THE ROSE PETAL
By: James W Hoddinott
I peered out the window as I watched the sun majestically rise its head above the horizon to mark the birth of a new day; a birth that was awash with irony. Each new day is a precious gift and today I allowed myself a brief smile in appreciation of the magnificent yellows and oranges as the sun joyously announced its arrival. How many of these precious gifts had I squandered, choosing to remain curled up in bed taking for granted the opportunities each new beginning provides. I realize sunrise is a gift we receive every day and like many of our blessings it remains overlooked and unappreciated. The sunset has received far more celebration, yet it marks the end rather than the beginning. All my memories are of sunsets. The romance of a walk on the beach, holding the hand of your girl as the sun glistens on the water. Skinny dipping or drinking wine by the pool as the sun disappears from view. A time to reflect on the day of those things we didn’t get a chance to do. As we reminisce we always think, I will do that tomorrow for as the sun sets we know it will return giving us another chance to make a difference, or change what you have done wrong or just to be with those people you care about.
Today however, as I greet the sunrise, I know the time has come for my sunset. Man’s sunset is different. We do not return to be able to change what we have done. Our time is the time from the first breath we take to the last breath we take. I have been lucky. I lived a life with few regrets. So no complaints from me, besides complaining rarely does any good and least of all now. It has been a charmed life and the death of someone my age is natural, to be expected. To be celebrated. My only misgivings about dying is that I will break a promise. A promise I made so many years ago.
Perhaps it was a foolish promise, given in a moment, knowing all to well that I could never guarantee I would never leave her. When in love you believe anything is possible. Yet my promise to take care of her, to cherish her forever was to be broken. I’m sure she doesn’t know today is the day of a broken promise, but we have been expecting it for a long time. When I had my first heart attack just over a year ago, we both knew this day was inevitable. We took this last year as a gift. We cherished each day more than we had previously done. Tried to leave each day with all things in order, leaving nothing unsaid or undone. Not everyone gets that chance so we were blessed.
The last few weeks I have been waking up to enjoy each sunrise; to enjoy the newness of each day. I knew right away that today’s sunrise would be different. Don’t ask me how I know, I just know this will be my last sunrise and for the first time in 53 years, my wife will not be going with me. I have always had difficulty speaking the words in my heart, writing seemed to be easier, as I grabbed my pen and paper and knew the time had come to write her my last letter. How many mornings had I banged away at the keyboard while she slept? Today would not be on the computer, today would be pen and paper. Today my words were for just her.
Repositioning my chair so I could watch her as she lay sleeping. I marveled at how kind the years had been to her. Not a wrinkle on her lovely face. Although at times I suppose, I gave her just cause to age. She looked exactly how she did when we first met, actually that is not true, she looked better, to me more beautiful. So many woman fear ageing but for me there is a beauty in an older woman that can never be captured in youth. The richness to a soul, a beauty that only comes with the experience of age.
Each morning before I started my day the last thing I did before I crawled out of bed was to look at her. This is something she didn’t know or I ever told her. Did I smile when I slept? She always did. My mind never seemed at peace, always thinking, forehead full of wrinkles, mind racing, seemingly no time for smiles. Don’t get me wrong, her smile had nothing to do with her not thinking, but somehow her thoughts would transpose a smile. Her thoughts brought on smiles. I fear I never thanked her for all those smiles I received even at times when I didn’t deserve them. Opening the drawer beside our bed I removed my cherished slightly yellowed envelope which I had kept since our first anniversary. My hidden treasure.
Inside the envelope there still remained one lonely rose petal. It was an extraordinary rose petal. It didn’t look special as it was dried out, really not even a petal anymore, but still the significance of this lonely rose petal and the others that had come before would finally be discovered by her. On our first anniversary I bought her one dozen red roses and these were the only red roses, correction the only flowers I ever bought for her. Some people, even her on those rare times she showed her disappointment, couldn’t understand why I never bought flowers on her birthday, for Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, but I couldn’t. Perhaps it was selfish. I never wanted to spoil the memory of her face, that smile, those eyes and my God the dimples as I entered our tiny apartment carrying a dozen red roses. Like most newlyweds we were just scraping by and could not afford the extravagance of a dozen red roses, but it was our first anniversary and roses, red roses, were her favorite. On our wedding day she wore a simple white gown as she carried a bouquet of roses. In the evening she placed a red rose in a simple vase on every table. This was my wife. She didn’t need extravagance to show beauty, for she was beauty without all the make-up and bling others seem to feel necessary. Like the red rose she was beautiful on her own.
My plan to not buy her flowers didn’t come to me right away. At first as we struggled to make ends meet, the money just wasn’t there to afford the extravagance of flowers. Many suggested I buy her one rose, it was romantic they would say, but be it stubborn or not, I just never did. One day I discovered a way to savour that moment from our first anniversary. On our first anniversary she took our cheap pale green plastic water pitcher and placed those beautiful red roses in the center of our kitchen table. All the red roses proudly displayed their splendour and each morning my wife would sit at the table mesmerized by their beauty. As is the case flowers eventually lose their petals and each morning we would find new petals that had gracefully fallen onto the table. I would lovingly pick-up each petal as it fell and place it carefully in an envelope I kept in my nightstand. I was able to collect over fifty petals. Fifty-four red rose petals to be exact. Now this is much harder than you think, because I collected them without her knowing. At times I wanted to scream as I watched her clean-up those petals and throw them in the garbage bin. Still I managed to save fifty-four precious petals.
When our second anniversary came around, I walked into our tiny apartment empty-handed. She greeted me as always with a wonderful smile, those dimples that told me I was home, but this smile was different for it also came with disappointment. After all we were doing a little better financially and I certainly could have bought her the red roses she deserved and desired but I knew even though selfish I could not buy her any more flowers. We had a wonderful dinner and reflected on how far we had come in the last year. How much we were still in love. I thought that evening as we went to bed she would be pleased when she saw the one lone red rose petal resting on her pillow. It did bring a quick smile to her face, but it was brief. Don’t get me wrong, my wife was never one to expect or want big gifts so the brief smile told me she didn’t know the single rose petal had come from the roses I bought last year. I didn’t tell her either. As the years went on, I continued my tradition of placing a single petal on her pillow. Each year I received the same brief smile.
When she gave birth to our first son, even my mom was annoyed with me for not giving her flowers. “Do you know what she has just gone through?” I did of course as I was beside her the entire time feeling helpless as I held onto her hand as she brought our child into this world. We cried together as we heard our son’s first breath. I wondered if I was being selfish and of course I was. Was the memory of that smile that important? She loved flowers even if they were not roses, but I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t buy her flowers. There were times I tried but be it stubborn or selfish or something else, it just didn’t happen.
Every spring she carefully planted beautiful flowers in our yard. She lamented on the fact she would never be able to grow the red roses she loved so much because of our short growing season. She grew pink roses, yellow roses, even roses that looked red, but not roses like I gave her on our first anniversary or roses like she placed as centerpieces at our wedding. For years she would give me hints about buying her roses, red roses she would say ‘Are the most beautiful of the roses and signify love.” I would buy her a watch, a diamond necklace, pearl earrings, but somehow those gifts didn’t bring about the same smile the bouquet of red roses did. Thinking back, perhaps she wanted to have that moment again. Perhaps to her the roses were as important to her as my memory of her when she got them. As the years went on I convinced myself that buying her roses would only bring about disappointment. She would feel they were a gift of I had to rather than I want to. She would not see them as a gift of love but to allay guilt. She would have been right because my gift of love was the single rose petal I placed on her pillow every anniversary.
I felt the crushing pain in my chest as I continued writing. It was time. I made my way carefully to the phone, grimacing as I walked. Weeks ago I had looked up the number to our local florist as I reached into my packet for the number I could feel a smile come to my face. When the florist answered I quietly, so not to wake her said “One dozen red roses, please. Deliver them to 38 Walnut Grove. Not before 3 pm please. No by credit card. Yes a card. Just put on the card, ‘Save the Petals.’ No don’t say who they are from she will know. No nothing else. Just don’t deliver them before three. Thank-you.
I made my way back to the chair by our bed. I couldn’t wake her, not even to say good-bye. I picked up my pen to finish my letter. I apologized for leaving her, for breaking my promise, but most of all thanked her for our children, for taking care of me especially over this last year, but most of all for her smile that greeted me every day. I picked up the last rose petal remembering how worried I was last year when I realized there was only one petal left. I took the petal out of the envelope and placed it and the letter on her pillow as she slept peacefully. I leaned back, smiling as I took my last breath…