The last buckets have been washed, the last petals swept, the last hostile critiques and disapproving stares weathered with a nod, a smile, and a silent fuck you. At 6pm on Friday, I walked out of my job knowing I would never again lay eyes upon my boss–her cruel visage thinly veiled by the comely disguise of flowers–and a giant, stupid grin broke across my face. Freedom!
Before I began this job, I held such romantic notions of working in a flower shop. I think most people do. It evokes dreamy visions of chic, vintage furniture blanketed in seas of fresh blossoms with kind-faced shop women wielding gardening shears and carrying bouquets bundled in craft paper and ribbon–and those visions aren’t wrong. But people think only of the the sweet perfume of roses and lilac–not the stench of rice flower, like pungent weed and the must of old books (a smell I’ve admittedly grown to love), or the peonies that sporadically stink like hot sewage. They think only of the jeweled hues of hyacinth, with petals of amethyst and sapphire blue–not the strands of mucus that cling to its stems, reeking of onion. They fail to notice the shop proprietor silently judging them from behind her dazzling display of blooms. It’s easy to be distracted by such beauty.
Lurking beneath the romance is reality–the ugly, the mundane. I wouldn’t have minded the drudge work one bit–it is a job, after-all, and I’m no stranger to manual labor–but labor of any kind becomes unbearable when carried out beneath the hawkish gaze of a boss whose palpable disdain permeates the air, mingling with the scent of geranium and muscari like an odorless poison. And while the flowers that line the shelves of the coolers—ranunculus and freesia, dianthus, tulips, and arabicum— might be the same species as their wild counterparts, they seem a sad specter of their former selves. There’s a certain melancholy about cut flowers—plucked in their prime from sun-drenched fields to languish beneath the flicker and buzz of artificial lights. It is a stark reminder of the finite nature of living things and the fleeting essence of beauty.
But there is relief to be found in the knowledge that, just as beauty is fleeting, so too is horror. Life contains both in infinite magnitude and it is this study in contrasts–this interplay between light and dark, cruelty and kindness, rose and thorn–that imbues the world around us with such wonder. A monotonous world would be a boring one. All things perpetual are destined to be taken for granted and even beauty and joy would grow indistinct and unappreciable if not balanced with hideousness and despair. There’s a reason we find ourselves captivated not only by the delightful, but by the macabre, as well. We’re drawn to nature in all of its incarnations, arrested by splendor and sorrow in equal measure, and all the more awed by the surprising harmoniousness of the two. To discern value in each of these qualities is the means by which we’re able to fully embrace life.
So, am I relieved to be rid of this aesthetically pleasing horror-show? Of course! But I won’t discount the experience. I can appreciate the beauteousness of flowers while recognizing that they are all the more exquisite for their ephemerality and occasional repulsiveness. I can denounce my boss’ scornfulness while also admiring her commendable qualities–her design talent, her business acumen, her intermittent moments of kindness. Humanity is a form of nature and no one is bereft of benevolence, nor malignancy. To forget that people are an intricate mix of all things, great and terrible, is to deny them their humanity and to deny yourself the clarity and compassion to experience relationships unmarred by ingratitude and ignorance.
With this insight in mind, I chose to leave on good terms. Ever the gracious doormat, I thanked my boss and coworker for the opportunity and offered praise for their spectacular artistry. (Their work really is amazing.) Then I pushed through the front door without looking back and said a silent prayer for whoever takes my place (here’s hoping they have a superhuman capacity for speed, or maybe a functional coke habit), before skipping all the way home.