Guest blogger: Rebecca Lampert-Egan, also known as Mom
My husband and I were looking out the dining room window at the ice patches in the street at the end of the driveway when I saw them. It is winter here in New England so most of the landscape is deadened brown, evergreen, and bark black with snow white accents from the most recent storm.
The spots of red popped up from a grey weathered wooden platform where they laid. The platform is at the base of one of two very large pine trees on our property. A zip line between the two trees once carried kids flying across our side yard. The line is long broken but the platforms remain. They are now used by the grandchildren as forts in the woods or decks of a ship or houses on a prairie. This day, one was a canvas for color.
I was mid sentence, talking about the best walking route for this cold day, when my eyes focused on what was brightly standing out between me and the street asphalt. I squinted my eyes, not sure what I was seeing. I pulled back from leaning on the windowsill, turned to my husband and asked, “What are those?” His eyes followed my pointing hand.
“Oh, those are the roses I never gave you”, he flatly answered like it was obvious. His expression revealed nothing, as if it was a common thing to see roses lying around our yard.
I could feel my brow wrinkling before the next question was fully formed, “But why are they out there?”
There were eleven, no, I counted twelve. There were a dozen red roses splayed across the wooden platform! They weren’t just tossed haphazardly either. They were placed approximately two inches or so apart from one another covering the wooden surface end to end. The line of red blossoms and green sticks alternated every few stems. It was actually quite beautiful.
He explained that he had bought them the day of my birthday, snuck them in the house, and left them in the cool cellar sink along with some greens and baby’s breath. Since our neighbor closed his florist and garden shop, we have needed to find an alternative place to buy plants and flowers. I know where to go but apparently my husband did not and needed a suggestion. After questioning aloud at work, someone told him that the local grocery store carries flowers. Having gone there, he was now commenting that the selection was not what he had hoped. He made do with a few small sleeves picked from the various black buckets and figured he could arrange them attractively. Truth be told, he does have a knack for flower arranging.
Since I never saw any of the said purchased greens and flowers, I pressed him further as to what happened to find some of them out in the yard and not part of the lovely bouquet he had given me.
Taking a moment, he cleared his throat, turned back to the window and mused, “I don’t know. Flowers are best in the morning. I just think they should be given at the start of a day, not at the end.” He continued to tell how he had come home from work the night of my birthday and was taking the roses out of the sink to trim and put into a vase for a morning presentation when our son, passing through the workshop to his game room, snickered at his father some cautionary comment. My husband inquired what that was all about. My son simply asked if he had been upstairs yet. He had not. “When you go up you will know”, my son replied with a judgmental tone. The flowers went back into the sink. My husband climbed the stairs.
For the first time that I can remember, I had received multiple flower deliveries on my birthday. Two were from friends and another from family. There were flowers in the kitchen, flowers in the bathroom, flowers in the study. Beautiful flowers, they were all different selections. He told me that when he came upstairs and saw the many aromatic arrangements, he felt sheepish about his grocery store bunches and realized he needed to rethink his plans for recognizing my birthday. And then he promptly forgot about the blooms in the basement. When he found them again days later, they were looking rather thirsty and limp but still colorful. Instead of just tossing them into the trash he thought the squirrels would enjoy nibbling on them. He rationalized that the cold air would keep them fresh for a little bit longer. I’m not sure if he expected me ever to see those roses. He would see them, though, every time he walked out of the cellar door to his vehicle in the driveway.
I went walking somewhere without ice patches after our conversation that day. Without worry about my terrain, I was able to reflect on those roses and why they got abandoned. I now understood how it was that the next day I was presented with a lovely bouquet of mixed flowers, a box of candy, and two wrapped gifts, exactly what I had requested. I demanded all these things to celebrate my day because I thought I needed them from him. I thought he needed some practice in going the long haul for me.
Maybe this is where I should mention that we had been doing a very uncomfortable dance for months, something about differing priorities; that we had been struggling through dinner conversations; that I was working at keeping an opposite schedule; that we were both being stubborn. My daughter had snapped a holiday picture of us and captioned it,”This is what love looks like.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we were taking deep breaths and straining smiles to make it through some of those days.
Relationships sometimes require resetting and time can be a good salve. By the new year, we were helping each other out of a dark hole. We have done this before and we know where the steps are hiding. She was able to see clearly in black and white what was out of focus for us at the time. After years of working hard to stay happily together, we have a solid footing of trust and respect. But it is the necessary perseverance that I see in her photo.
My husband of over thirty years still wanted to impress me. I was touched by this fact. He had listened to my birthday list of requests, long and specific as it was, and tried to fill it, starting with roses and starting again the next day when he thought he had fallen short. He remembered I like dark chocolate, especially with fruit. The wrapped presents, both with colonial historical reference, were items he was interested in giving and I would be happy to use.
Taking in the crisp air on my refreshing winter walk enabled me to review all this in my head. Through tears, I could see it clearly. I realized that while he was trying to deliver an English Garden, I would be happy with one flower. No dismissal, no drama, no delay; I needed to tell him right away. Once I made it back to the truck, I grabbed my phone from the console and texted him immediately.
“While I love my friends and family dearly, I hope you know that one rose from you means more to me than bunches of flowers from anyone else.” It was cliche’ but it was the truth. I needed to say it and he needed to hear it. He thanked me for sending it. The roses he never gave me will be by far my most memorable bouquet.
To read more of Rebecca’s work, visit her blog.