The tree is still in my college roommate’s mother’s Bellaire backyard. It’s almost as tall as the house. I would not have predicted its future when I first laid eyes upon it, as a sophomore in college living in my first apartment, at the Gardens of Braeswood complex.
Its survival is a miracle, really, predicated upon the fact that the roomie and I were total slobs. The tree started its life as a clipping, part of a beautiful bouquet that a nice young Rice golfer, dating my roommate, gifted her on Valentine’s Day. She set it on a table next to a window in our dingy, carpeted living room, hung with a purple tapestry of the kind still seen in college dorms everywhere. And there it stayed.
The first couple months of its life, the tree—and we did not know it was a tree—was neglected entirely. But as summer approached, with finals looming, we noticed something. The entire bouquet was brown, except for one thing that, against all odds, was thriving, sprouting frilly, light-green leaves. Realizing it had sprung an elaborate set of roots, we began to monitor it with fascination.
At some point, we actually started watering the thing, even cleaning its vase and discarding the crunchy, rotten flowers. We could not have been prouder of this achievement, simultaneously taking full credit for its survival and marveling that it was still with us, against all odds, a flourishing plant in an apartment so disgusting, I can only explain it this way: Once, a friend came over and spilled a Coke on the kitchen counter. Nobody wiped it up. She visited again some months later and couldn’t believe the sticky soda stain was still…there.
Anyway, when the semester ended, we gave the tree—I don’t think anyone ever figured out what kind it is—to my roomie’s mom, who a) informed us that it was a tree and b) planted it. The rest is history. I’ve always seen it as a symbol of our enduring friendship. And perhaps because there was no official event to mark the moment I left childhood behind, I’ve always seen moving into that first apartment as a significant coming-of-age moment in my life. But the truth is, although we were in college and could vote and drive cars, we were still kids.
Eventually it did finally happen, though. In yet another weird miracle of life, the two of us (mostly) grew up. Today we both have tidy homes where no one even drinks soda. Neither one of us has accidentally grown another tree. When the roomie comes to town I usually stop by her folks’ house, and seeing the tree there always makes me think about how in the end, we—roomie, tree, me—matured together, through some combination of sheer luck and effort and, I guess, nature’s will.
I don’t regret my slovenly youth or delayed adulthood—not for a second—but I’m quite happy to be a grownup now, if for no other reason than I’ve learned to use a sponge.