I woke up on that cold December morning, with anticipation for the day. “Today is THE day.” I told myself. “I WILL find a job today.” As I sat up in that damp and dark basement, I peeled the 6 layers of blankets off of me. The sting of Tennessee winter was strong that day. I looked over at my children’s beds. They weren’t there. Sigh. “I hope this is the right choice.” I told myself. I slowly started moving around when I heard my text alert. “Happy Birthday, Grasshopper,” from my best friend who just so happened to be stomping around upstairs. I rubbed my eyes and trudged up to daylight. As I turned the corner, I could see the disapproving look on my friends face. “Jacob was here,” she started. “You really should get the extra key he has for your car. I don’t know what he was doing, but he didn’t come to the door.” At this point, she had made it completely clear to my husband that if the kids were not at the house, he had no reason to come there. We were separated. “I’ll look when I am done getting ready. I’m not ready for any drama yet today,” I told her and we sat for a while chatting while we finished our coffee.
As I stepped out of the shower, I walked over to the mirror and took a long hard look at my face. Every day, there he is. My late father, staring back at me with those big brown eyes. Sigh. There are times when I wish I could have taken more after my mother so I wouldn’t think of him SO much. I raised one eyebrow at myself just so I could see him. It is both a blessing and a curse to favor a parent that much. I had just cut my hair up to my ears and dyed it back to my natural blonde. I rustled my hair approvingly. Short hair is SO much easier to take care of! I stepped on the scale before I got dressed to make sure I hadn’t lost any MORE weight. The stress of things had really taken a toll on my already thin frame. 118. I was down 2 pounds and couldn’t afford to lose any more. Thank goodness it was winter and I could hide behind layers. I got dressed into black slacks, two under shirts and an orange dress shirt. I walked out of the bathroom and gave my best friend a hug. “Wish me luck today,” I said. “It’s your birthday,” she smiled “I’m sure you will have a great day!” I put my coat and hat on and headed towards the door. Before I could turn the handle, my text alert went off. “I bet I know who that is,” she said jokingly. I squinted my eyes at her and said, “Jacob. Who else? You are right here.” I let out a long sigh as I read his message. “Happy Birthday, Baby. Have you received my gift yet?” I looked over at my friend. “He left me a gift. God only knows what it could be.” As I walked out the door and down the long row of stairs, she stood at the door in her robe, with coffee in hand and said, “Whatever it is, you should give it back. You don’t want to give him hope.” I looked up at her from the walkway and said, “You know he won’t take anything back. But thanks anyway, MOM” And we BOTH rolled our eyes and laughed in agreement and went our separate ways for the day.
As I approached the car, I cautiously peered through the drivers side window. Nothing there. I unlocked the door and as I got inside, I saw them. Sitting in shotgun were one dozen, long stemmed, red roses. I could feel the heat rising up into my face. I surprised myself with my own anger at the situation. I reached for my phone but then stopped myself. I was trying to process the information before I hastily responded. Didn’t he realize the position I was in? I could have used that extra 20–50 bucks on food or clothing. I was holed up in my best friends basement just scraping by and he has the audacity to buy me flowers? “Thank you. They are beautiful.” I texted to him. I was angry, but I knew I had hurt him so much already. “I love you so much, Amber.” He sent back. I did not respond. I sat there as the car heated up and tried not to cry. I had to go out and find a job that day and I couldn’t afford to not have mascara on.
I backed out of that driveway and just started to drive. I looked over at the roses and wondered where they should go. I couldn’t take them into my best friends house. I could hardly look at them right now. I thought about taking them into a nursing home or a hospital. I was headed to Morristown that day, so I started to drive in that direction. I scanned on the way for any hospitals or nursing homes. I turned the radio on and then turned it off, thinking, “Uh uh. Remember. Mascara. Bad idea.” I couldn’t find anywhere to unload these damn roses. They were like poison to me. The poison of guilt and hurt. The poison of a man that loved me too much. I didn’t deserve this love. I didn’t deserve these beautiful flowers. As I rode out of town, I looked over to see a graveyard. “That’s IT!” I yelled out loud. I didn’t realize that turning down that one way path into the graveyard was just that. A one way path. No turning back now.
I parked under a large white oak tree. I looked up at it in awe. I could see straight up the trunk at least 80 feet and noticed a few brown birds perched up high. It was quiet. I looked around the large cemetery and started walking. I walked for a long time holding those roses and just thinking. I thought about the past year and the next year. I wept and worried. (To hell with the mascara!) I found a wooden bench and sat down. I placed the roses beside me, and realized that I wasn’t ready just yet to let them go. As much as I was angry over the situation, I was also wishing I could go back and fix it. Fix all of it so I could look at the roses and see what I needed to see, which was love and all the wonderful things that come along with it. Then in that very moment, I started to see something else in the roses which was what he had wanted me to see all along. Forgiveness. He had forgiven me for all of it. I spoke out loud to him as if he were there. “I’m just not ready to forgive myself though.” I stood up and cradled the roses once more. I wiped the mascara and tears away and started to walk again. “Who is deserving of these roses,” I thought? Then I finally started to look at the grave markers.
It took some time, but I managed to start finding the children. The ones who didn’t have a chance at life. The ones who didn’t live long enough to experience all the things we take for granted. “Jean 1926–1929.” What had happened to this angel? Why was her fate to die young? I placed one rose where there had not been any flowers for many years.“Christopher 1991–1995. Loving son and Grandson.” Dear God. Please be with his parents. Why does death cause so much pain? There was a teddy bear with a blue bow sitting in front of the grave marker. I placed a rose in his arms. “Abigail April 1st, 1955-December 23rd, 1955” Wow. What a crappy Christmas that must have been for that family. And from my assumptions, probably a whole crappy year beforehand. I shook my head and tossed a rose for Abigail. “Marcus 1901–1908” “Jameson 1916–1918” “Kirsten 1982–1984” There. I had gotten rid of half of the roses now. I physically felt a weight lifted off of me. I guess you could say I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. It was the first time in my life I could tell you with certainty that something “not of this world” had intervened. I started calling these moments “God Flicks” because when I was young and my father wanted to REALLY get my attention, he would flick me as hard as he could on my ear. I’ll tell you something. God can flick a lot harder!
I had placed 4 more roses on 4 more young graves when I walked up on another white oak. These were my favorite trees in Tennessee. These massive beauties were so few and far in between. I was shocked to see two in one place. I walked up to it so I could look up the trunk and to my surprise, an elderly woman walked out from behind the tree. She went up to a grave site directly under the tree. She didn’t notice me at first. I watched her for a moment and she immediately started breaking down into tears. I started walking towards her and said, “Ma’am, are you alright?” She looked up, startled. Then, in her tears, she kindly smiled at me. “My husband,” she started. “Today would have been our 50th wedding anniversary. I lost him one month ago today.” I looked down at the two last roses. I held them up for a moment and then gave her the short version of my story and why I had ended up there. Ironically it had only been a month since our separation. I then gently placed the last two roses on her husbands grave. When I stood up, she immediately embraced me. She wept in my arms. I started to weep again as well. We stood there for at least ten minutes crying in each others arms. She cried for the loss of her husband, and in a way, I cried for the loss of mine. We cried for each other, and in the end, it felt damn good just to cry.
As I said goodbye to her, I knew I would never see her again. I also knew that my life would be forever changed. It was an ending and new beginning for both of us. I drove out of the cemetery dazed. “What were the chances of that happening,” I thought? We had both needed someone to hold us at that very moment in time and there we were. Together for one fleeting moment in life. I wondered about the next 50 years. It was nearly 2 times the length of my own life. What were the sacrifices each of them had made for each other? How many moments were there that took their breath away? I wondered if I would ever find what they had shared. I wondered if I would ever forgive myself and let him back in. I turned my head to take one last look at the cemetery. In the midst of that cloudy and cold December morning, I saw one breathtaking ray of sunshine gleaming down the 2nd white oak. I smiled and drove right into my future.