Susanne Nilsson CC
Among the Wildflowers
Sunflowers have bright, golden petals exploding from their brown centers. I could swim in that deep, dark center. They can grow taller than most humans, usually with their faces towards the sun — hence the name. They shine bright and grow in plentiful groups. They are rarely lonesome.
I am not a person filled with sunshine. I don’t tend to wear bright colors. I have a temper, a sadness that rests in the pit of my stomach. I enjoy fucked up endings instead of happily-ever-afters. But for some reason, sunflowers fill my head. I draw them in the margins of my notes when I should be paying attention in class. I dream of running through a field of yellow petals. When I see a sunflower, I have an urge to stick my nose deep into the center in the same way I used to stick my nose into other people’s business when I was a child. I connect with them in a way I don’t think I will ever want to understand.
The scientific name for the sunflower genus is Helianthus. All helianthus species, except for three, grow in North America. I learn that the sunflower that has planted itself in my mind is actually called Helianthus annuus. Maybe one of these 70 species of sunflowers that exist has some spot of anger or discomfort within itself like me.
My obsession with sunflowers began at age 18. I came to college and subsequently fell apart – only temporarily though, I need to give myself some credit. Sitting in a crowded lecture hall, my mind would wander from “why can’t I stop gaining weight?” to “how long until my boyfriend gets tired of my brokenness and leaves me?” (Two more years by the way, then I would learn that he never saw the sunflowers in the same way I did). I learned that sunflowers were the only thing I could successfully doodle in my notebook and not have them look like they came from the hand of a four-year-old. Sometimes I’d flip through my notes and just see pages and pages of round flowers—some big, some small, all looking at me like they desperately wanted to comfort me. Sunflowers were the only reason I could pay attention in class anymore. They saved me that year.
The Perennial species of sunflowers aren’t welcomed in gardens because they are invasive, controlling, smothering. They command space from the other flowers, push them out. I did not know this until I sat down to write this essay, but it makes me sad. The sunflower wants to love us, brighten our day and make us stop and appreciate a little piece of beauty. And we just tell it no, please stop taking up so much space. Maybe I am more sunflower than I thought.
I’ve had a plan for a gigantic sunflower tattoo on my thigh for the last two years. I filled up a Pinterest board with ideas. I reached out to a friend to ask if she’d draw it for me. I look through my notebooks to find the magically drawn sunflower I would put on my body forever. I can see it in my mind, how others might look at me when they see a sunflower peeking out from beneath my shorts while I walk down the street. How they might see it and think that I am bleeding sunshine, even when I’m not.
I have told myself these last two years that “one day, I’ll treat myself.” When I save up the money, I will spend it all on my sunflower thigh tattoo and not give a damn what my grandmother has to say about it.
The money always ends up going somewhere else. Today, I went to the mall. I bought clothes for my niece on the way. I splurged on a purse and a new pair of shoes for myself.
Maybe I don’t deserve sunflowers.
Sunflowers have a natural symmetry based on the Fibonacci sequence. I am a writer — I have no clue what that means. But I do know that I am not wrong in finding such beauty in the plant. Scientifically, I’d be wrong not to.
I don’t have a choice.
I want my “father-daughter” dance at my wedding to be Wildflowers by Tom Petty. I’ve pondered the idea of my wedding theme being sunflowers, but I’m not sure if it’s too much. If people will walk in and realize the decorations are too “me.”
In Wildflowers Tom Petty sings, “You belong among the wildflowers/you belong in a boat out at sea/sail away, kill off the hours/you belong somewhere you feel free.” It became my favorite song the second I heard this first verse. When I listen to it, I can see myself in a field of sunflowers with my eyes closed. I can feel a light breeze, and I inhale greatly. I don’t know if sunflowers have a strong scent, because despite my obsession I somehow have never stopped to smell them, but I do know just being there will let me experience a positive energy in a way I’ve never seem to have been able to before. I hear the joyful, playful guitar sounds from Tom Petty playing in the distance.
I’d give anything to feel that free.
Macey Spensley is a fourth year student at the University of Iowa, striving for a double major in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies. She was born and raised in Iowa and loves it with her whole heart. When she's not doodling sunflowers in her notebooks, she enjoys reading, going to the gym, chugging Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and obsessing about the cat she wants to adopt after she graduates.
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