My name is Trace Cantrell, and I’d like to welcome you to Trace the Money, an investigative journalism project that aims to uncover the hidden truths behind the upkeep, downkeep, and side to side keep of this institution.
For this segment, we’re looking at flowers. You know flowers. Those little pink and blue things that never taste as good as you expect them to. I wanted to know about these flowers. Where do they come from, who is responsible for them, and for the love of God, why do they taste like this? Why do I keep eating them?
For this mission, I needed to be covert, invisible. I needed to become the flowers, to let the mysterious people who care for them care for me too. I needed to roll around in the dirt, to soak up the water that was poured on me, to photosynthesize – that is, to produce sugar, which cellular respiration converts into ATP, the “fuel” used by all living things. Needless to say, this wasn’t going to be easy.
First, I contacted my informant, known only to me as The Lamp. “Hey The Lamp,” I said “so what about the flowers?” He wrote back fearfully “What? Who is this? Sorry I got a new phone.” I knew this went deep, but I didn’t know it went this deep.
I had lost myself. I couldn’t tell who was in on what. Paranoia had gripped me like the opening pages of a Junie B. Jones novel. Just to be safe, I threw my computer in the dumpster along with my phone and this sweater I really liked that I had unfortunately caught on a stray nail and ripped. I was off the grid.
Covered in dirt, water, and sugar, I camped out next to the flowers by the lake. This is a technique called camouflage. Unfortunately, when the man in the blue jacket came to water me and my newfound siblings, I accidentally stood up, shook his hand and said “Hello, sir. Nice day isn’t it?” My identity had been compromised, and so I took off into the woods, but at least I could finally put a face to the seemingly faceless institution of Vassar gardening.
As I slept in the shrubbery, with only pine needles and a Canada Goose jacket to keep me warm in this chilly October air, I thought of a lullaby my mother had sung to me as a boy. And all was at peace.
Smitten (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Maribelle)
I awoke with a chill up my spine as two looming figures stared down at me. I could sense that my day of reckoning had come. I blinked my eyes and remembered that I was still in the woods, and these looming foes were the trees under which I had found solace and solitude only 12 hours previous. Today was a new day, a day to find out where the money went, and what the deal with these unexpectedly untasty flowers truly was.
Now that The Lamp had been compromised, I sought my own source. I met Maribelle at the Greenhouse. She was short in stature, but tall in spirit. I loved her as soon as my eyes met hers. My arm leaned on a cactus as I coyly tried to make small talk, the spines shooting pains up my arm. “This is what amour feels like,” I told myself.
Maribelle and I went on our first date later that day, a walk around the Shakespeare Garden, and for a moment I forgot what this was all about. That is until Maribelle, my sweet Maribelle, and I passed that same man in the blue jacket. She greeted him warmly and by name. “Hello, Jeffrey.”
My heart crumbled into pieces as I remembered that I couldn’t trust anyone, not even Maribelle. But just because I couldn’t trust doesn’t mean she wasn’t trustworthy. It took me a long time to learn that.
By the time I did, I was deep in the throes of depression, unable to eat or sleep, a shell of my former self. Why had I opened this pandora’s box? How could I close it? Maribelle and I had grown distant and I realized it was time to make a change.
I visited her at work to discuss my feelings with her. I told her that I was scared, scared of what she’d think of me, scared to find the truth behind these petalous pests that I daydreamt about. Most of all, I was scared of my own fear, I was tied up by feelings of inadequacy and weakness. This is how toxic masculinity gets in your head and consumes you whole.
This was my backstage pass to the world, an up-close and personal look at the systems that keep us divided and stifled. Not only in terms of gender, but also race, sexuality, religion, class. I learned that the flowers don’t necessarily taste bad, they just taste bad to me. I was a new man.
Empathy, A Whole New World
My whole approach towards these flowers had changed. I no longer feared the worst. In fact, I was just happy they provided more beauty to the world, a world full of suffering and strife. This realization stopped me from researching them more. I was still sleepless, but not because I was depressed. Rather, I was manic. I wanted to take on all of the earth’s problems, and this passion soon transformed into guilt. My privilege swallowed me whole and I forgot about myself.
This new world was vast, cruel, and subtle. It required hard self-analysis and mental work, but it also required self-love. I needed a sense of balance in my life. I had become too self absorbed in my quest for empathy. It seems ironic as I write this now, but it was real; it was painfully real.
The resolution of this conflict came quickly and unexpectedly. It was in the form of a dream, in which I fought a newborn Phoenix for space in its nest, its ashes burning little patches of skin on my arms and legs. Just because I felt reborn didn’t mean I had the right to take its space. This is how the Phoenix lived, I was just a visitor. I awoke in cold sweats and it dawned on me: to be a true ally, I had to recognize the position I was in and be productive from that place, rather than take up space that wasn’t mine. I never covered myself in dirt, sugar, and water again, and I encourage you not to as well.
I guess this is my way of saying to you, the reader, that the flowers aren’t here to appease our palettes. So if we’re gonna keep eating them, we might as well acquire a taste, rather than expecting them to change for us.
As for their origins, a quick google search found that the Facilities Operations of Vassar (located at the Buildings & Grounds Service Center) are responsible for grounds maintenance, which I’m assuming includes the various flowers around campus. Actually, that makes total sense now that I think about it, huh.