Skototropism | Courtney Skaggs
Updated: Mar 28
The daffodils outside my door mock me. These flowers are harbingers of spring’s promise of life, of regrowth, seemingly willing and eager to bend to the gusts of changing seasons. Daffodils do not feel pain, sadness, nausea. How easy it must be to grow strong, straight, to point one’s own head boldly toward the sun and feel nothing at all save warmth and happiness, to bask in love. Little yellow flowers are so delicate, fragile in their relatively short temporality, yet so brave to carry on with life anyway. I envy that naive optimism, especially during the warmer months when summertime seasonal affective disorder takes root. Still, when I clumsily misstep and trample the flowers’ golden crowns as I stumble inside, nearly blind from aura, home from work early with a migraine that couldn’t be quelled with triptans, I feel only regret.
Not all plants bend toward the light. Some, like many vines, are wired to turn away from the sun, to seek solace and shelter in shadows. It’s a survival tactic.
I no longer have insurance, so I consider each of my remaining triptans my most prized possessions. Each time I’m forced to take one, I grow more fearful, knowing warmer, brighter weather is coming, wondering if I’ve squirreled away enough to get me through another summer of relentless migraines and flare-ups of dysautonomia symptoms and chronic pain.
Support systems are inherent to the survival of skototropic plants. Growing too far below a dense canopy, skototropes cannot reach out to the sun themselves, and so instead seek the help of their neighbors’ stability. Vines are not inherently parasitic as most do not take any water or nutrients from their host plants; they just need someone to lean on as they find their footing. A skototrope’s grasping out into the darkness is an act of courage; sometimes there’s nothing out there to hold onto.
For here or to go? What size would you like? Do you take room for cream? I ask the same questions repeatedly at my full-time, minimum wage job where I make too much to be eligible for Medicaid, too little to afford private insurance. The humming heat of appliances, smells of toasted onion bagels and espresso co-mingling, and the white noise of dozens of cafe conversations all only make me more nauseous as I struggle to hold myself up. What I mistook for a floater is clearly an aura, big enough now for me to see its signature “C” shape, the neon-colored zig-zag pattern buzzing. It grows bigger and bigger as does the endless stream of customers. I can’t take anymore. I vomit in the bathroom, take a triptan, struggle to speak and make change until a coworker comes to cover my shift.
On the walk home, the vernal robin’s egg blue and cumulus cloud-leaden firmament does nothing to shelter my sensitive eyes from the sun. Citrusy warmth of rays burn through my sunglasses like acid, straight to my core. I feel tethered to a spectral anchor, my body heavier, my mind viscous. I hide in the chilly dark, behind blackout curtains, away from the balmy heat, and I’m reminded that I’m alone inside this mind, this body, this house, as other people scatter to beaches, walk their dogs, fire up the grill, laze poolside. I wait desperately for the refuge I find in the silvery chill disclosing summer’s end so that I might join them again. I wait for darkness to overpower this uncompromising light. I wait to feel alive.
Rainforest canopy trees—the lupunas, wimbas, and Brazil nuts—stand tall, photosynthesizing abundant light. Vines—emerging from the decomposition of detritus on the forest floor, deep below the dense cover of the canopy’s leaves—twist and turn, inch out bravely in midair in every direction. Their tendrils unfurl towards shadows for a fighting chance at some sort of life, hoping beyond hope it’s the base of one of those giant trees, where they might find stability enough to survive. Ethereal passionfruit flowers bud once the vines have found a reliable community of neighboring plants to hold them up. Their petals so bright in spite of the darkness that made them possible. Passionfruit flowers still remember how to turn back towards the shadows when faced with unrelenting heat.
I bite into a passionfruit, tart and tangy. I read somewhere once that these fruits have anti-inflammatory properties. Not nearly enough to dull my pain, but perhaps it’s the thought that counts. I put on my sunglasses and step outside to water my plants, to sit on my porch in spite of myself. After facing the brilliant, blistering heat for several minutes, I turn away.
Courtney Skaggs is a writer from Columbus, Ohio. Courtney is the co-founder and facilitator of The Writing Group—a free, monthly creative writing workshop for adults in central Ohio. They serve on the editorial team for Writing Against the Stigma, a quarterly reading by and for writers living with mental illness. Courtney was a writer-in-residence at the Appalachian Forest Stewardship Residency in November of 2019. They also volunteer with Grrrls Rock Columbus and the Mosaic Program, where they facilitate writing workshops for teens.