On our last day together, a girlfriend gifted me a rosebush. She set it onto a corner of sunlight, on top of my dirtied red Persian rug, and knelt down to it. Leaning in, she whispered something in its ear; it seemed to flutter its leaves back to her, as if winking a thousand eyes. Her words were magic, and I would be under their spell for more than a month after this.
At the time of our break, our relationship was a fledgling at two months old. We still were getting to know each other and still falling in love, when a family member who was under her care entered the hospital. She — no longer with time nor energy for a relationship — asked for a break. “We can stay in touch. Then in a month, maybe we try again.” I didn’t know what to make of this nor what I wanted. I knew I wanted her, and I knew I didn’t want to wait. If I can’t have that, I need to look out for myself, don’t I?
“Also I know your birthday is in a few days,” she said, “I would like to spend it with you — if you allow me to.” Although I felt confused, I wanted that. Besides still falling in love with her, it would be my first birthday in seven years with a date.
My previous seven, I spent overseas, many in countries where I was unable to speak the local language and many where the only place I felt warm was in my stone walled bathroom, laying down in a tub as the shower dropped water on top of my naked body. But not this night!
A few days later, my birthday, and our last day together, we met.
In front of me, she was kneeling beside the rosebush that she had just gifted me. Out the window rain clouds moved in, and wanting to share my favorite lookout in Austin, I grabbed her warm hand and rushed us out the door. At the top of a bridge, we looked down the Colorado river. Ahead a gorgeous, rusty train line that's covered in vibrant graffiti bridged the river. As the clouds gathered, we squeezed our bodies tightly into each other. Lightning flashed in the sky. It wasn’t rain clouds. It was a lightning storm igniting! Under the flashes, feeling her warm cheek against my collarbone, I knew we would see each other again. Until then, I will support her through her stay in the hospital.
Over the next month, I would ask her how she’s doing, how’s the hospital going, but the conversations always rerouted to the rosebush. “How is she?,” she would ask, “Lots of flowers?” Even one time, she sent me a screenshot of an instagram post of a wild rosebush she saw in public, with the caption, “Love”. This rosebush was important to her, and maybe if it thrives, we’ll thrive.
Each morning, my alarm went off and I staggered to the rosebush. I opened the blinds, and checked the dryness of the soil. When the soil didn’t stick to my finger, I watered it. Yet in my air conditioned apartment and without direct sunlight, it struggled to absorb enough nutrients, and each day, it yellowed and dropped more leaves. It needed a miracle to survive. I didn’t tell my girlfriend ANY of that. I wanted to see her again. Trying to salvage what I could, I looked to the internet for advice.
Days later, my apartment was a medical center. My desk was covered in notes with difficult to read handwriting explaining how to care for the rosebush. Next to my plant, a white-light lamp shined direct sunlight onto it. I unrolled my toolkit. Inside were the sharpest pruners money could buy, a plastic bag of broken egg shells, chamomile tea bags, and aspirin tablets. I opened the window, and grabbed the bucket hanging from the railing. It was filled with fresh rain water. I would revive this plant’s life.
A week later, with crushed up aspirin beneath the soil, egg shells on the top soil, and tea bags hanging from its limbs, it had died. And subsequently, so too did our texting.
Why wasn’t she asking about the rosebush anymore? Did she know? Maybe she’s posting about it on her instagram, just not sharing it with me. And maybe if she’s posting more pictures, we’ll see each other again soon. And we’ll hug and dance and lighting will strike. But if I check her instagram, that’s bad vibes, that’s putting creeper energy out there. How would I feel lurking in her background? I can’t check. I want to check. Ahhhh.
I went to her page, just to see. Her profile picture was highlighted by a red circle. A new photo! But, no! Bad vibes. If you check, she WILL NOT be back in your life. By checking, all your patience and love will go to waste. I closed the app and I forced my attention elsewhere — I try to write, to draw, to watch a movie, or for god's sake to play 52 card pickup — anything but check her god damn instagram. Still I had to. I had to find evidence she was thinking of me.
AHHHHH, I toss my phone onto the kitchen counter, strip off my clothes, and manically scramble to the shower where I could escape.
In the shower my legs weakened and I gradually lowered myself to the bottom of the tub where water dropped down onto me. And for the first time in a month, I was warm again. My eyes closed.
An hour later, midnight: Bing! My phone chimed. I leaped out of the tub. She texted me. I opened the message.
Blood climbed into my cheeks. A knock at my door. I freeze. “Boom-boom.” The front door? Boom-boom. Boom-boom. That's not my door. What is it?
Poking my head back in my bathroom, the sound muffled. I stepped into my living room. BOOM, BOOM. My chest tingled. The blood in my cheeks swirled down into the center of my palms. Over in the corner, potted in a lime green bucket, sat the rosebush. The sound came from there.
I sat cross-legged beside it. Its branches bare and its topsoil covered in dried, fallen yellow leaves and petals. Spiders had taken over with elaborate schemes of cobwebs covering from branch to branch. I leaned my ear closer, boom, boom, boom, boom.
Moving my hands towards the cobwebs, the air chilled the surface of my palms. With both hands, I slowly dove my pointer fingers into the cobwebs and peeled them back.
Warm air released from the hole and I jerked back before easing closer. In the crevasse, I saw a tiny bud, pushing its red head out a stem. With each pulse, boom-boom, it blinked a fleshy red.
It was alive! It is alive.
Seeing the red bud through the cobwebs, I leapt to my feet and snatched something to hold water in, a glass cup, filled it under the kitchen faucet, and hurried back. Tilting her head back supporting her lime green neck, I poured the water into her base. Swallow after swallow, she quenched her thirst. I grabbed my pruners and chopped off her dead weight. With each snip, her spine erected.
"You can make it!" I said.
"We can make it!" she responded. And before my eyes, she grew to five foot, six inches. Her trunk thickened as it climbed into the sky. Her branches twisted and weaved like muscle fibers stretching into two long arms; her bark toned into a glossy brown. She lifted her arms up and out the tips twigs emerged, forming fingers, the freshly pruned ends sparkled in gold polish. Her gold nails gathered the branches around her trunk and slicked them back — revealing dark green eyes.
Lighting struck. I saw my birthday, that night when she warmed me by making me a steamy fish taco, by the fiery kiss in the middle of the bar, by her face blushing when I interrupted her to tell her I adore her, by her warm lips pressing against my neck, by my foot resting against her warm leg as I closed my eyes to sleep. Ach.
Over the next week, you couldn't separate her and I.
In the mornings, with breakfast, we would wrap our limbs around each other, her branches encircling me many times over, as I recited a morning prayer. "Thank you god for the food in front of me and this warm company to share it with. Amen."
In the afternoons, while I wrote, her freshly pruned fingers scratched my head, always leaving a smell lingering in my hair. A fruity rose.
In the evenings, we laid down, my foot resting upon her leg, resting against her hairy thorns, invigorating blood to the surface of my skin.
I had the relationship I dreamed of.
Quickly a week passed and I realized I hadn’t texted the girlfriend. My rosebush was so beautiful and flourishing, I had to share her with her.
I texted a photo, and instantly she replied, “WOW, look at her. I have something I want to give you.” Three dots rolled on my phone; she wasn’t finished typing. My palms sweat. “Let’s meet up.”
My eyes widened. I laughed maniacally. And took a deep breath. Finally. It was over. “Yes please.”
Later that day she came over. She told me she's still not ready to start dating, but in the meantime, she had something for me. Another gift! Out of a little pouch, she strung out a silver necklace, with a silver plate on it. I lunged at it, seized it from her hand.
He’s beautiful, I said.
That night, with the necklace around my neck, I drifted into my dreams, feeling the metal against my chest and wondering, how do I take care of this necklace?
A few dreams later, I sat at my kitchen counter, breakfast in front of me. To my right, a five foot, six inch silver saucer. It wrapped its chain around me and recited, "Gracias a Dios por la comida que tengo frente a mí y esta cálida compañía con la que compartirla. Amén."
A moment later, I saw the rosebush, nearby I saw myself sitting cross-legged. The blinds were open yet the room was dark. The pruners were cold against my palm. The rosebush lifeless. No warm puffs of air. No encircling branches. No one to talk to. Just me, pouring the love and care that I had been bottling for this woman, pouring it all into this still bush.
I awoke. Lying in bed, the silver plate was cold against my chest — and I wept — for I wished it was a warm cheek.