a rain drop fell, I got up to leave and let the water take her with it.


Month 3:

The third time I made the trip up the mountain carrying my sunflower I felt like I was in a darker space. Anger had crept in, I felt that here I was once again giving more of myself. Where was she today? Did she know that up on a mountain there was a soul trying to detach from hers?


The routine wasn’t as gentle and heartfelt as before, the ground felt cold and I cursed the universe. When I sat down to contemplate I decided to try work through memories that hurt. What was it that poisoned a potentially great love? I thought about Melanie at this point and I remembered how I had thought that at that age, you cannot deal with the intensity of certain emotions. There is a fine line between good emotions and bad ones and all it takes is a split second to push you over the edge. My split second popped into my mind. One evening I decided to surprise her at a pub, I was meant to be studying. As I walked into the pub I could sense something wasn’t right. I looked at where she was sitting and saw her kissing someone else.


Cold. Numb. Broken. Words used to describe that moment when you realise that things will never be the same again. I left the pub unnoticed. I stayed with her for three years after that, I never asked, I always wondered. I never loved her the same after that. I never loved myself the same way either.


How do I forgive in that moment? I needed a way to leave the mountain with it all buried there. I decided to write the story down, I expressed everything in written words and now under the sunflower, buried deep in the earth is that story, a recipe on how to poison love.


Month 4:


The fourth trip came quickly. The 30 days leading up to this trip I was not plagued by her. I was plagued by irrational thoughts though. I started to think that perhaps she knew that I was there, that on one of my trips back to the mountain I would find her waiting there, she would open her arms and forgive me, she would forgive herself and two broken parts would become one again. I knew this was irrational, far-fetched and something only stories would allow.


So as I walked up the mountain, I made sure I looked good, I had brushed my hair that morning and wore my best clothes. When I arrived at the spot disappointment set in, the remains of my sunflower from the previous month was still there, a sad looking sunflower, untouched but hopefully not unnoticed. I looked at it for a while and I let the disappointment set in and I let my irrational longing pass. I placed the new sunflower next to the old one and as I touched the soil again to try connect to the energy of the universe, I thanked the old sunflower for its purpose in my life.


It was a clear day and I could see people on the beaches below me, somewhere down on the beach someone was falling in love, what an amazing thought. I remember falling in love; she became the sparkle in my eye. As I sat there, memories washed over me of all the moments where I fell a little more in love with her. We were sweet together. I remember coming home one day after a relatively tough day, I saw her sitting in front of the TV, I walked up to her and sat on her lap, I wrapped myself completely around her and tucked my face into her neck. She kissed my head and she merely said hello, my heart lifted and I fell a little harder.


She was also my rock. It is amazing how one person can make you feel so safe. In reality a mere person cannot protect you from everything but just having her there made me feel invincible. We had gone away on holiday and we were in a strange place in the middle of nowhere. Late one night there was an intense thunderstorm; I woke up and was very panicked. I was unable to move. She woke up and drew me close to her, it took me a minute and I was fast asleep again. I was no longer afraid, she was there. I just kept falling.


I started to realise that I was in fact blessed. Thinking back on how much I loved her, I realised that it was a privilege to have loved that human, in a world so big I was able to connect and be seen. All the harsh words and memories that came with this volatile love, the years of longing and sadness all started to fade away.


I decided that my process needed to end. I left the mountain and returned later with 4 bunches of sunflowers. Each bunch represented each year that the universe gave me with her. I sat next to the tree where I had been placing the flowers and touched the soil again. My connection with the earth felt rejuvenated, I was allowed to leave this here. As I placed each bunch of flowers, I repeated these beautiful words from a song: “I feel nothing but oceans of love and forgiveness.” As I stood to leave one last tear rolled down my face and I knew that I loved myself again, I forgave myself, I forgave her. That is how a sunflower changed my life.

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