For my birthday, my friend sent me a cactus. It was a joke between us that I needed an emotional support cactus (yes, I know the irony) and she said “The cactus is in the mail.”
A week or so later, in a box with a pot and soil was a moon cactus. I waited a day or two before I opened the box: mostly from anxiety and just a lack of urgency since my birthdays have gotten quieter and quieter as I get older and I’m still adjusting to that. But one night after deciding that I needed to remove the cactus from the box, I popped out a moon cactus and placed it in a pot with soil and set the pot outside.
I am a compulsive namer of things and typically the name I give a thing reflects a certain encapsulation of my feelings in the moment. So, when presented with a cactus that poked me as soon as I removed it from the box; I named the cactus (and gendered the cactus male) Toi coming from Kuji Toi, my disaster son from Sarazanmai.
Immediately, Toi the cactus became a part of my life that I discussed openly and often. I lovingly refer to him as my son. I obsess over him. I worry about him. I say hello, good night, see you later, and I’m home (all in Japanese) on a daily basis. But because of my closeness to the cactus, I realized something strange about myself: I have a very bad habit of projecting onto things. Now, I knew that; to be fair, I knew that. But to the extent that I do it, that was a new development.
I have tended to plants before; famously tending to roses in high school and to a Jimson Weed that I did not know was poisonous; I merely did not question our garden’s lack of squirrels or birds. I really enjoy tending to plants; I like the watering and pruning and watching things grow. I always have. I like the routine of going out, watering the plants, pruning in the fall and keeping plants warm in the winter. I like caring for things.
Between anxiety and a not so stellar childhood, I don’t respond well to children. I have a strange mothering instinct but no actual desire to raise children. I’ve always accepted my future being someone’s very eccentric aunt who is always traveling and has a long-term partner but never marries and is only home for one of the holidays but drops like thousands on the children before heading back to Martha’s Vineyard. I did teach Sunday School briefly and I did like teaching. When paneling and doing conventions, I do genuinely like inspiring and helping younger fans, even the children. But the thought of having a child, raising a child, being responsible for a child turns my stomach. I’m afraid of being cold and distant. I’m afraid of being bad at it and those stakes are much higher when it comes to a living human person than a rose bush that was too aggressively trimmed.
But tending to Toi has been a fascinating look into my psyche when it comes to how I approach rearing and care.
I have nearly loved Toi to death.
Toi is a moon cactus and many a site has listed that moon cacti are strange chimeras that shouldn’t exist and thrive mostly on neglect. They need sun and some water but for the most part, you are to treat them like a slow cooker: set it and forget it.
That is antithetical to how I operate in existence. The first month or so with Toi, I vastly overwatered him. I fretted over him getting enough sun. I cooed at him while watering him, barely noticing the lack of growth or thriving in my boy.
I was able to pull back on the water; Toi did even flower briefly, the summer and fall were good.
But as summer changed into fall, I noticed the paleness on Toi’s stem. That paleness is from a lack of sunlight. Where my apartment is, I don’t get a lot of sun. Toi was outside but trees blocked him from getting the sun he needed. My son needed sun. I would move his pot as I left for work or as I left to run errands over the weekend. This was an okay compromise for a while. When it rained, I brought him inside so that we did not repeat the “too much damn water” issue.
There has also been a consistent talk about getting a table for Toi. Because Toi was outside on a ledge, there was worry that a large gust of wind could knock him over. And what started as light teasing about being a bad mother from coworkers and friends quickly turned into another weapon I could use against myself and my already fragile self-esteem. I felt like a single mom being shamed by mommy bloggers who have time to bento box every damn morning as I send my kid off to school with a lunchable and a can that I’m hoping isn’t a spiked hard seltzer.
As a “cold front” moved in, I moved Toi inside. Toi did not like being inside. In my bedroom, the poor dear does not get much more light as his mother is a vampire and recently hung several feet of pink silk in an attempt to be an Instagram influencer or just a weeb pastel goth. Within days of being inside, the flower Toi worked so hard on withered and died. I felt crushed. I felt like I was watching my son die. And as parts of my personal life changed, Toi became the personification of every anxiety I had.
Toi continued to not thrive indoors and on a particularly miserable and low night, I sat up on Amazon for hours looking at grow lamps that had reviews from more than just pot growers. I cried. I was sad. I was scared of losing my son. But in the back of my mind, I also resented the cactus. If I can’t make it grow, then I should just throw it away. So what? It’s just a cactus. It doesn’t matter, everything dies. I was in a full nihilistic spiral and it wasn’t Toi’s fault but Toi was the vessel I used to beat myself up over every failed relationship, every moral weakness, every flaw I’ve ever had.
Toi’s lamp was set to arrive in one day. I have been using an Amazon Prime trial and I was thrilled to have the programmable lamp arrive in just as day as I felt like watching Toi wither was like watching the rose die in Beauty and the Beast. The original delivery window was between 6:30 pm and 9:30 pm. Mind you, I am usually in bed by 9:00 pm, so I stayed up patiently waiting for the lamp to arrive. But updates slowed and time moved forward, my anxiety started to ramp up. I wanted the lamp. I wanted it now. I wanted Toi to be okay. When 9:30 passed, I sent a message to Amazon asking about the state of my lamp. I was told it would arrive the next day and was given a small credit but honestly, it wasn’t the lamp I was anxious about: I was worried about so many other things than just the cactus who didn’t like being inside.
Toi’s lamp arrived and it is programmable and it’s wonderful. He seems to be happier with the lamp and I’m working on getting a little stand for the lamp as now I am angering the God of Literature by using a book to keep my cactus and my cactus’ lamp in place.
I love my son. I love Toi. He’s a beautiful cactus and was an amazing gift. But quickly, my relationship with Toi became about control. As a person with anxiety, I long for control and routine. As a person who lost both parents young, I long for stability and for things to be okay. As a person who lives alone, I long for companionship and someone to care for. Toi is truly an emotional support cactus in that I should use him to better tend to myself. I can’t save everything. I can’t save everyone. Nothing is perfect and sometimes even when we do our best, it still isn’t enough.
But for now, Toi is doing okay and I’m doing okay, too.
Thanks for reading.