The first time I fell in love with a succulent was the first time I fell in love with a woman. She had a mess of bright orange curls the same shade as my favorite summertime drink. By the time she introduced me to succulents we were no longer in love, but in complicated friendship. I’d like to think that I was her most prized subject, even though I’m well aware that this was what led to our dissolution. Either she or another woman she loved to capture, a well-known belly dancer, in the round black lens, her magnified eye, gained temporary access to a house that belonged to the rich. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what they did to acquire such treasures, but I remembered that the house they owned had a magnificent pool surrounded by succulent gardens framed with wood. The red-headed girl took photos of the belly dancer and me, separate, and also together, nude except for the sweat that dripped down our pale skin, the sun determined to redden it by the day’s end. I couldn’t tell you what it was that drew me to the succulents’ bulbous leaves that looked animated, or at the very least, edible, soft yet durable. When I proposed to a man a few years later, I spent hours scouring the internet for succulent bouquets—I was thrilled there was such a thing!—but ultimately ended up going with a small bouquet hand-picked at a farm a drive’s distance from where we wed, and more affordable. My mother had always had what she called a “purple thumb,” killing every growing thing in her path. She was prone to believe that every tragedy that befell her was genetic, and so even as my father’s green thumb transformed our backyard into a tropical paradise, I never did buy plants, except for a grocery store orchid or two. But then, when my marriage wilted slowly, and all at once, and COVID kept lives out when I most needed them to be in, I drove myself to my favorite nursery and bought the succulent that asked for me to come closer. A friend offered me a cactus plant, and a couple of other succulents, but it was this one that decided to thrive, alongside me, slowly, steadily, like all of us.
Addie Tsai (any/all) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie has an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is the author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin. Unwieldy Creatures, their adult queer biracial retelling of Frankenstein, is from Jaded Ibis Press. They are the Fiction Co-Editor and Editor of Features & Reviews at ANMLY, Staff Writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.