When I married the love of my life, Donner Brown, in 1998, we got along beautifully, except about a few things. One of them was flowers.
Every Valentine’s Day he would buy me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. For the first year or two I simply looked at them with chagrin, not having the courage to tell him what I thought. But eventually I did speak up. “Honey,” I said, “I really don’t like red roses.” “You don’t?” he asked in amazement. I shook my head, feeling guilty. “They are cut. They will die.” “Oh!” he said. I could see by the perplexed look on his face that he was hitting a brick wall. I waited. “What DO you like?” he finally asked. “Something with roots,” I said. He walked away, not quite rolling his eyes at me, but almost. He had the most wonderful sense of humor.
As we approached Valentine’s Day six or seven years into our marriage he took me shopping. Just a regular outing, that we frequently did. With a look of utter adoration, he stopped me in front of the floral department of our wonderful local supermarket and said, “What would you like for Valentine’s Day?” A bit verchlempft, I smiled back at him, and then looked around. Everything was cut…or all green. I looked. I searched. Tulips. Daffodils. Freesia. Ivy. Daisies. And then I saw them, in all their fragrant glory. “A hyacinth,” I said. “Blue”.
And so this mystery was resolved. And every year thereafter we bought a hyacinth together.
Until he died in my arms unexpectedly in the late spring of 2016. On JFK’ birthday, in fact. In a savage irony, it was JFK research that had originally brought us together. And it was red roses that Jackie carried when JFK died in her lap. In greater irony, Donner, who had, before we met, played guitar with bands from New York to LA, especially Donovan, with whom he had recorded, was recovering from drug addiction in his family condo just off of Central Park, and from his second floor window long ago had watched Jackie walk John John to St. David’s School, up the street. Now they were all gone…a perfect circle of pain…
I walked around in a state of shock for most of that summer. It was hard for me to find the energy to speak, at times. It even hurt to smile.
When fall came and school started I was anxious to get back to substitute teaching, to focus on the students and contribute. A new school district was opening to us — a district where students are sent when the regular public schools are unable to meet their needs. I jumped at the opportunity to take the training needed to be qualified for this, and soon found myself in an amazing, and at times frightening environment of locked rooms, one-to-one student teacher or para relationship, wonderful students who could ramp up and turn violent in a moment. I was on a roller coaster and so far outside my comfort zone that I realized I no longer had one. It was just what I needed.
There were days of peace as well as those of intense strife. On one of those days, in January of 2017, one of the paras said to me, “Come with us to the gym. They are giving away Christmas wrappings and ornaments.” “I don’t do Xmas,” I said. “There is nothing I need.” “Come with us anyhow,” she said. And so I did.
In the hallway adjacent to the two large gyms were tables filled with every imaginable kind of holiday decoration. Piles and stacks of things donated to the school from local stores. As I walked along, somewhat numbly, as I just wanted get back to the classroom, I spotted a cloth red polka-dotted rose. I took it back to the room. One of the students had brought back the same rose, in blue. I almost asked him if he wanted to trade, but something said, ‘no’. I brought it home with me and set it on the dining room table.
It wasn’t until I was getting ready to go to bed that it hit me.
It was a rose that would never die.
A wonderful gift. From him. From the great beyond…