Bill and Joy (Together Forever)

I was thinking this morning about whether or not I could consider Bill, my aloe plant, an actual friend. After a thorough inquiry into what makes a “friend,” i.e. me thinking about it briefly as a I washed dishes, I concluded that yes, Bill definitely is a friend.

In fact, he might be the ideal friend.

For starters, Bill is a wonderful listener. That’s all he’s capable of. When I sit him on the table next to me and tell him about my day he never criticizes, never plays “the devil’s advocate,” never gives “suggestions” or “advice” that are just thinly-veiled criticisms. Instead, he just sits there and basks. Basking is one of Bill’s favorite activities. Basking in the sun. Basking in the afternoon heat. Because in a slight breeze. Basking under the glow of the Guadalajara stars. Basking next to Joy, my newest aloe plant (named after the sensation I hope she brings me and also a girl in my master’s program I was briefly in love with).

Joy is my newest plant. Joy is extremely healthy. She’s robust. She’s the kind of aloe plant you look at and think, Man, I almost want to cut myself. When Marta, the lady I get sandwiches from, gave me Joy I was elated, but also instantly a bit sad. What if I kill her? I thought. What if she becomes like Bill, a creature I desperately love who’s withering in front of my very eyes?  Because that’s the thing about Bill: he’s not doing much better. He also doesn’t seem to be doing much worse, but I assumed that transplanting him to the new pot with drainage and watering him less and playing him “La Follia” by Vivaldi in the evenings would instantly revive him. Does he want to die? Is Bill depressed? Sometimes I wish Bill actually was more of a talker, so he could communicate what he needs.

Another possibility has crossed my mind concerning Bill, one I hadn’t considered before: it’s possible Bill isn’t even an aloe plant. Or it’s possible he’s an aloe plant, but just a different strain than the classic, juicy, luscious green aloe plant Joy is. Right now Bill and Joy are sitting next to each other in the courtyard. I now have two plants in the courtyard. Yesterday was “watering day,” and it gave me untold pleasure to actually water them, since this is something I wish I could do every two minutes but I have to restrain myself to only do it twice a week. I have no doubt Joy and Bill are communicating, albeit in very slow, muted electronic impulses, and I would love to know what they’re saying.

Joy: “Are you…basking?”

Bill: “….”

Joy: “I love….basking.”

Bill: “Mmmm.”

Joy: “Remember that sun from five minutes ago?”

Bill: “……”

Joy: “That was really nice….”

Bill: “……”

Someone said to me the other day they thought it was great I was so concerned about taking care of Bill, but that it was important I be ready in the event he passed away. After restraining an urge to punch this person in the face, I realized they’re probably right. The sad truth is it might be too late for Bill, and no amount of love and care on my part will be able to save him. I certainly hope this isn’t the case. Joy and I would both be sad. Life in Guadalajara would go on, but I’d certainly feel I’d lost a friend. Because, at this point, as I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear, that’s exactly what Bill is.


How to Kill an Aloe Plant

aloe savila mexico

Two weeks ago someone gave me an aloe plant. They said, “Water it once a week.” Since then, I’ve been steadily killing it. Today I finally googled “aloe plant care” and read a bit about what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to leave it in direct sunlight. You’re not supposed to water it more than once every three weeks (according to this site), and most importantly, you’re supposed to put it in a planter with good drainage.

I’ve done the opposite of all of these things.

And now the plant is dying. In fact, there may be no saving it. Today I found a planter with holes in the bottom. When I went to transplant the plant, who’s sort of named Bill but will be re-christened if he lives (I’ll let Patreon subscribers name him), I saw his roots. There was mold growing on them. They were black and brittle. I recoiled in nausea and chastised myself for letting things get to this point. I felt like an early settler crossing The Rockies whose foot has been numb for three days — ever since the blizzard — but he’s too scared to look at it. When he finally does he almost vomits. His foot has gangrene. It’s rotting.

There’s a metaphor to be had here, I just don’t know what it is. 

So now Bill is in a bigger pot with adequate drainage. I don’t know if he’ll live. The best thing to do at this point is to let him be. The reason I’ve killed him is a strange combination of paying too much attention to him and completely neglecting him. On the one hand, I paid too much attention to him, watering him every couple of days, putting him in the sun because I thought this was what you’re supposed to do, while a nagging voice said to me, “You really should research this a bit and figure out how to take care of these plants.” But I was too lazy. Too lazy to take 15 seconds to  google something. So in that way, I completely neglected Bill. I failed him.

There’s a metaphor to be had here, and I’m starting to get an idea of what it might be.

In a completely unrelated bit of a news (see: directly related) I have a new English student. He’s moving to the US in a couple months, and thus quite motivated. Yesterday, however, I discovered that his English, while somewhat competent on the surface, is actually in need of a major overall. I had him conjugate the verb “to be” and he could barely do it. I had him conjugate verbs in various forms of the present tense (negative, questions, negative questions), and he could only do it with much help. And so I realized: We need to start from the beginning. We need to go slow so he understands everything, and only then can we continue to more advanced structures like present perfect and simple past and the various forms for talking about the future. I like to think about it like building a house. You can put the prettiest coat of paint on a house, but if the framing is done wrong you better start over. And so that’s what we’re doing with my student’s English.

There’s a metaphor to be had here, and I think I know what it is. 

In a final bit of news, I’m trying to learn how to be a competent person, a competent adult. I’m trying to build the best life possible for myself here in Mexico, but I suspect certain habits are holding me back. I try meditating one day, and writing, and going on long walks. I try alcohol. I try food. I try talking to friends and going on Tinder dates and watching chess videos and immersing myself in work. I’m starting to wonder if I have more in common with Bill than I thought. I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the wrong planter, if the instructions I’ve gotten are maybe just a little off, and if I should do a bit of research and figure out how to really take care of this human being that is myself.

Because I feel like I might be doing exactly what I did to Bill: I’m paying attention, just in all the wrong ways. It’s like I’ve gotten an instruction manual for a human that isn’t even me, or some kind of general instruction manual whose tips need to be custom-fit before they can be effective, and the the challenge becomes how to do that. Strangely, I think Bill might be able to help me here. I think he might have some of the secrets. Which is why it’s imperative he doesn’t die. It’s imperative I find some good soil for him. And most importantly, it’s imperative that, at least for the time being, I leave him alone. 

Is there a metaphor here?

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