A Rose for my Rose
I can still remember the day I met her. I was in third grade, perched on a log among the school’s field, carefully constructing a dandelion crown from the grass around me. Each flower plucked from the earth with careful consideration of its stem length and vibrancy. My lissome fingers weaved the torn pedicels through one another. Among the soft sounds of the other children laughing and the wind shaking itself through the trees, a lamentation danced itself past my own humming and into my head. My eyes scanned the plain around me and they settled on a girl, beyond the tree line separating the field from the forest. She was leaned up against an oak, wrapping herself up as if the mid-March weather was much too cold.
My feet lit up and blinked as I trudged through the grass and the rain-kissed dirt towards her. She remained stoic as I sat down next to her small frame and asked her what was wrong.
The tears on her face left nearly invisible marks in their wake but it was enough for me to know that the tears weren’t the kind that bloom from a broken toy. I knew they were stirred up from some dark part of her that settled at the bottom like water to oil. I told her my name was Lila, and that I had something for her. A gift.
The girl’s eyes lifted from the earth beneath her and to my face. She remained silent but now attentive, her spine suddenly holding some sort of anticipation. I lifted the dandelion crown in my hands and placed it atop her small head.
I asked her what her name was and she whispered it, her voice was sweet but sprinkled with an odd sort of sorrow. A silence fell on us like a blanket before she spoke up again. The words she uttered have faded in my memory across the near decade without her but I can remember the heartbreaking story she told. A nightmarish tale about her parents. Images of screaming fights and slamming doors flashed in front of my eyes as she spoke.
I find it curious that I cannot seem to remember the words she said to me but I can remember the way her face looked as she said the words like it had happened mere seconds ago. I remember her skin creasing between her soft eyebrows. I couldn’t speak, all I could manage was lurching forward and wrapping her up in a hug.
We walked back into the school that day, promising that we would meet again tomorrow, in the same place. That night I walked to my bedroom door and cracked it open, quickly shutting it again just to hear the slam. I tried to understand what her world was like. It sickened me and I never slept that night but as I saw her again the next afternoon I felt like I had gotten years worth of sleep. Our lives went on for months like that— meeting at recess in the soft grass of the field, creating our own world. Pure happiness and unadulterated joy radiated from the two of us.
The day before she disappeared we were playing nurse. If I focus hard enough I can still feel her small fingers dancing across my own as she pretends to heal my cuts with an imaginary bandage. I somehow can see the invisible wound retreat, sewing itself up at the caress of her skin. She grins at me. ‘All better,’ She spoke. I told her that tomorrow I’d teach her how to make a flower crown. But she never showed up in the field the next day. She didn’t show up the next week either. Summer vacation arrived but as the other students rejoice I stare sadly at the field through the classroom window.
By the end of the day my knee is shaking up and down, weaving an invisible thread through the air like a sewing machine. I imagine the worst. My stomach turns over and I’m shocked momentarily at how dark my thoughts turn. I can hear my teacher announcing something but my mind is working too slow for me to understand. My brain screams at me to focus. Focus!
Then my thoughts halted and someone shoved a green booklet into my hands. It was the same thing we got at the end of each year. The school directory. As I biked home from school that day, my feet moved faster against the pedals. I threw my bike to the pavement and grabbed the directory from my unzipped backpack, scanning the pages until I found her name. Below it was a familiar street name with the number ‘56’ beside it.
The rest of the day goes fuzzy in my memories, just the faint image of a grumpy man answering the door labeled ‘56’ and the sounds of a familiar voice crying out from inside. I ran home after that. I was so afraid of the man behind the door, that as a child I tried to forget him. I found him sneaking into my dreams and appearing in the shadows.
The summer before fifth grade crawled slower than I had ever thought possible. I was dizzy with anticipation for the school year, counting the hours until I’d see her again. I would have given myself a thousand imaginary cuts just to watch her wrap them up for me again.
Now I find myself wishing I could go back to that summer and relish in the long days before I entered the blue double doors of my school and walked right into the brewing storm that had settled in her absence. I remember seeing her, after so many months and hardly recognizing her. She was surrounded by people I had never seen before and as she approached me, the arms which once embraced her found themselves wrapping protectively around my body.
She said things that make me sick to think of even now. She gave me everything she had been given. Pain. Insults. Anything that she decided was wicked enough to throw my way. I was foolish enough to think that she could be helped. I was so blinded by the memory of her healing me that I couldn’t admit that she was hurting me. I can recall the day when I decided I’d had enough and I bent down to her level, pushing her right off the ledge that she had hung me from.
I don’t remember what I said but I will never forget the sudden flow of tears sliding down her cheeks as the words I spoke sunk in. My arms broke out in shiver dots and I stood in shock at the words that I had hissed. I stumbled back, my feet carrying me far away, blurring the September grass under me as I ran; ran as fast as I could until I was curled small upon my bed, hands covering my ears as if I could shut out the sinister voices whispering to me. I never went back to that school, I never visited the field or walked to the house labeled ‘56’.
As I lay here, eight years later, I can’t help but blame myself, for not trying harder, for not asking her about the cuts on her face or the bruises by her collar bones. I know that I am not to blame but sometimes the voice she planted in my head comes back to say that I am. The warm June air blows gently against my curtains, the floral pattern warping around the zephyr. The mattress below me hugs my figure, my limbs already imprinted into the foam from years of tossing and turning. My fingers flex and creak as I tap twice on my phone, awaking it.
The neatly displayed numbers at the top tell me that there are only four hours left of daylight. My sight shifts to the rose sitting in a cracked mug on my desk, a near-wilted reminder of the visit I have to make. The visit I should have had the heart to make years ago, when the world may have allowed us to meet under different circumstances. I lift myself from the warm mattress beneath me and I slip on my shoes, stepping on the back and pacing until they finally give out and allow my heel to rest against the sole.
My keys jingle in my pockets to the rhythm of my footsteps. The rose in my left hand pricks me and I wonder why something so beautiful hurts so much to hold. Stones begin to pop up from the grass and I wonder if anyone cared so much and so little all at once that they brought a dying symbol of love here. I slow just in front of a small stone, the engraved letters creating a familiar name.
I carefully lay down the red bloom against the earth. I cannot bring myself to cry. Something in me stirs at that. The sobering realization that in this moment, in front of her gravestone, I do not feel anything. I struggle looking for something to say to her, some sort of apology. But, all I can do is put my open palm on the ground and close my eyes.
“A rose for my Rose. I hope your mind healed as your body died.” I think that maybe, she is better off this way. Better off dead than living the life that she did. I think that maybe I am also happier with her this way. I know that the world is happier this way, too.