The rose bush that is the center of this story has again bloomed. The plant is more than 20 years old and seems as healthy as ever. It is a wondrous thing. Thought it warranted another look and listen to this story of lost love. Audio version by Diane Havens
I awoke the morning after you moved away and stared at the ceiling, waiting for my body to locate the loss and transition it to pain; waiting for the heavy emptiness to absorb the echoes of the half empty house.
I had expected to feel the guilty weight of unanswered questions, to hear the fractured sound of one last hard conversation that left all the rawness of broken feelings and unfulfilled expectations like shredded packing on the floor.
One is supposed to be crushed, or feel the reverberations of the stabbing pain that strikes when the front door closes for that last time; supposed to feel your soul shudder.
Instead there was lightness, an absence, and I knew that you were no longer in my heart. You were only in my head.
And I wondered why.
It was not, I decided, the day to tend to the old rose bush.
I was not just ready to have something else die on me.
What saved the rose bush that day was not soul sickness, but a prickly Northeast wind that had the tall willow groaning and weaving, ejecting small, soft limbs with yellow blossoms as the gusts picked up speed and intensity.
The lowering sky brought cold that felt like early March even though it was May; birds like small black darts flew for cover, their songs of the day’s sunny dawn shredded in the rising storm. It was too cold for tears.
The rose bush had been planted by an English couple who once owned the house. They had arranged plots of flowers and shrubs, decorating the small lot in a modest estimation of the grand gardens of their homeland.
By all reasonable measure the rose should have died from old age, I thought.
Instead it had survived weather, rabbits, insects, disease and the neglect of humans.
Last winter it was buried as the crushing weight of two feet of snow, warmed by a stretch of sunny days, slid off the metal roof of the shed and covered all the bushes under the eaves. The rose and the butterfly bush laid crushed and prone under the ice covered snow for nearly two weeks yet each survived with a few broken stems.
The rose also survived an accidental attack by would-be thieves who in an attempt to pry open the painted-shut shed windows one summer, kneed and elbowed the bush out of the way, breaking stems and flowers.
Mostly, it seemed, the rose had survived because it could, because in the wonderful logic of life, it must. The year the neighborhood was besieged with rabbits, I surrounded the rose with sharp edged aluminum grating used for cement work and stopped them just in time from eating every new bud and leaf. In dry summers when all other plant life was stunted and brown, the rose threw off dozens of flowers, as if to say, take that, can’t kill me.
But this year the plant seemed to be dead. Even though the spring had been cold and damp, other plants in the yard had begun to revive, pushing up green sprouts, casting off the weight of dead winter to announce the promise of bountiful new life, which arrives on a schedule known only to itself.
The heart holds the heaviness of love and affection. It is where the joy of that first reaction rests, trapped in the blood, gaining weight until like some awakened seed it fills all of us. It is the moment of the first glance, the first touch and kiss, the instant of innocence and promise.
It is also where the bitterness of ending hides, cozied in some trapped corner, hoping to stay out of reach; seeking to become lighter.
In the mind love is one more electron flashing across a synapse, an idea triggering another electron to react and move; it is where we reason away all that happened at the end, categorizing coldly our actions to make sure the face we see in the mirror the morning after carries no stain of blame, no remorse, nothing but survival, having in some twisted logic claimed victory.
Love in the mind is weightless; only in the heart does it have weight.
I awoke that morning weightless; you were no longer in my heart and I wondered why.
I clipped the end of one stem, hoping to see a green center, which would have meant the rose was alive, and instead saw a brown, dead core. Instead of stems bathed in scarlet leaves like a bad haircut, and tiny red and green buds, the stalks were brown, scaly with a growing bark, and lifeless.
It was the saddest thing that had happened that spring, even though it was the spring you left.
As I stood in the rain fingering the dead stalks of the rose bush I was going to replace, I did not know why it had come to this.
It was one of those conversations we had. We had them all the time, where the warmth of affection and curious exploration mingled. The details of the day spilled into the air for each to breathe, each to share.
They were the conversations between people interested in one another, who enjoyed the chance to talk and share; conversations between people who wanted to be speaking to one another, where thoughts and ideas flew around so fast we apologized to one another for interrupting, then carried on again at a mad pace. Conversations of the curious, the hungry for details, for the voice, the sound of the other; filled with promise, laughter, a lightness of being that filled your eyes. I could never look away.
They were conversations between people who enjoyed each other’s company.
Conversations between people who thought about one another when we were separated.
Conversations that should have pulled us together.
Conversations that failed.
It was one of those conversations we had that suddenly all went bad. The shell cracked, the shine in your eyes faded, the joy in our voices, gone. The truth of all we thought was truth, just words, sounds echoing in a vacuum until meaningless, convincing both of us that we were right.
It was just talk, just electrons scattered through our minds, weightless. Scientists say electrons have critical mass. They are wrong. Electrons are as weightless as dust; the weight is in the heart.
John Prine calls it running at the speed of loneliness. Filling time and space with activity because to stop would expose the emptiness.
The morning after you left I sat weightless on the bed knowing that you were running again through the world as weightless as I.
It takes one to know one is running at that speed.
You will always be the second most lonely person in the world and all the running will not fill that hole in your heart or bring you weight.
The weight I failed to bring you.
I know this because I am first.
After four days of miserable rain, the sun appeared and I could no longer put off the task of removing the old rose bush.
With a shovel and trowel in hand I moved slowly to the task. The ground was loose from all the rain, not yet hardened into its usual clay-based mud.
Tulips and gladiolas had bloomed, and the voluptuous green thing that provided nearly obscene flower pods that generated spectacular yellow flowers in September was already wrapping itself around itself in a glorious display of self love.
But the rose, I sighed. The center of a stalk I cut was still brown and no leaves or small buds had emerged.
Slowly I kneeled and scraped away some of the soil looking for a spot to remove the roots. That was when I saw them.
The buds had been buried in the soil near the root, unseen, digging their way to sunlight through the rain-loosened soil.
New life finds a way.
For the first time in days the weight returned and I was locked in place. The weight had come back to my heart and the electrons could spin forever in their meaningless spirals for all I cared.
For the first time in days I wept at your absence, at the silence that followed, wept to fill that hole in my heart that called for sorrow and remorse; wept because there was no forgiveness, no small buds buried in the soil; wept because the synapses had failed to connect because love is more weight than light, more important than reason and more difficult than thought; wept because we both are still running.
Wept because we must.
It is how life begins again.