Growing old must be devastating. Love must be devastating. Growing old in love must be devastating.
I work in a flower shop. I am the young designer in sundresses and silk scarves in that shop you sometimes pass on the corner but never enter because you don’t have someone to buy flowers for. That’s okay, because that means you will save some money and heartache. Maybe that’s just me being cynical, but for good reason. This Valentine’s Day I arranged five separate dozens of red roses in one hour. Men would walk in to the shop, see the roses on my desk, point, and say, “I’ll take those,” and be on their way. After a 14-hour day, my forearms ached, my fingers were swollen, and my palms were worn and dry. One friend actually texted me throughout the week to verify that I was, in fact, still living, and another critiqued the unusually papery texture of my skin when I got off work, skin depleted of moisture by all the funky chemicals that go into processing and preserving the natural wonders we know as flowers.
Not long ago a man came in to the shop hoping a dozen red roses would issue him a get-out-of-trouble-free card with his significant other. I asked, “I don’t know if this will take care of it. What did you do?” I don’t know,” he responded, unwrapping a peppermint. “Have you asked?” I nudged. “Nooo, I can’t do that. That will make it worse,” he said. “Well,” I shrugged, “How will you know whether you did something you can actually fix or she’s just being passive-aggressive?” He didn’t really know what to say to that. Perhaps it never occurred to him that he could be an equally aware partner in his relationship. When I placed an arrangement of twelve crimson roses in front of him, he said, “Thanks, I’ll be back! Or, if these work, I won’t!” I mumbled after the door closed, “Maybe that’s your problem.” Due in one part to my current occupation, one part to my former occupation in gender studies, and a third part to personal experiences and a suspicion prone personality, I have for years thought bouquets of red roses are, in general, clichéd. Clearly, I’m not very quiet about it either.
Well, I’ve changed my mind. Kind of. I’m the Saturday girl. That means, I catch the weekend crowd all by myself: anxious homecoming and prom moms, unscheduled wedding consultations, timed funeral deliveries, and the man with a bicycle. Last month I was feeling especially cynical about love, mostly stemming from my healthy fear of co-dependence and irrational fear of emotions in general. I was, as usual, at my work desk wiring roses when a weathered looking man walked in wearing an old T-shirt, grubby jeans, and skin that probably had a fabulous time back in the hay days of Burning Man. “Hi there. How can I help you?” I asked, stepping ‘round my table. “’I need a dozen red roses,” he said, obviously in a hurry. I groaned inwardly and maybe outwardly. “Well, I don’t have enough fresh reds with long enough stems to make you a dozen, but there are nine in that golden vase and I can add three more. I just made that one this morning.” “I’ll take that one,” he said.
I am a schmoozer, folks, a sweet-talking introvert, so while I crinkled tissue paper and hunted for a car seat friendly box for these perfect red roses, I asked, “Is this a special occasion?” awaiting the usual “I forgot about my anniversary.” I was wrong. “It’s my wife’s birthday. I’m taking this over to her at the nursing home. The box isn’t necessary. I’ll just carry it.” I pointed at the rack of tiny cards, “How lovely. Would you like to put a little card in there for her? I can find a birthday one for you.” “No,” he said, “that’s okay. She won’t know who they’re from anyway.” He paid for his roses, smiled at me, walked out the chiming door, and rode down the street, one-handed, on his bicycle.
I walked home through the park during late summer magic hour and bawled my fucking eyes out. I went to the grocery store and bought everything necessary to make a beautiful meal, I made said beautiful meal, which I was planning to eat alone, when a couple friends dropped by to say hello and saved me from my overactive internal processing and from consuming five butter-whipped potatoes all by myself.
Later I cried some more. I’m not sure why exactly. I’m only twenty-six, so unless something crazy-unexpected happens to me, I’m far too young to start worrying about dying alone or experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia. No, the crying wasn’t fear-based or singleness-inspired. As I watched the man ride away with those roses for a woman who had to be reminded of his name every time he saw her, I felt the weight of complete devastation. Don’t talk to me about The Notebook. That’s a novel, a film, the product of Sparks’ death-obsessed imagination. This man who bought roses from me is real, his wife is real, and she doesn’t know each morning when she wakes up who the man who visits her every afternoon is. And it’s devastating.
He came in again last Saturday and bought a single rose this time, because she gave him a hard time about spending so much money on her birthday. “She’s worth it, though,” he told me after running to the gas station a few blocks away to break the hundred dollar bill I couldn’t. This single rose was a moving present, because she got to go home a few days later. “I’m so excited for you,” I said. “Me, too,” he replied, “I’ve been visiting her every afternoon and it will be nice to have her home.” I asked again, “Do you want a little card?” Again he answered, “She won’t know who they’re from anyway,” and rode through the rain with the biggest smile on his face.
So, I take it all back, friends, every eye roll and half-concealed snort. Sure, I have little hope for tools who buy roses to get laid or as a poor substitute for communication, but I get it now. All my fears about love are completely grounded and simultaneously irrelevant.