The problem so many people, including myself, have with roses is that there is nothing left to say about them. I understand adherence to social sanctions. Card-, flower-, and candy-giving offer refuge within a time-worn gesture. A defensible, albeit generic, form of generosity. It was Valentine’s Day—so I got the red. I understand the need to defer to seasonal dictates. I too have been distracted by worries so numerous and intense that I found myself incapable of putting much thought into a holiday—incapable of any sort of traditional celebration besides a simple utilization of referential colors. Stick-em up décor for glass windows; plastic bowls from the dollar store; festooned and overly-floured grocery store cookies; an air freshener aligning the bathroom ambiance with the holiday of the moment as a scented reference to the imagined feelings of participants in clean and clear festivities so generally rendered forth in television programming.
Since you are a half-a-wide-western country away, I will tell you what the red is like—it is like splotches of afterbirth on white hospital sheets. The blossoms bloom relentlessly with the brazenness usually found in the faces of those gripped by insanity—momentarily unstable or terminally ill—frightening onlookers, emotionally invested or not. It is not ironic, but fitting that there are only six roses. Half-assed, like a marriage proposal that never happened, like a joke where only you laugh, like a therapy session where only you talk. The arrangement contains an unusually substantial amount of the requisite baby’s breath. This bouquet has the showy buds of motel paintings, and those promising sketches of gardening catalogs. Gratuitous almost. So standard they negate their own importance. They are such roses that it is hard to find any subtext. Granted, this seems a little much to expect—that even a bouquet have a subtext. So it seems, but yet it is not.
On my program, Young and Restless, endless flower arrangements regale nearly every scene with nods to romance quite suitably unabashed. The staged settings of fictional circumstance are appropriate locales for the flourishing frivolity of kermit-green gerber daisies and explosions of champagne-colored dahlias. Most every office, boudoir/hotel room, hospital room and condo feature fresh arrangements ranging in luxury according to the hierarchy of the characters in the scene. Bachelor pads, dive bars, and the city jail are the exceptions. Though the more gentlemanly the bachelor, the more likely he will have an arrangement somewhere in his set. Rarely will you see a full-on bouquet of red roses. On Young and the Restless red roses have subtext. There’s subversion. The roses, and their appeal to tradition, matter when juxtaposed against the couple’s non-traditional situation. He is not the father of her baby, but how he will drink deeply the nectar of denial. She isn’t herself, but her sister, and yet, she loves the children just the same. The couple isn’t married to each other, but to other people, but their love is true. You and I? We are married to each other, and yet there’s no truth to tell about our love. The appeal to tradition is endearing when a couple is four children deep into a young, restless and homicidal love. Your roses don’t appeal to tradition. They don’t appeal. They adhere.
The red is like the carpet of our church, excuse me—my church—where I walked on the arm of my father on my wedding day down to meet you at the altar. I try to imagine someone sending such a bouquet with the right intentions. I can’t. I can’t imagine any person being so imbued with the cultural construct that they deserve nothing more than the banality of another bouquet of the quintessential red. Perhaps some do find them beautiful. Perhaps older people do. Irrelevant people. People who are just performing the state of personhood. Do you remember how no one came to our wedding? Do you remember the dark wooden emptiness of the church pews on that Sunday afternoon? Do you know how that comforts me now?
I’d like to say something about the thorns—but we both know that I abhor cliché, and so we can leave out the obvious points of pain. The blossoms caught your son’s eyes and held his attention, which is saying something for an eight week old. My father moved the flowers from the kitchen to a small table in front of the picture window. Here we look out upon a large oak and several feeders. My mother bought a songbird reference guide for my father, but bird-watching has been good for us all. Your son’s baby swing faces the window with the two velvet green chairs on either side. The chairs were in our bedroom when we lived downtown. One of those antique chair cushions was desecrated when you sat on a bowl of spaghetti. You were drunk, and suicidal. You berated me until I made you a bowl of spaghetti. I begged you not to spill. You sat on the bowl. A few months after you sat on the bowl of spaghetti, while I was staying with our friends Mandy and Robbie to get away from you, Robbie came home drunk in the middle of the night demanding to be fed. Mandy fixed him a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup while she cried. Then he dumped out the soup at the kitchen table, cursing the stupidity of Mandy, the filthiness of their home, and the depth of his depression. I wonder how many boys, tongues thick and unmanageable from liquor, come home on any given night to demand food from their children’s young and anxious mothers. The stupid slutty whores that unfortunately have born their damned-able and forgettable progeny? Do you remember those chairs?
I can’t comment on the scent of the roses, because you couldn’t pay me to smell them. Their perfection is pedestrian and infuriating. I refuse to get close. When they came, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t proud. I wasn’t relieved. I tried to throw them away out in the garage, but my daughter, your step-daughter, your soon to be ex-step-daughter, caught and confronted me in just the way you would expect her to—she’s not your typical nine year old. How could she be after having to throw herself around and on top of me as protection from your harsh words? Hugging me, pushing my hair out my face, as I sat on the floor pressed against the washing machine, the legs of my pants covered in snot, while you yelled. Crazy. Psycho. Hate. Dead. It isn’t so easy to avoid the thorns, I apologize. Do you remember how you told me you bought your ex-girlfriend flowers on Valentine’s Day while you were in bed with another girl?
The horrid flowers you sent suck up murky water rapaciously. I’m an ingrate. I don’t deny I’m selfish, angry, bitchy, depressed, annoying, and at times stupid. Red is violent, and this is fucking obvious. Someone refills the vase. It isn’t me. I make a daily effort not to lie, but I told my daughter I was putting the flowers in the garage to keep them cool. Cool really isn’t the word for a Midwestern February afternoon when the sky is clabbered over with clouds of coldness so fierce there is no way to describe it except cruel. I don’t want to kill them but I want them to die. My daughter believes we moved in with Grandma and Grandpa because of how much you work—how you’re never home. So that was partly true. Do you remember how the cat shot out of the bathroom, wet with imposed salvation, days after you and she were baptized?
Flowers aren’t cheap, but I’m sure they didn’t cost as much as an expensive dinner out in Santa Clarita or drinks at a club in Hollywood. It seems, from the bank statements, that you have been having quite a few of those. I knew the flowers were from you before I even knew they were roses. They are quality roses, and so I should appreciate that, but really, you just selected the type. The florist is the one who plucked each budding stem from the bucket and placed them with precision. The delivery guy is the one who made his way here. My father tipped the delivery guy a few bucks. It seems that my misguided love for you will never stop costing my parents money. Do you remember how your extended family looked at you, sitting around a too large table, squeezed against the walls in the upstairs room at the rehab center? Do you know that while you were in rehab I slept better than I’d ever slept before or after because I knew that you were safe? That I was safe? That my daughter was safe. That our cars were safe. That our money was safe. That our computer was safe. That my job was safe.
The only time I can stand the sight of the bouquet of bullshit is early in the morning, before I flip on the lights. In the dark their perfection is only imagined, not confirmed by sight. This eases the edges like a pain pill dulls the healing muscles around the site of my incision. Even my mother asks in exasperation, will they never die? We feel compelled to keep them for your soon to be ex-step-daughter’s sake. We want to hide our nausea because it could be catching like our anger. You said I could take a flower out and put it in my daughter’s room, but no one wants to touch them, or talk to too much about them. I can’t stand the thought of one of those pernicious stems lying in her daughter’s room, dying too slowly to be the harbinger that it should so poetically be. When the day comes that even the outermost edges of the petals finally give over to the faintest of juicy browns, hinting at the beginning of rancidness yet to come, I will throw out the whole bouquet—crystal vase, garish red bow, and bracken water. There won’t be any waiting. There will be no second chances. There will be no confusion. The flowers will be gone. Do you remember how I kicked at the plasterboard wall of our closet until it broke its connection to the ceiling? Do you remember every square inch, of every ceiling, of every room we have tried to share?
It’s a shame that the snow is melted. Not only am I emotionally unprepared for the mush and the saccharine sweetness of an Iowa spring, but I would have liked to have thrown the ruddy bouquet outside in the snow so I could see the roses flopped on the ground like bloody victims of pillage, muddied down where the smaller snowbirds and swallows pick at droppings from the feeders. Tossed out like garbage. Useless. Unable to be pawned for money. Disgusting. Frivolous. Your son wears diapers. Not roses. And again. Here I am with the thorns. A baby needing diapers. Home with the parents in Iowa. A baby in a swing. A cliché. A bird-watching, baby- nursing, heart-wrenching cliché.
The warmer it gets, the less I like seeing the birds eat. The more I sit bird-brooding instead of bird-watching. What does it matter without the snow? There’s no desperation. It is gratuitous. I can’t stop thinking about gratuity. Disgusting. It’s like a boy crying after the loss of his rectitude. A boy slurring his words, staggering with drink, erupting with belches and promises of equal significance. A boy lying until the phone he’s using loses service because the weight of his falsehoods crash the whole network. It turns the stomach. Like a pregnant mother left alone on a mountain with no car. Like a baby pushed into the mind’s burgeoning genre collection of afterthought. Like a placenta fused unnaturally to a cervix. Like the wretched splitting of the mid-section. Like the sound of electric medical equipment sawing through flesh. Like the bloody floor after an emergency cesarean. Like a vase of red roses. Like red.
Rumpus original art by Paige Russell.